Engaging the community through writing

By Alysse Schultheis

Contributing Writer

“Chef Rick’s Emails,” “Fill in the Blank,” and “Add On” are merely a few of the projects Sewanee students in Professor Lewis’ WRIT 206 A are working on this semester. Instead of staying inside the classroom, the students’ projects focus on how they as writers and artists interact with the larger community.

The Sewanee WriteNow Project emphasizes what Sewanee does best: encouraging students to think about how their work impacts others while moving beyond the classroom. The project motivates students to engage with the community and think about the many roles an artist can have in a community. Students developed small narrative projects or events that build on the fiction writing they work on in class. Now, the students are offered a chance to see how sharing writing has an impact on their surroundings. Lewis guides students in the beginning, but soon the projects become totally student-driven. Pairs or small groups spread all over campus, dropping small literary “events” across the domain.

Some events have already occurred, others are ongoing, and a few will be revealed in the coming weeks. Will Rankin (C’19) created a project called “A Work in Progress” that debuted the Sunday after Spring Break. Focusing on embracing different perspectives and forms, Rankin opened each section of the exercise with a popular clip or photo and asked participants to write down elements of the piece which make the tone, plot, and exposition essential to the story. Rankin then selected a small detail and asked volunteers to write down how this affects the same aspects. Finally, he showed a photo of a popular character, and as a group everyone analyzed the photo to understand how small details orient and contribute to the broad understanding we have in our minds about the photo. With his project, Rankin took an exercise in class and expanded it to include the wider community, helping those who participated to see how something familiar can be broken down in order to understand how the artist invokes familiarity within our minds.

Cat Clark decided for her project “DTD” she would focus on Spring Party weekend and communicate a story through windows. Each story would be about 20 words in order to present them in large font easily and create an eyecatching display. The stories will be pasted on windows, large and engaging for anyone passing by. Clark will write about the same man at a party for all the stories, but each window will present a different point of view of the event. This will create about six different observations of the same man and event sequence. Clark is interested in how celebrities and those in the public eye must sell their personality in order to be successful. This phenomenon creates a large following of people who might think they know the person and are in a position to pass judgment on them. Clark will use her project to see how this societal tendency will play out at a fraternity party, with only a 20 words. Touching on the tendency for people to quickly pass judgments on those they see on a Saturday night, Clark’s project brings this phenomenon to the forefront and actively engages with the community through the many points of view her stories offer.

Another student, Rose McMaster, developed a project titled “What Makes Sewanee ‘Sewanee’” that debuted last week in order to give the Freshmen Class time to consider their own experiences. The Sewanee community will be able to see her project on bulletin boards around campus, so be on the lookout towards the end of the month. Participants can post their own event, memory, or even a personal object to represent their time at Sewanee. The project unites the community through writing, emphasizing the many individual experiences everyone has at Sewanee. Participants can see through other’s experiences how Sewanee has a different meaning for everyone, but placing the stories together on one board demonstrate how those unique experiences make the community stronger.

Instead of choosing a particular week to engage the community through writing, Jorge Espericueta has been working diligently on his project for the past month. Through his project, titled “Sewanee Life,” Espericueta’s goal was to help people think about their lives and what it is that they do differently every day or events that occur repeatedly. After collecting these stories, he will order them by date in order to present a loose narrative of what a Sewanee year looks like from a variety of people’s perspectives. Viewing the differences and overlapping occurrences in other people’s lives will help to demonstrate the interpersonal relationships present in the community. Espericueta’s final goal with his project would be to distribute this collection of “Sewanee Life” to be more accessible to the wider community.

Other events include a student who is writing small food-based narratives in conjunction with Chef Rick’s daily emails, a student who posted brief narratives on the cereal dispensers in McClurg, and a story written for the fraternity community to reflect on their role beyond party culture. CarolAnne Poyman “loved the community engagement aspect of this project.” She “posted prompts on the library billboards and wanted to see what passers-by would add to it.” Some people added lines about dragons and magical adventures, making the results “greatly amusing,” said Poyman. Whether students in Lewis’ class pursued projects that questioned and focused on daily life or included fun ways for the community to actively participate, every project engaged individuals through writing and demonstrated the role an artist plays in their community.

Students from the creative fiction writing class will place parts of their stories on the columns in Gailor. If you are interested in creative writing or want to know what your peers write about, stop by for a few minutes and enjoy the world of fiction. If you have any questions about the students’ projects, you can contact Professor Lewis at whlewis@sewanee.edu.