Monthly Archives: April 2010

My Awesome Students Part 1: Writing Life Books (Updated, Video works)

Every semester my Intro Creative Writing students choose a book about the writing life from a (long) list I give them, read the book and do a poster presentation on it.  This year I decided to mix it up a little and encouraged them to do a multi-media presentation, which meant it could be a poster, but it could also be. . .anything else they could think of.  They were enormously creative.  Below are some of the wonderful examples.  Next post?  Their enormously creative chapbooks–be prepared to be impressed!

Bye y’all,


This student chose a photo frame box to demonstrate A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.  There are quotes from the book inside.


This is a poster on Stephen King’s On Writing.


These are cupcakes with words from SK’s On Writing piped on them.  Yes, it says what it says.  This was one of the milder cupcakes (check out the one in the bottom right corner).  Remember, we’re talking about Stephen King, here.


This was a powerpoint on Heather’s Seller’s book, Chapter After Chapter.Photobucket

And finally, a musical/play about Ted Kooser’s Writing Brave and Free.  It’s really worth listening to; they used quotes from the book in their script.


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Wordamour faces off with Arne Duncan on Talk of the Nation!

Yes, folks, I just got off the phone with Education Secretary Arne Duncan!!!

Duncan was a guest of Talk of the Nation and thanks to the wonders of redial, Wordamour actually got on the last five minutes of the show to challenge Duncan’s plan to dissolve proven national literacy programs like the National Writing Project,  Reading is Fundamental, Teach for America, Even Start and Ready to Learn in favor of block grants to the states. (If this is news to you, you can catch up on the furor by reading here, here and here).

A podcast of the show will be available after 6 pm today EST here:

I’m the last caller, if you want to fast forward.

Ok, I was more than a little nervous so I probably could have been more articulate (but I could have been less articulate, too).  I told the secretary my concerns about removing funding from proven, established national programs with a national infrastructure (effectively destroying those programs)to give the money to unproven programs that states would apply to, similar to the Race to the Top Competition.  He countered with, “but those programs can compete by joining with the states.”

No, we can’t Secretary Duncan.  If you take away our national infrastructure, you will destroy us. And legally, national programs cannot compete on a state level.

It quickly devolved into a “but you can compete,” “no we can’t,” “yes you can,” conversation.   The truth is, several people within that administration have admitted that they don’t know what to do about programs like ours, programs that are scaled up already and have been serving teachers and students effectively for thirty years!

Once he gave up on trying to tell me we could compete, he started saying, “well, show me you have proven results.” To which I replied, “We do have proven results. Just go to our website.” (see below for the link, dear readers).

I’m not sure, but I may have gotten the last word.

So, I’m a little more composed now (my hands are only shaking a little).  Here is what I would say if I had more time with Secretary Duncan.

Dear Secretary Duncan:

The Common Core you have proposed, setting national standards in literacy K-12 raises the bar for teachers and students nationwide.

As you said in the program moments before our conversation, Secretary Duncan, we must raise the bar on achievement in our schools.

To raise the bar, we need national  professional development in literacy that addresses the needs of all teachers, across the country.

The National Writing Project has provided proven, successful national professional development in literacy for over thirty five years.  Read about it here.

If you destroy our national infrastructure by removing our funding, you will destroy our ability to serve all the states with quality professional development.

You will also destroy one of the best ideas in education to come along in half a century.

And, you will destroy our nation’s ability to meet the bar you have set.

Secretary Duncan,  on behalf of teachers and students across this country, I urge you to reconsider. It’s not too late.

Stephanie Vanderslice


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Merci, Blanche Lincoln!

Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln has signed the bi-partisan Senate Dear Colleague Letter supporting the Writing Project. Our other senator, Mark Pryor, cannot sign because he is on the appropriations committee. But we believe we have his support.

Meanwhile, the NWP and RIF and their funding battle were profiled together in a New York Times article you can read here, including words from and a picture of our fearless leader Sharon Washington.

