Blog #4: Collaborative Literacies:
In her essay, “‘Phenomenal Women,’ Collaborative Literacies, and Community Texts in Alternative ‘Sista’ Spaces,” Beverly Moss catalogs and analyzes the importance of talk and interaction to one African American women’s community group. How does talk work in your group? Does it enable or limit your space? Does it advance the goals your workshop? of individuals? If not, talk, then, what, at your site? Spend some time reflecting.
In Mark Salzman’s essay, “The Writing Class,” he discusses a particular writing group for “violent” young men in juvenile hall. He discusses his own preconceptions about working inside juvenile hall with incarcerated youth, as well as how his preconceived notions were challenged or debunked over time. Can you relate to his experience? What preconceptions did you have about the writers you would be working with at your particular sites? Or even preconceptions about the site itself? Reflect on how writing has impacted your perceptions.
Talking is very present in my site writing group. The ladies are always chatting and talking, even a bit in the halls (though they’re not supposed to). That part is hard as I enjoy talking with them and being the one to enforce the authority in the halls feels so weird. Interestingly, it has been noted by past facilitators that the women often write for shorter periods and talk more than the groups for the men. In the workshops themselves, it is a problem and a boon. The talking can be disruptive, hard to quell, and once started, is hard to stop. It has actually caused some women to not return to our group, which I felt terribly about. This is especially because it is often only one or two women who are disrupting the group, which ruins the experience for the rest of us.
But talking does serve a positive purpose too. There is so much sharing and reading aloud in our group that it makes getting to everything difficult. But it is worth it to hear what was written, to give and receive feedback, and to encourage each other to share. They are so proud of what they write and I love that they feel so confident and comfortable to share, even when it deals with difficult subject matter. There is a feeling of honesty and genuineness that I had never expected to find in this setting. I like talking to find out what the group wants and needs, what is working and what doesn’t. Individuals also talk to me to get specific advice or help on writing as a process. It give us all a chance to be social humans together in a way that is not the same as being literate-focused people.
In regards to the “Writing Class” and preconceptions, I will admit that I fell into the category of so uninformed that everything about the prison was terrifying. I had also been afraid of being in danger and of doing something wrong in regards to the prison itself. The image of police officers getting mad about my failure to follow rules had been my own mental feature film, playing 24/7. The dangerous prison of grim faced people waiting to harm you was my fear, which seems to not be a valid one. Whether this is true all over, I don’t know.
In relation to the inmates, I had a pretty low standards of expectation going in. The first thing that I found to be a false preconception was the apathy towards the group that I thought the inmates would demonstrate. It was a huge relief and joy to discover that they themselves were the greatest supporters and recruiters. It is wonderful to see them calling each other down and reminding and making sure no one is missed due to lock downs. I also was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the women are friendly, welcoming, and generally not going to be mean spirited towards me.
Much like Mark Salzman, I had dreaded to spend two hours or so on terrible writing that just hurt to listen to, that was just written to fulfill the group norms and nothing else. There are some truly talented and diverse people in my group, reading and typing up their work is actually very enjoyable. Interacting with that writing in the form of comments is a uniquely thought provoking exercise. Its a combination of editing, response, and examining the voices and experiences portrayed in the texts.
Hooray for subverting the status quo through treating each other as people!