I had an interesting telephone conversation with my long-distance friend Carra last night--all of my conversations with Carra are interesting. We were trading back and forth some thoughts on, well, let's call it predictability. I wouldn't have thought that my students' autobiographies would have fallen into that range, but I discovered after reading them a kind of theme in the collection of essays (treating the collection as a kind of macro-essay). The dominant element was family. Almost all of the writers (if not all) focused on their families, their closeness, how they became who they are because of their families, the difficulties in moving away and adjusting to life at LSU, of how much they miss their families and how they have tried to cope with their new lives, and their unease with what lies before them, now that several of them are about to graduate--an unease mixed with excitement. These are all courageous, wonderful students and writers. As a reader, I am irresistibly drawn into their worlds as they write about this moment in their lives. I am with them--actually, in more ways than one because after Sarah died two years and two months ago, I was in a similar situation--a loss, an emptiness that I thought would never be refilled. Being single after forty-one years of marriage, well, it's an entirely different and relatively bleak world; you have to recreate another one. I wouldn't call it scary--I'm too experienced in life to be frightened by it anymore, but it's like scary. It's like you have to make something out of the void. So I suspect that when reading my students' essays, I was drawn into them almost as if I were reading about myself in an alternative universe, having passed though the black hole.
I hope that if you have stumbled on this blog about using personal writing in the classroom, that you will read my students' essays after they decide they are ready to put them up. You'll find them by looking at the links to my class English 4023 on the right. Move your cursor over there & the links will slide out (sorry--can't resist that gadget).
My post to WPA-L
Thanks, Nick, for your reference to a review of Papert. In the review, I took some exception to the last two paragraphs (the students not realizing that the fun is just over the horizon kind of thinking--a trust-the-teacher-who-knows-better rhetoric), but I very much liked what Papert said. I'll pay attention to him and try to connect. Much of what my students write about their writing locks into his notion of hard fun. I'll put on my blog some of my students' comments--I think they are very instructive when they write about the difficulties they face when examining their lives and how they are going to explain themselves to the other students in the classroom.
Out of the ten students I have in my Life Writing class (great class to teach--although I wouldn't say I'm teaching--playing is a lot more like it), only one was unable to break through to that place where the words simply come out. And she's writing now, trying to examine why writing a short autobiography was so hard for her--she's a good writer, she wanted to do it, she loved reading others', but she ran into a block.
Actually, when you think it about it, writing a brief autobiography to classmates you are just beginning to know from the inside is far from an easy or simple task. I would like to have others on this list read their autobiographies and their comments about what they went through while writing them (I assume everyone recognizes the research element here on my part). I'll put an invitation out to this list when my students say they are ready to have their essays read by others outside our class. I think that will be next week. They are really quite lovely to read--although I can't tear apart my pleasure from how well I know and like the writers.
Thank you, Steve and Margaret for your comments and references. I appreciate all references and am keeping a list of them on my blog.