The fight goes on!

Bye y’all,

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AWP Denver 2010 Day 3-Top 10

We have an early flight out tomorrow and dinner plans tonight with old friends so I’m not sure when I’m going to get a chance to blog AWP 2010 again.  Let me leave you with some images and my own top 10 list.

1. The Book Fair.  Enormous this year, hearteningly and intimidatingly so–I didn’t pick up much swag though, because my head was just swimming.  A picture follows below–multiply it by 10 and you get an idea of just how big it was. Reading is not dead.  So there.

2. The Denver Convention Center.  One of the best convention centers I’ve gotten to tool around in.  Capacious, comfortable, good signage.  But how could a conference in the West be anything else?

3. Our panel, the Joy of Assessment.  I tried to make my small contribution but I learned a ton from my other panel-mates, Judith Baumel, Mary Cantrell, Kendall Dunkelberg, Aileen Murphy, myself and Anna Leahy (who I later learned from someone  else just got married and tenure–way to hold out on us Anna ;)).  Thanks to Kendall, our fearless leader,  it went off beautifully.  Check back here soon for the Wiki address for moew resources he’s made available on the panel.

4.  Kids and Babies everywhere, even one little pea in a pod who could not have been more than a few weeks old.  His  mother strutted around with him in a sling like she’d done it all her life–kudos to her!  All in all a very kid-friendly conference.

5. Awesome 0atmeal and pumpkin muffins from the Corner Bakery.

6. Running into so many cross sections of my life in one place.

7. This year’s incredibly handy conference bag, with pockets galore, including space for business cards and water bottles.  A definite keeper.

8. Rich sessions full of great ideas.  Fewer “clunkers” than ever before.  I’m going to need days just to process all this.

9. The blue bear in peering into the convention center.

10. Sharing a few city blocks with thousands and thousands of fellow Wordamours!  The Word is alive! Long live the Word!!
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L-R Anna Leahy, Kendall Dunkelberg, Mary Cantrell and Aileen Murphy preparing to proclaim the Joy of Assessment.

Bye y’all,


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AWP Denver Day 2–And the Beat goes on

Lot’s O Highlights:

Meeting Siobahn Campbell, who teachs on the MFA at Kingston University London .  Her head of school (aka Dean?) is from Arkansas!  Her knowledge of the UK scene was impressive.  So MFA’s are creeping onto the landscape in the UK–but Kingston had the first one.

Lunch with Shauna Busto Gilligan, smart, absolutely charming Irish writer from Dublin who is getting an M. Phil from the University of Glamorgan with Philip Gross!  We had so much in common personally and professionally–we’re hoping to do some collaborating.

From The Program Directors Speak:

Community.  Community. Community.  Building community in program is critical.  Of course, but this feeds in nicely with some points I make in the first chapter of my book.

Lan Samantha Chang (Iowa):  To her students:  This is your generation, be part of it.

Maxine Chernoff (SF State):  Use the community to build your resources.  Start presses, reading series, blogs, web sites.  Prepare yourself for the future as well as the present moment.

Fred Leebron (Queens University, Charlotte):  Writing is a war of attrition. Don’t attrish!

Let’s Get this Program Started

MFA Programs–Make sure you help students in thinking and planning about their future life post MFA.

The Road Less Travels AKA It’s Not All About Academia

Margo Raab- Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me in Grad School

  • Learn the business and how to separate the art from the business.
  • Connections do and don’t matter.
  • Find a literary community.
  • Learn how to do your taxes.
  • Find out what it takes not to give up, what sustains and what feeds you as an artist.

