on leading workshops
In the newest issue of Poets & Writers, Felicia Rose Chavez, Namrata Poddar, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Matthew Salesses have a great discussion about the writing workshop’s roots in white supremacy and how to resist replicating that historical (and enduring) harm.
Here are some quotations I highlighted from Felicia Rose Chavez:
Enough with holding ourselves accountable to white supremacy! Academia breeds it, normalizes it—hierarchy, authority, ego, control—whiteness as neutral and objective. But Adrienne Marie Brown teaches us that art is not neutral, that it either upholds or disrupts the status quo, advancing or regressing justice.
Let’s say it out loud. “I teach an anti-racist workshop.” Let’s talk openly with our students about our pedagogical choices—a reorientation from authority over our students to ally to our students, from speaking at them to listening to them, from valuing a high-stakes final product to nurturing a healthy working process. Let’s involve them in our course content creation and then step back and assess together: How might we adapt, moving forward? In doing so, we model real learning in real time: uncertainty, experimentation, growth, and change.
And a thought on writing:
For me, my first reader is me. But the second reader or readers are people like me. People to whom I do not need to translate. Everyone else can listen in.
-Viet Thanh Nguyen
I recommend investing in these books if you lead workshops:
(Any other favorites? Let me know below.)
And I recommend reading these essays:
A lot of poets are wonderful writers but maybe aren’t great workshop leaders—I’ve heard many stories where this is the case. If you’re passionate about teaching, and nurturing emerging (and emerged!) writers, and curating a physical/emotional space built on trust, respect, anti-racism, etc., it’s vital that you do the work to prepare for a really major responsibility. That’s my opinion, anyway.
That’s all for today. Thanks for being here.