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Spring Break Book Week: Writing Workshop

Special guest writer, blogger, and dear friend, Sarah Reiter, writes in from the field to share her description and reflection of our day spent “writing the book” for our spring break week project. She also touches on some of the things that we love about New Urban Arts, but sometimes can’t find words for. Thanks for naming some of the magic Sarah! (pics are on their way!).

I took time out from my usual day this Tuesday for a special event I was invited to participate in by my friend, artist and coordinator extraordinaire Emmy Bright. I could enthusiastically agree to showing up as many of my friends, fellow writers and artists from the providence community were going to be there. Also, there would be waffles!

I knew that the workshop would prove to be a welcome and invigorating challenge, as it was being moderated by none other than Walker Mettling. Walker is well known throughout Providence for his grand imaginative scheming, innate artistic talent, and hard and fast no holds barred stories events, as well as his morbid sense of humor and his ability to maintain a level of hyperactivity some medical professionals thought only five-year-olds were capable of. Knowing he would be there, as well as my friends Jay, Kate, Nik, Jorge, and Kevin made it seem like I was showing up to my own birthday party, with only one exception, teenagers!

Those of us on the outside of arts education are never quite sure how to approach dealing with dealing with the dreaded teenager. Something was obvious from the time that I showed up and was showered with hugs, served waffles, enthusiastically asked to sign a giant sign in book with a magic marker, shouted at, complimented, and showered with affection- these were no ordinary teenagers.

Noel made me waffles and gave me the secret instructions for retrieving the Nutella from it’s secret hiding place. Then we got down to the business of working off that maple syrup sugar energy with a spirited warm up game, directed by Emmy. Each of us darted about the room keeping an eye on our chosen, secret friend, and secret enemy, who suddenly switched roles, and the additional caveat of keeping our friend between us and our enemy found me broadsided and continually bombarded into the side of the large paper mache tree which graces the floor of the new urban arts studios, by noel who seemed to be keeping me there with only the use of his broad chest. I had no choice but to surrender in laughter.

Next we were organized by “tall person , short person”, but you know not really tall person, short person if you know what I mean, ( like Student, Adult, Student) and read a short story together which helped everyone understand the concept of “magical realism”, this will come back into play again as we work on our stories, as each one of the exercises was design to help us exercise our “magical realism” muscle.

Our first exercise was to write an obituary for a very unfortunate mysterious character. Some say he is a soldier, some say he’s an unhappy husband, still others say he’s a rocker who rocked his arms and legs away. Whatever happened it wasn’t pretty.

Next we all traded words left to right and right to left to write our individual takes on the objects of nature and verbs we loved the best. Throughout this and the other exercises I was really touched to hear each and every person’s individual voice in what they were doing. When you’re writing an important part of really writing the best you can is finding your voice. the adults and students together were writing like a finely tuned chorus, wherein you could hear each individual voice clearly for its perspective and together the event was a harmonious orchestration.

For the final and maybe the most confusing portion of the workshop we were asked to write five thingsdifferent about the world (what if the fifth child was always killed, what if Pokeman were real, what if cigarettes made us fly?) and five customs (throwing furry animals, trading origin stories, murderous cookie carrying grand-mas on Trindad). It was hard to think of some good customs as examples at first, but eventually we worked it out.

Then after a good snack it was time for me to leave but the day carried on for our dedicated pupils as more planning for the week’s book activity was at hand. I was sorry to have to go.

Being an outsider to New Urban Arts, I am really able to see the effect that working alongside community artists has had on the students. They are respectful to themselves and each other, as well as adults. Sometimes things happen, chairs fall over, maybe someone paints with their fingers, things get spilled, but these things aren’t really bad behavior they are just things that often annoy adults. It’s great to see the effect working at New Urban Arts has had on helping the kids work without great frustration on expressing their artistic voice and listening to one another. I can’t wait to see the book and the work that the students choose to represent there. I can’t wait to see their work in the future as surely each one of these students will making amazing work in whatever mediums they chose! Not only did I get to hang out and play with writing exercise with my talented friends, but I met a new set of amazing people and I want to stay connected to with. Because I look forward to what they will do with a voracious excitement! That’s the joy of helping out at New Urban Arts. -Sarah Reiter

Thanks Sarah! Thanks Walker for designing the excellent exercizes and leading us in a super fantastic day. Thanks Jay, Nik, Kate, and Kevin for hanging out, reading, writing and running around with us. We loved having you in the studio!

Today, Wednesday, we will illustrate and layout the book. Really? In one day? Yep… Andrew Oesch will navigate us through bonkers processes and precarious territories to get there. Where? We’ll know it when we walk it. More soon!