Keeping It Real at the Festival of Books

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is a miracle of sorts—of the many ways to read and write in America in 2011.  In the midst of celebrity authors (Jillian Michaels, Rainn Wilson, Ted Danson, etcetera) and the local grass-roots contingent and hardcore, high-end literati, I hosted a panel called Teaching Kids Writing.  Due to the increased marginalization of the arts in the national curriculum, it has fallen to nonprofits and arts organizations to create outreach programs that preserve and nurture the arts as well as create unique experiences that only arts education can provide.

DSC_0947-1CROPPED_1Melinda MacInnis from the University of Southern California’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative talked about the genesis of her program, which began after the 1992 L.A. Riots:  “Years ago, when L.A. was literally on fire, USC had a choice—to build walls around the campus, or to reach out into the community. USC reached out.”

Melinda brought two students (pictured) to read from their work.  Joslynn Cerrato, an 11th grader from Foshay Learning Center, read a short essay called “I Am American”  and Vanessa Lopez, an 11th grader from Manual Arts Senior High School, read a poem called “Feeling Blue.”

Michelle Meyering, from the writers’ advocacy organization PEN Center USA, introduced her program, which brings writers into schools. Two of our Master of Professional Writing students, Amie Longmire and Krishna Narayamurti, brought in three students from West Adams Preparatory High School. Teresa Meza read a  memoir, “I Was Wrong”; Domonic Flowers’ poem, “Save Me a Spot in College,” was a college application essay written in rhyme; and Natalia Zepeda’s short story, “Snow Woman/Ice Queen,” was riveting—all in all these young writers brought down the house.

Krishna talked about the three goals he and Amie presented—to be better writers, to be published, and to be brave. The last injunction, which was about BRAVERY, was an interesting one because we do talk about the risks involved with writing our truths, our stories.

Because writing is itself, as Gandhi reminds us, “an experiment with the truth,” the very act of writing can be an act of discovery.

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