Over the course of this year, the role of writing in all of my classrooms has become the following: writing is access. What I mean by that are two things. First, writing was a way for my students to figure out what is going on in the texts we've reading. These texts dealt with cultural, political, social, and historical movements that were quite foreign to us (I included myself purposefully, as I too sometimes needed to learn more to understand more). What better way is there then to familiarize and orient ourselves within a novel or play but by writing context papers. These papers were written for an audience that never experienced an Asian and Asian-American literature class: the student who has no idea what the word guru means; the student that is confused by the emphasis placed on circumcision; the student who is puzzled by the culture of suicide in a Murakami novel. Having said all that, it was important we didn’t harp on what we didn’t know, but instead, within these 1 to 2 page context papers, actively seek out answers. Write to position yourself within a text.
Second, writing was a way for my students to actively disagree with things they thought they knew. Why do this? I wanted to challenge the idea that I was going to teach these students about Asians, Asian Americans, and the literature that comes from the two. In fact, part of what makes this course so necessary, is not that students don’t know anything about it. Its necessity comes from the fact that they do know something and need this course to challenge all of those somethings. For that reason, we started with the most painful, daunting, and point-valued writing first: The Final Paper. Not having read the books and plays, students had to take what they do know and translate it into a feasible argument. In this way, writing will remind students of how many gaps and curious spaces need to be filled and how many arguments they already had that needed to be supported and/or challenged. Write to challenge what you think you know.
Finally, in the digital age, it’s important that we challenge ourselves and our ideas to translate in to some form of new media. For this reason, writing also meant podcasting. Students took a conversation that they were having in their paper, in the classroom, or with their reading groups, and produced a podcast. This served as a reminder of just how much planning goes into a whole work, and how much of what we say is determined by who we’re saying it to. Write for an audience.
I hope you learn a fraction of what I did about the value of writing in a literature classroom.