In my Creative…

In my Creative Non-Fiction class, we're taking turns to read from and present the work of an outside writer (I'll be doing Delany next week). This morning I read excerpts from Toi Derricotte, poet and author of _The Black Notebooks_. Lots of fascinating material, focusing on internalized racism. I wanted to quote you a little:

"One of the writing assignments I give new writing students is based on a quote by Red Smith. 'There is nothing to writing; all you have to do is sit down and open up a vein.' We talk about the pain of revealing ourselves, of getting out what is inside. Later I may ask students to write a letter of unfinished business to someone from their past. Often the first important poems we write, our 'breakthrough' poems, are angry. There's something about anger that motivates, that gets us over our 'stuckness,' over our fear. Often poems seem to burst out whole from some storeroom in the body/mind as if they had been sitting around waiting for years. But there is a danger in anger for black students. White students often write 'breakthrough' poems about their childhood. Often called 'brave' by the other poets in the class, these poems are frequently painful reassessments of their parents. Black students, however, often don't go back to childhood. They have clear angers that are more weighty right here in the present. There is always a 'last straw'. Writing about the past is not threatening to others in the class, but writing about what is happening in the classroom here and now is. For the black writer breaking silence, breaking restraint is a frightening step. The person who was the catalyst for the angry poem, unaware of the long history of oppression and internalized rage, takes it as a personal insult. Some students side with the white student, some with the black, but most students remain silent, afraid to go in either direction. In any event, the black student may lose a few of his or her best supporters, people who can tolerate poems about race as long as they don't make anybody feel too uncomfortable..."

- Toi Derricotte, "Race in the Creative Writing Classroom"

Sorry it was such a long quote, but I had a hard time choosing a place to stop. There's far more that's worth reading, especially for writers.

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