This morning's most inspiring and helpful paper was given by Susan Reynolds. Her background is in psychology, but she worked the effect or value of creative writing into enough of her projects that she's quite familiar with the pedagogy and research on creative writing. She runs a writing program at a maximum security prison that houses fifty-odd women in Ontario. Inmates come to the workshop to write and perhaps--only if they feel like it--to read aloud what they have written. The result is that the writers go more deeply into their lives, some of them finally crying for the first time. When they read their work, their fellow classmates are offered the opportunity to say what was most memorable or vivid about the piece of writing. This validates the women's expressions and voices, making a considerable difference in their lives. In keeping with research that shows writing heals bodies as well as psyches, these women experienced renewed optimism and faith in themselves. Some of them continue to write.
What I loved about this paper was that while I will probably never spend time teaching creative writing to women in a prison, it expressed what is perhaps at the bedrock of what we do in the creative writing classroom, but are unwilling to articulate because it probably sounds lacking in rigor, not to mention being touchy-feely. We spend time, as fellow-travellers, with students who are becoming more human: keener, more critical and insightful readers of any kind of text, empathetic with their characters and their classmates, more willing to encounter and express the complexity of the human condition. Rigour? Only students who are willing to engage fully with the inventive messiness and joy and despair of being human, students willing to fully explore the language with which this is expressed, finally thrive in creative writing classes. But the other students, in my class at least, become better readers and writers, on their own terms, and this is also a significant accomplishment on their part.
Here are Susan Reynolds' websites: