Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Writing for Social Change: Presentation and Workshop Samples


Writing the Asylum from the Inside Out

Jeanne Marie Beaumont and Aaron Hamburger

The writers who have spent time in the wards of mental institutions are varied and numerous from John Clare to David Foster Wallace. The asylum, full of spectacle, rules, emotional extremes, and sometimes fearful regimens, is a concentrated laboratory of human behavior, as well as a microcosm of the society outside its walls. As writers entered the asylum, the asylum influenced the literature, for no one could emerge unaltered. As Janet Frame wrote: “I felt that I carried within me a momentous change brought about by my experience of being in a mental hospital.” Personal control, identity, stigmatization, suspicion, isolation, and responsibility to witness are just some of the issues that are brought into focus. We will briefly consider the history of asylum building and the evolution of treatment, and then examine the writings of some key authors to trace how their experiences influenced their life and work.

Teaching Outside the Classroom

Sarah Braunstein, Susan Conley, Suzanne Strempek Shea

Interested in teaching? Your prospective students await. And they're not all sitting in Classroom 222 at your local high school. Students also await in less formal settings - libraries, churches, jails, hospitals, nursing homes, woodland retreats, overseas conferences. They might be curious about writing and sign up for a series, or they might be mandated to take one as part of a recovery program. They might have just gone through a life-changing experience like childbirth or incarceration or natural disaster. They might be 90 and for the first time telling a story about their life, or nine and for the first time finding someone who wants to listen to them read a story they've written. This presentation will be a help to those in any genre, and also to those who would like to teach but aren't interested in doing so in a formal school setting. A panel of writers who've taught outside the classroom will tell why and how they got involved in teaching in nontraditional settings, what types of classes they've offered, the pros and cons of such work, how to find similar gigs and how to create the one in which you would be the perfect teacher. 

Race in the Workshop: Where We’re Calling From

Breena Clarke, Jaed Coffin, Helen Peppe

 In this panel, Breena Clarke, Helen Peppe, and Jaed Coffin will discuss the sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit, but always enlightening role that race plays at the workshop table. Each writer will briefly discuss their own experiences in the literary world, and reflect upon the ways in which their work has been received, critiqued, praised, understood and misunderstood through the many racial lenses of their fellow writers and readers. Then, we’ll discuss the ways in which each of us brings a certain racial perspective to a workshop table, and how ownership and awareness of that perspective can elevate not only the quality of a workshop discussion, but also the hidden power of our own work. 

Unveiling the Words; Reading Women Writers of the Middle East

Reza Jalali

When Shahrazad, known in the West as Scheherazade, of famed the Thousand and One Nights stories, on her wedding night, offers to entertain her husband, the King, by telling stories to escape the fate of the many virgin girls who lost their heads the morning after, she gives birth to a tradition of storytelling where women to this day would weave and tell stories to survive.

Shahrazad’s descendents, the women writers of today’s Middle East, battling censorship, oppression, and injustice, are busy creating art that warrants attention. In this presentation we’ll read and discuss the writers whose work can be a source of hope and inspiration for us all.

Starting the Avalanche: Remembering War, Genocide, Conquest

Fred Marchant, Willa Schneberg, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez

Poetry is a subversive act. It is a vessel of remembrance against the tide of war, genocide, and conquest. This panel will discuss poetry in relation to the human questions of militarism and peace-making.  Drawing from their recent work and the work of poets they admire, these poets will address the aftermath of war, genocide, and conquest ranging from Europe to Southeast Asia to the Americas. Fred Marchant was one of the first Marine officers during the Vietnam War to be honorably discharged as a conscientious objector (C.O.). He is also editor of Another World Instead, William Stafford’s collection of poems written in World War II C.O. camps. Willa Schneberg was a U.N. District Electoral Supervisor and Medical Liaison Officer during Cambodia’s first “free and fair” elections after the Khmer Rouge killing fields. Cindy Williams Gutiérrez is a re-imaginer of the Aztec oral tradition and preserver of the pre-Conquest art of “floricanto.” Join these political poets as they explore how writers committed to remembering actually re-member the past to create a new future.

Balancing Clash and Character in Socially Engaged Fiction

Ellen Meeropol

“Any oppressive social condition, before it can be changed, must be named and condemned in words that persuade by stirring the emotions, awakening the senses.” – Martín Espada

Focusing on theme in fiction is risky, especially when the work illuminates injustice and dramatizes conflicts of race, class and gender, war and peace. When successful, politically-themed novels and stories can open mindsby offering the reader a visceral experience through the eyes of believable characters caught up in compelling situations. The choice of the right point of view character to balance the clash of political turmoil is a critical one. The best character is not necessarily one who is likeable or trustworthy or politically simpatico.

This presentation will suggest strategies to help us find and maintain synergy between political clash and character development. We will discuss the opening chapters of two successful political novels to understand how the authors balance political tumult and human emotions, and how this equilibrium opens up the political conversation.

Writing About Race

David Mura

While the effects of race are everywhere visible in our society, we very seldom discuss this subject with any honesty or depth.  One reason for this is, to take a phrase from Anna Deveare Smith’s play, we have a “lousy vocabulary” when it comes to race.  Actually though we do have a more sophisticated vocabulary to engage in a discourse about race.  Unfortunately, one can receive any number of writing or literary degrees without being exposed to this vocabulary.  This seminar will introduce some basic intellectual terms and methods to examine race in literature and in our society--dual consciousness, identity, internalized racism, white supremacy, systemic racism, white privilege, post-colonial; the continuing reconsideration of the literary tradition and aesthetic criteria from a racial & postcolonial perspective; etc.  While the truth or usefulness of these concepts and methods may be up to debate, I do think it is important for writers to be aware of them.  Beyond this, I have often seen writers who are exposed to these concepts and methods find new ways of exploring their own writing, whether or not they have previously considered race as a topic for their own writing.  Authors referred to will include Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, bell hooks, Edward Said, Anna Deveare Smith, Frank Wilderson. 

In The Heart of The Beat: The Diversity, Complexity and Poetics of Rap/Poetry

Alexs Pate

The focus of this presentation is on the “speech” of rap, the narrative; the poetic. It is not necessarily about the pop culture icons that produce and/or profit from it. We will proceed from the belief that there is, pulsating at the core of rap, a literary heart that burns to be recognized and that what is most often heard (on MTV, BET, or local commercial radio) is not even slightly representative of the depth and dimension of the poetry of rap.

I assert that rap/poetry is the emergent African American literary form of the postmodern age. Yes, it has its roots in African and African American oral tradition but its bloodline can also be traced back through the pages of words set down by African American culture’s most significant poets. Rap/poetry is now used all over the world and by all races and nationalities. Following this line of thinking moves us far past the commonly heard rap song and the usual lip service paid to the poetic skills of popular rappers.

For the purposes of this presentation, we will begin our exploration considering the poetry of rap in the context of African American literature, American culture and aesthetics in general. Our target, however is to evaluate the quality and impact of the best of the rap/poems we are confronted with. Our goal then is to liberate the words and examine their qualitative competence as literary works of art and their impact on our culture.

Writing through the Walls: Teaching Creative Writing in Prison

Susan Renee Richardson

As writers, we use words to express our experience of life. Words crafted into poetry and prose have the power to transcend the bounds of our individual lives, giving us a place within the history of humankind. In the prison system, where the identity and voice of each inmate has been stripped away, the written word offers reconnection. Join us as we explore what it means as writers and teachers to bring the art and craft of creative writing to those who have lost their place at the common table.