The Bookfair.  Ahh, the Bookfair.  It was the size of a couple of  football fields this yearsand I tried to “do” it all at once which was a mistake.  By the end I literally felt like I might fall over. But,

  • Got to see Graeme Harper and his wife and son, who we spent time with in Portsmouth in 2006!
  • Got to chat some more with Paul Munden and pay my NAWE (British version of AWP) dues in American dollars–which saves a trip to Little Rock to change dollars to pounds (Dear Conway:  You are big enough now to have a bank that can do exchanges.  You really are.)
  • Finally got to pick up a copy of the 2008 Missouri Review with Bill Lychack’s story, “Darwin’s Lotus” in it–by the time I visited the MR booth last year, they were all out.
  • Got to talk some more to Siobahn Campbell.
  • Said hi to the great folks over at Fiction Writer’s ReviewThis is one of the best literary sites on the web; if you’re not reading it, you should be.
  • Got some pages of my journal photographed for Di Mezzo Il Mare.  These amazing folks are going to get a whole post soon!

But the BEST thing about Day 2?  Drinks with our former student, Heather Cox, who regaled us with stories of her life in Chicago at Roosevelt University and wowed us with all the smart things she’s doing to get the most out of her MFA program.  But most of all she just made me really really proud. You go Heather, you’ve got it going on!

And on to Day 3! More later,

Bye y’all,

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And We’re Off: Blogging AWP 2010

So the flight up here, well the connecting flight to Chicago anyway, was so turbulent that I introduced myself to the gentleman next to me by accidentally grabbing his thigh during a gut wrenchingly steep and bumpy ascent.  See, I was reaching for my husband’s thigh at this point, which was on my left, and well, my right hand just instinctively followed suit in the other direction.  Fortunately, while I was mortified, he was very good humored about it.  He also called me “young lady,” as in, “Are you all right, young lady?”  So I knew right away we were going to get along.  “Just relax,” he told me.  “Enjoy the ride.  Like a roller coaster.”

Yep.  A roller coaster.  Space Mountain, I’m guessing, where you can’t see a thing.  The he followed up with, “Besides, if anything were to happen, you’d never know what hit you.  We’re going 500 miles an hour.”

As you can imagine,  he was very kind and gregarious, chatting with me the whole 1.5 hour flight and occasionally throwing in, “that was just an air pocket, no big deal,” which I appreciated.  So whoever you are from just south of Chicago who designs breweries for a living and travels all the time, thanks for the distraction.

Some of you may be wondering where my husband was during all this.  Reading a book while I occasionally held his hand so tightly my rings left red marks on his fingers.  He’s not insensitive; he’s just used to this.

But enough about me and my aviation angst.  Today began the AWP 2010 Festivities, and although it was an incredible, information packed day all around, it started auspiciously enough with me missing the first session because even though I was a minute or two early, that wasn’t even enough, the room was SRO with about thirty to forty people still waiting to get in.  It was about Creative Nonfiction and though it had seemed interesting, even getting to stand inside was looking hopeless, so I gave up and went to check my email.  Needless to say, I was at least twenty minutes early to all the sessions the rest of the day, even if it meant I had to leave the session I was in before it ended.

My next two sessions were sensational and interestingly, echoed one  another.  The first, called “Shameless Book Promotion,” was put on by Squad365.  Here are some highlights:

  • Promoting books is not just more necessary but also more interesting and creative every day.  Make opportunity out of necessity by reaching out to readers.
  • From poet, Todd Boss, “The world is our audience and we should give them the poetry it craves.”  Commit to a public role (Todd himself is the Poet Laurete of Nina’s cafe in MN. ) In other words, we need to assert ourselves as public leaders in the arts in our own communities.
  • Tour for reasons other than book sales.  Touring isn’t about you and your book but about connecting with the souls who show up to show their love for literature and the arts.
  • Number one strategy for getting your book known?  Get in some sort of trouble.  No, seriously, it’s about human connection.  Promoting your book is a service.
  • All of the presenters seemed very high on Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, which I bought at AWP last year and have been wanting to read.  Now I have no more excuses. 

