So, I hate the expression "make time" (with all the judgment it implies about your priorities and management of your time) ... usually said by people who want something extra or have no idea how time already has you stretched so thin you feel you're going to break apart. That said, in the midst of deadlines, and activities related to my forthcoming book Oh Gad! and the writing competition I run, Wadadli Pen, and writing (while squished on the mini bus with the radio blasting talk radio), I made time yesterday to hang with the kids at Villa Primary ... a primary school in urban Antigua.
Here's what we did.
We kept the rhythm together while we read about Anancy and the Dancing Granny(a la children's writer Ashley Bryan's book the Dancing Granny).
We used that book as the jump-off to discuss elements of story writing - who are the characters? where and when does the story take place? (that's the setting etc.)
We used those elements (and a prompt - super hero from your community) to begin to imagine our own characters (Hammer Boy, anyone?)
This part got the best reaction. Hands raised, eager to share what they'd come up with. But alas time was not on our side and so.
We talked about using your environment, tapping into your own imagination, and realizing the stories that live in and around you and your world. See, this was also a sales pitch for the Wadadli Pen competition which has as its underlying raison d'etre to give young people in my environment the opportunity I didn't have as a young writer coming up and while doing so to help them realize that stories don't just happen in other places (as so many of the books we read growing up would suggest). So, though possessing very few restrictions, Wadadli Pen does insist that the stories have a Caribbean sensibility (a Caribbean aesthetic if you will; that, whatever the genre, the seed of the idea come from this rich soil of Caribbean lore, mythology, geography, history, society, imagination...). If in writing the devil is in the details, then the idea is not to write about a world far far away which you cannot know as intimately as you know your own, but to write of your own world and be empowered (as a result of writing what you know) to enrich it with detail. Some see it as a restriction but I see it as a way to ground/root the story ...and then giving it room to bloom in whatever direction you so choose (or perhaps don't choose, given the magic of inspiration and intuition that also waters the process). So, yeah, we spoke a bit about that. Then.
We listened to a dramatized recording of Stray Dog Prepares for the Storm, the 2004 winner of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, a story about a mangy street dog looking for food and being rejected at all turns even as a storm (hurricane Luis which lay waste to my island in 1995) prepared to blow in before finally finding comfort with another street dweller. It's social commentary wrapped in a fable, rooted in their environment and draped in the language and rhythms of their world. They laughed and listened, and hopefully learned.
We discussed the elements of story in that story, and they were challenged to go forth and write, imagine, be.
Will they submit to Wadadli Pen? I don't know, in the end, it wasn't the point of the day. Will they remember me, read any of my books, become writers themselves? Who knows. Either way, I wasn't able to conjure up any extra time, but it was time well spent.
After the reading, I was treated to a tour of the new school library. This wasn't there the last time I visited the school; in fact, so much of what I remember about this school is different, from the energy and enthusiasm of the students to the mural that greets you as you drive in, to the soothing tones (including art work by Edison Liburdand the students) and the books lining the shelves of the library space created as it happens at the initiative of the same Peace Corps volunteer who invited me to chat with the kids.
Unlike so much else in my day, that day, the time spent didn't feel like a chore. I've done many school visits in the past especially since publishing The Boy from Willow Bend... after a while, they wore me out and I'd kind of retreated (more often coming up with reasons why I couldn't). This one (even now writingn about it) left me feeling invigorated (perhaps in part because I hadn't done one in a while but) mostly I think because of this group of kids and teachers; their energy and enthusiasm was catching. So, in the end, though there was no extra time made (still hate that expression) to hit all those other targets, just more to do and less time to do it in, it was totally worth it.