Creative Writing Class for Prisoners
By Kaya Omodele @theabeng for Beneath The Surface Publishing
Writing is cathartic; it is a cleanser of the conscience, it is sanative to the soul. For many incarcerated men and women, writing provides a mental sanctuary, creative outlet and voice- everyone has a story, almost everyone wants to be heard. Choosing words and arranging them on paper, forming ideas and themes on the page is like painting your soul on a mural.
When we began our first creative writing class last March, seven inmates enrolled but by the final exam in June, we were down to three students. That’s a drop rate over 50 percent; but, the students that lasted were passionate and dedicated- they put in work. In reality the workload was a stack of bricks. Students were introduced to literature-poetry and fiction; they wrote journals, drafts and revisions; studied word choice and diction, alliteration and allusion; read and analyzed literature by celebrated writers and poets such as Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, E.E. Cummings, Bessie Head, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston and Jamaica Kincaid.
The Fall semester Creative Writing II began in September and ended on December 14th. This semester 15 signed up initially but by the final class our numbers whittled down to seven. Our focus this fall was on fiction writing. Whereas the first creative writing class covered the fundamentals of writing and reading both poetry and fiction, in Creative Writing II we studied the elements of fiction more in depth, and focused on short stories. The syllabus touched on scene structure, narration, showing vs telling, plot, structure, figures of speech, characterization, details and setting. The final paper was a short story with a 7,000 word count.
Our writing classes consisted of people from different backyards, from politician to a self-published author of an urban story (Drako Sullivan); financiers and farmers to medical doctors and dope boys; black, white, an Asian and a Hispanic; the educated and the under-educated, from all walks of life- our prison writing classes are truly a microcosm of American society.
Oh, and we did have the classic a dog-ate-my-homework excuse in the form of “I think I lost my assignment during my move from Unit D-2 to D-1.” This from a politician. Right! Nice try, Mr. Perry.
Literature Textbooks we used:
Writing Fiction- A Guide to Narrative Craft, Seventh Edition 2007 by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French
The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, Seven Edition 2005 by R.V. Cassill
The Creative Writing Guide by Candace Schaefer and Rick Diamond
The Compact Bedford Introduction To Literature, Fifth Edition by Micheal Meyer
Poems and Short Stories We Studied:
The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses by Bessie Head http://www.sacp.org.za/biographies/bhead.html
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
A Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway
The Killers by Ernest Hemingway http://members.atlantic.net/~gagne/hem/hem.html
She Being Brand by E.E. Cummings
Africa by Maya Angelou http://ucaswww.mcm.uc.edu/worldfest/about.html
Un-American Investigators by Langston Hughes
Dream Boogie by Langston Hughes
Harlem by Langston Hughes http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/hughes.html
The Conscience of The Court by Zora Neale Hurston http://www2.wwnorton.com/college/english/naal7/
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer Day? by William Shakespeare
My Mistresses Eyes by William Shakespeare http://www.poets.org
The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth
Girl by Jamaica Kincaid
(An excerpt from) Hardtimes by Charles Dickens
Read Poetry by:
Edgefield Zoo A Haiku- https://cryredemption.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/edgefield-zoo-a-haiku-by-anthony-choe/
For Richer or For Poorer(1997) A Sonnet- https://cryredemption.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/for-richer-or-for-poorer-1997-a-sonnet-by-anthony-choe/
Soul Mate A Sonnet- https://cryredemption.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/soul-mate-a-sonnet-by-drako-sullivan/
Kaya Omodele @theabeng contributes to Beneath The Surface Publishing
Read more about my experiences teaching prison creative writing classes
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