National Writing Project

Writing Samples from the 2002 NWP E-Anthology

By: NWP Staff
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 5
Date: November-December 2002

Link to "Dipping into the 2002 Summer E-Anthology"

The Scary Black T-shirt Monster
By Kyle Gillis

We sat in a back, corner booth at Braum's. Actually Drew stood while I sat. As he balanced his ice cream cone in his meaty paws like a descendant of the Wallendas, a large, unkempt man in a solid black T-shirt and sweat pants came in to the restaurant. Drew, three years old, bouncing around like a bowl of Jello in an earthquake . . . stared at the man. He was about five feet, seven inches tall, somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 pounds, with long, greasy black hair. He didn't have one thing in his head you could call a solid tooth and there were remnants of his last three meals in his goatee.

Drew took the measure of this man, this character, this fodder for a new round of attempts to make me laugh, and pointed. It wasn't just any point. It was one of those stiff-arm, Invasion of the Body Snatchers points. With his disarming smirk framing his expression, Drew extended his index finger and yelled at top volume, "Aaaahhhh, it's the Scary Black T-shirt Monster! Aaaahhhh!!"

Two elderly women in the booth next to ours almost choked on their drinks as they tried to suppress their laughter. They were giggling with such fervor that they were only able to make eye contact with their tabletop.

The Scary Black T-shirt Monster canted his head slightly in our direction, and then returned his mon-strous gaze to the wall menu. He'd apparently been identified as the Scary Black T-shirt Monster before.

I grabbed Drew, and using the guise of a loving hug, I became a human straight jacket for this wired bundle of teeth, muscle, and wisecracks. His ice cream cone, which by now I was certain was attached to his hand with Velcro, painted a lovely design on my shirt.

Once Drew had settled to a controlled jitter, I released him to finish his cone. He began singing a silly song about poop in your socks when it happened again. The Scary Black T-shirt Monster was approaching. Drew froze and with the same gesture and volume announced, "It's the monster! Hide!"

Only divine intervention, or perhaps a Ghandi-like tolerance on the part of the Scary Black T-shirt Monster, stopped him from kicking me in the head or attempting to gum me to death. He looked at Drew with an ambiguous glare, got his ketchup, and ambled to a far-off booth to eat his Scary Black T-shirt Monster meal.

I corralled Drew, belatedly deposited the now dripping cone in the trash, gave him a quick wipe-down, and took him to the car, out of the lair of the Scary Black T-shirt Monster.

On Considering Tim O'Brien
Mary E. Fakler

They don't carry something to write with. "Anybody got a pen I can borrow?" someone will ask aloud, and for the fourth time that week, I will jump in with, "How can you come to a writing class without something to write with?"

They don't carry their textbooks. Well, some do, even on the days when no reading has been assigned. But for the most part, they buy one book among five students and pass it around. Maybe. If they can figure out who had it last. Or if they have the time to address the assigned reading. Or if there isn't anything else they need to do. Or want to do.

They don't carry money; food and supplies are purchased with a piece of plastic they refer to as "my declining balance." And since most of them complain about the food on campus anyway, some of them don't even carry the cards.

They don't carry keys. When they return to their dorm rooms, they first check to see if their roommates are in. No one home. Then they check their neighbors, find someone else around, and hang out and chill in other rooms until their own roommates return. After ambling over to the dining hall to grab a snack and returning to find the errant roommates still errant, they move to "Plan C": call security. An unarmed security personnel arrives with a key and opens the locked fortress. Problem solved. As I said, they don't carry keys.

They do carry big backpacks which they slide off their backs before sliding into their seats. Since I rarely see them remove anything from these backpacks, I cannot say what the contents might be.

They carry CD players with tiny earphones attached and try to sit in the back of the room where—they believe incorrectly—I cannot see them. My guess is that they are not listening to Kenneth Branagh reading Shakespeare.

They carry coffee cups with the Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or McDonald's logo on them, and small cakes in crinkly wrappers and gum and lollipops and a myriad of other delectables that arrive on an irregular basis in strange packages from home.

They carry their journals, and although I force them to write in them with me and without me, some of them write more than the standard requirements. It is the journals that carry the real them—for they do not carry stories of writing pens and textbooks and CDs and keys. They carry the poetry of their souls and their hunger for a life of love and peace.

Swimmers on Summer Mornings
by Ann Dobie

Fellows place red and golden zinnias in a vase, its throat circled by a purple bow.

Their arms are hangers for strappy bags, bins filled with books and papers.

Their faces carry questions.

Shorts and sandals, loose smocks and flowered shifts disguise their intensity,

And I wish them the words to serve it—hard words, true words.

They prowl the snacks table like hungry cats, picking and trying the fare of the day.

They will need the energy of the cakes, cookies and candies,

For when they write, they are as intense as noontide heat,

Still as dreaming children.

Their songs make them grow flushed and breathless,

Their faces red like ripe tomatoes,

Their voices honeyed like cape jasmine.

They are like swimmers in deep water.

They tread the surface for a time, then, gaining courage,

Dive down, down, to find their stories and poems in new depths,

Carry them upward towards the sunlight,

Sing them in the summer air.

On Thinking
by Jason Ruiz

The classroom is a place for thought and discovery; it is a place where minds are guided and children introduced to ideas and concepts. In my classroom—one where 8th graders come to learn Literature—I have given many opportunities for students to share. There have been times when students have taken the entire period to hash out their ideas about fictional characters or the intentions of an author, and I let them. I have often said that I would much rather listen to them than to have them listen to me (and they wholeheartedly agree); it's good for them. I promote thinking. It has been my intention all year to teach my students the art of thinking about what we study and how it relates to them as people. We have discussed ethics, metaphysics, politics, even religion, and through all of our voyages into subtext, I am confident that my students learned the art of how to interpret a text correctly, and how to think on that interpretation.

In our discussions, I have often been challenged to re-travel the roads of my own beliefs to see if I apply the thinking techniques I try to teach my students. After a day of helping fourteen-year olds search for objective truth, I have often driven home with the radio off, my thoughts my only company. Alone on the road, I have wrestled with student's questions regarding human nature or the certainty of the English language ("...but how can we know that that is what the author was trying to get across to the reader?"). As I replay the discussions in my mind, I slow them down and deal with each issue, trying to deduce how best to communicate them.

One issue that seemed to creep its way into almost every lesson was the idea of truth: is there objective truth, or are there different truths for different people? As a teacher, I have had to approach this very carefully so as not to offend anyone too much, or not to show preference. On the other hand, this issue is at the heart of teaching literature; there is no way to teach it and not encounter the question of what is true and what is not. As students read, they ask questions about morality and philosophy and about what their parents and pastors have taught them. Some students become confused about what they hold to be true while others' beliefs are bolstered.

What is a teacher to do? Am I to avoid confrontational issues like this one in the interest of tolerance and sensitivity, or am I to say that there is a right and wrong and a true and a false? I decided early on to make certain that my students would think, and that means that they have had to label right and wrong, true and false. Objective truth does exist, and I would be cheating my students if I told them otherwise . . .

Read more of "On Thinking" at

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