PLATFORM BUILDING (with, among others, Golden Baguette award winner and Writer Mama/Get Known Before the Book Deal Author Christina Katz)

  • We are responsible for the outcome of our careers, for making the best choices for the best results. (CK herself).
  • Ezra Pound, as a missionary for poetry and for himself, was the best platform builder of the 20th century, “hauling ass all over Europe” for a cause he believed in.
  • CK started college with a 128 K Mac, just like I did.  We must be about the same age, although she sounds much more tech-savvy.
  • Writing always comes first; but 10-20% of the rest of your time should be spent micro building your platform (ie. baby steps, a little bit each day).

Next was the “all-star” biography session, with appearances by Philip Lopate, Robert Root, Honor Moore, Kim Stafford (one of my heroes), Diana Raab and Joy Castro.

  • When Stafford called friend Naomi Shihab Nye (another of my heroes) to tell her of his father’s passing, she asked if he was writing.  When he said no, everything was so unsettled, she told him, with her characteristic wisdom:  “don’t wait until things settle to write about this. Things are unsettled right now in a way they will never be again.”
  • After his father’s death, he learned from one of his father’s friends that the elder Stafford had confided that “I love all my children [he had four] but there is one that is myself.  It is Kim.”  And so, Kim Stafford told us, “I was saddled with the treasure of mutual identity.”
  • From the duality of William/Kim Stafford:  When a particular writing day finds you struggling to choose among several projects, “choose the thing in your hands that is most alive.”
  • From Honor Moore:  “Write the hot spots first.  It gives the book structure.”
  • Philip Lopate writing about his ambivalance toward his subject, Susan Sontag.  “Contradiction is quite human.” (And so in my own ears rings, “Do I contradict myself/Very well I contradict myself/ I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Teaching Creative Writing Across the Pond

  • The most enlighting part was the discussion of Creative Writing in Ireland, which I don’t know nearly as much about as I should.  Sounds like compared to that “other Island” (yes, this was how they referred to the UK) the history of creative writing there is proceeding at a much slower pace.  I’m looking forward to having coffee with one of the presenters, Shauna Busto Gilligan, tomorrow. 

I was supposed to go to another session after that but my head was swimming and I was all conferenced out.  Which is how you’re probably feeling if you made it all the way through this post.  Onward!  I’ll be back tomorrow.

Bye y’all,


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Classic Kidlit Peeps

The Washington Post 2010 Peeps Diorama winners are in and two of them are very close to Wordamour’s heart.

One finalist was a pitch perfect rendition of Margaret Wise Brown/Clement Hurd’s iconic Goodnight Moon.  Check out the photo here and the brief, sweet video on the making of here.

And then, “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”  A must see here.

Gotta love this contest.

If that’s too um, sugary for you, there’s a great post over on HuffPo on the Creepiest Children’s Books Ever.

A quiet weekend here as Wordamour recovers from her DC trip (one of the best ever thanks to her son, who makes a great travel companion) and get’s ready for AWP in Denver.  I’m sure I’ll be blogging AWP from the Mile High City—can’t resist.

Right now, there’s a Cadbury creme egg in my future, thanks to my mom.  My only one of the season.  Everything in moderation and all that.

Bye y’all


PS There was also a very good diorama of Where the Wild Things Are, but it seemed like an easy get what with the movie just coming out.

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The Detective’s Club Demise, and another WIOTD (Wardrobe Incident of the Day)

Yellow Kid First Comics Pictures, Images and Photos

“I can’t wear that shirt.”

It was a bright, very bright yellow shirt with black Greek letters on it from UCA, leftover from a Greek service organization (anyone who works with me will know what I’m talking about).  I thought the Greek letters made it kind of cool in a frat-ish sort of way. 

“Why? What’s wrong with it.”

“It’s too yellow.  I’m just not in a yellowy mood today.”

Okay, then, strike bright yellow off the list.  You just never know.

The nine year old has had a rough week.  On Tuesday, all of his friends quit his detective club, en masse.

“Really,” I said as we walked to the car.  “Did they want to start another club or something?”

“Yes,” he blurted through hot tears. 

“What’s it’s name?”

“The Ex-Detectives club!!!”

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