Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saroyan's Ghost

“What future have you mapped out for yourself?”

“Future?” Homer said. He was a little embarrassed because all his life, from day to day, he had been busy mapping out a future, even if it was only a future for the next day. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know for sure, but I guess I’d like to be somebody some day.”
(from The Human Comedy by William Saroyan)

I am trying to get my students to write with present tense, active voice verbs. “The work may have been written a hundred years ago,” I tell them, “but your reaction to it is in the here and now. You want your writing to have a sense of urgency, a feeling of forward motion and immediacy.”

So we practice what we preach. We write, rewrite, revise, restate, and shape the truth to a sharp and decisive point. We will write with our blood and leave bits of flesh in the inkwell when we are finished. But most important, we will share what we write. We will publish. Then, let the discussion begin. Take no prisoners, leave nothing standing, scorch the earth, find the beauty in the everyday, sing the song of history. This is real.

In twenty-three years in the classroom, I have learned how to teach writing, and it is not about comments and grades, grammar and spelling, red pens and syntax. The best way to teach writing is to write for publication. Get it out there. Let the world have it and chew on it. Nothing motivates like someone pulling you aside to say your latest piece made them mad, made them think, made them laugh, cry, jump up and down, swear at the moon. When the audience roars, the grade becomes secondary. Someone read what you wrote, and it did things to them. That is what writing is all about.

So I started a blog for my students. And since they are American-Armenians, there is only one person whose name I could evoke: William Saroyan. We will publish under the name, Saroyan’s Ghost, because he haunts us, he urges us forward, he sets the example. We can trace our lineage from Saroyan to Kherdian to Bojahlian to Arax to Janigian to Michaelian to a growing multitude of which I hope my students will some day be members.

The blog will publish the best writing from our school, focusing mainly on nonfiction. This is the second step in the process of making the school a focal point for writing and publishing of student work. We started a school newspaper two years ago, and students assumed control of creating the yearbook. This year, we are adding several blogs of which Saroyan’s Ghost is the first. From here, the sky is the limit. I want to publish an end of the year “best of” anthology. We would like to have a school magazine, an alumni publication, podcasts and video feeds, indeed, all forms of media involving writing and publishing. I want students to swim in ink, revel in words, love and worship books and pens and paper.

So, we need readers. Please hop over and take a look. I will publish new writing at least once a week, maybe more often. Offer up a comment, let us know what you think.

Have you seen the ghost? Saroyan lives on.

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