Truth and Manifestos

What is your truth? What do you wish the world knew about you? What do you wish those closest to you knew?

After three weeks of building our “What If” stories, this week we focused on directing those stories to tell the truth of who we are. This work, undertaken by my first year writing students and the Just Write Virtual Writing Group, are an exploration of our personal values as part of the Morehead Writing Project‘s Building A More Perfect Union grant, Root Deep, Grow Tall. This final unit draws inspiration from Marvel’s What If animated series (and the butterfly effect), the #WalkMyWorld Project, and the National Writing Project’s American Creed (and personal values). This low-stakes personal writing journey offers my first year writers the opportunity to write out and through what is weighing on their hearts and minds while also exploring a variety of modes of writing and learning new rhetorical skills. It is my favorite thing and offers rich terrain for writing.

We began with our ancestors and considered what kind of ancestors we want to be using Not My Ancestors by Bettina Judd as our launching pad. So many powerful images in this poem to inspire writing, but I also added these questions: What is your relationship to the struggle of your ancestors? What knowledge has been passed down and what knowledge has been lost? Does your own living measure up? What kind of ancestor will you be?

We then dug into Tell all the truth but tell it slant (1263) by Emily Dickinson to explore the idea of how much truth that we dare to tell and how much of our truth must be told slant so as not to blind.

As my students are working toward creating a multi genre essay, I thought it was important to study manifestos. So we considered first the more traditional manifesto as well as Art manifestos with particular attention to the Red Alan Manifesto. Then we wrote about the truth that we should tell to BE the change we want to see in the world.

Those three rounds of writing unlocked some amazing work, but I also wanted my students to consider the other stakeholders in their truth so we explored the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address – specifically the people, the earth mother, and the wisdom keepers and then considered what the Thanksgiving Address teaches (mutual respect, conservation, love, generosity, and the responsibility to understand that what is done to one part of the Web of Life, we do to ourselves) and what we want to teach others with our stories.

To continue this exploration we returned to I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party by Chen Chen and considered:

  • What conversation do you most want to have with someone important to you?
  • What do you want them to know about your story before you have this conversation?
  • What do you hope they will understand or learn?

My final charge was to consider this quote:

“Artists are people who say, ‘I can’t fix my country or my state or my city, or even my marriage. But by golly, I can make this square of canvas, or this eight-and-a-half-by-eleven piece of paper, or this lump of clay, or these twelve bars of music, exactly what they ought to be!”

― Kurt Vonnegut

What truth do you need to tell? What is your manifesto?

Image by Enrique from Pixabay. I picked this image because it reminded me of both Judd and Dickinson’s poems.