National Writing Project

NWP Sites Gear Up for the National Day on Writing

By: Art Peterson
Date: October 13, 2010

Summary: Writing Project sites from around the country have planned a range of activities to celebrate the National Day on Writing this October 20—everything from writing six-word memoirs to family literacy nights to artistic collaborations involving words and images.


For Writing Project teacher-consultants every day is a day on writing. Even so, the National Day on Writing , which takes place on October 20, stirs the creative juices of NWP teachers nationwide.

This year will be the second annual National Day on Writing, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and supported by NWP. The day's events aim to "make writers from all walks of life aware of their craft."

And as NWP teachers know, "craft" can involve a lot more than five paragraphs analyzing the symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby.

As Dixie Keyes, director of the Arkansas Delta Writing Project puts it, "Too many of our young people have produced too many essays just for the purpose of testing. They need venues for sharing lived experiences."

Text messages, poems, tweets, blogs, emails, grocery lists, and condolence notes—these too are writing.

This is the point that Kevin Hodgson, a teacher-consultant with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and curator of the NWP iAnthology , emphasizes with the pieces he's collecting for October 20. He calls these contributions "writing that we don't think about."

Says Hodgson, "What I find fascinating is the range of writing that weaves its way through our day, and yet we hardly take account of it when asked, 'Are you a writer?' or 'What are you writing?' Instead we point to our formal writing as if discounting the power of words through the day that pin us to ourselves and the world."

The Many Ways Writing Project Sites Are Writing

The nesting place for much of the writing that takes place around the National Day on Writing will be NCTE's National Gallery of Writing . NCTE describes the Gallery as "a living archive of thousands of examples of writing from across America. There will be everything from blog postings to poems to audio and video clips."

What I find fascinating is the range of writing that weaves its way through our day.

Last year approximately 60 sites actively took part in establishing local galleries.

But starting a writing gallery is just one way that sites are celebrating the National Day on Writing. For example, the Indiana Writing Project has partnered with a local school district to sponsor a Family Literacy Night with the theme of food on October 20.

Says site director Jodie Scales, "We've collected recipes from students, teachers, and the community, a collection we believe will inspire writing."

The preface to the collection provides a recipe for successful community writing in general. Ingredients needed:

  • As many student and adult writers as can possibly be found
  • Teacher-consultants who have given up their summers and Saturdays to learn as much about writing instruction as possible
  • Administrators who support literacy efforts
  • Parents who carve time out of their busy schedules
  • Mix together and have some snacks.

Katie Elsener of the Nebraska Writing Project will use the National Day on Writing as a way of focusing on issues of justice and injustice. Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who, along with about 90 other women, hid in a bathroom for 90 days to escape harm, will speak to students.

"Her message," says Elsener, "will be the importance of forgiveness. And on the National Day on Writing we will have all the students in our school—who have learned through our curriculum about the Rwandan genocide—write about the power of forgiveness."

Writing certainly expands our borders. Gladys Acosta-Melendez, supervisor of world languages in the Paterson, New Jersey, schools, is asking the district's language teachers to use the National Day on Writing to prompt students to write in the language they are studying.

"Writing is a language art and should be practiced within every content area. Our high school world language teachers will celebrate on the National Day on Writing by encouraging students to write creatively in Spanish, French, or Arabic."

The National Writing Project in Vermont has planned writing activities that will extend to more than a month, beginning with a collaboration with the art department, "WORD UP: An Informal Exhibit of Words and Images," and concluding on October 20 with a writing marathon, a day of puppet making, authors' presentations, collections of children's art and writing, Skype demonstrations, and more.

Many sites' activities focus on community and collaboration. For example, David Lopez, a teacher-consultant with the UCLA Writing Project, will roll out a giant scroll of paper and have all of the students, faculty, and staff at St. Genevieve Elementary School write something.

Likewise Brenda Sumner, who teaches at a K–12 Catholic school in Southeast Missouri, wants to get the whole student body involved.

"Collaborating on the beginning of a story, the seventh-graders will pass on their writing to the sixth-graders, who will advance the plot and pass it on the fifth-graders. When the story reaches the kindergarten classes, they'll create a book jacket and maybe some illustrations. For us the National Day on Writing will be a whole week."

Writing can also happen in the most minimal of ways. Dixie Keyes, director of the Arkansas Delta Writing Project, has solicited six-word memoirs from faculty and staff at Arkansas State University, where she teaches. Martin L. Allen, director of the University Art Museum, wrote "Thirty years old since age 5."

Meanwhile, teacher-consultants have picked up on the idea. Tim Bennett, a Spanish teacher, prodded 181 pieces from his school's students, among them this gem: "Always brother of. Never just me."

Whether six words or a thousand, how we write is important to Susan Minnicks of the San Diego Area Writing Project, who wants her sixth- and seventh-graders at Moorlands Middle School in La Jolla, California, to understand that the computer keyboards and digital devices that are part of their lives today haven't always been around.

On the National Day on Writing she will bring to class for student use an "old Royal Manual, an Electric Olympia, and hopefully an IBM Selectric clunker that our custodian says is buried in the bowels of the storage room somewhere."

She will also provide onionskin erasable bond and carbon paper, brush eraser-pencils, and whiteout. She says, "I want students to see the tedium."

And then, as is usual with Writing Project collective activities, there will be at least a few folks on the cutting edge. For instance, Andréa Zellner of the Red Cedar Writing Project will be creating a "flash mob." For the uninitiated, a "flash mob," according to Wikipedia, is "a large group of people, who assemble suddenly in a public place to perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then disperse."

The part of this definition that does not apply to what Zellner is doing is the term "pointless." The point is to get people from all over the area involved in the National Day on Writing.

Zellner says, "Those who come will be dancing in the cafeteria at Michigan State and writing on a giant paper with markers. After we all dance and/or write, I'm distributing leaflets with the Gallery information. So the whole thing both celebrates writing and serves as an elaborate writing prompt."

Zellner concludes with a sentence that could serve as the watchword for the National Day on Writing: "The community is the text."

Enlarging on this idea, one understands that the National Day on Writing is not just about a single community, but is about a nation coming together to create a text that demonstrates the strength and variety of our people and the modes and genres that allow them to communicate in words.

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