Ask the maestros

Two of San Antonio’s foremost writer-educators weigh in on writing-arts education

Rosemary Catacalos
Director, Gemini Ink, former executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University, Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University.

We’re a city with 25-percent illiteracy in English. That’s where you start. Start in the trenches, with writing as a way to find their voice, to build confidence and let kids and adults see that they have important things to say. In detention centers, `or those` who are homeless, for whom traditional educational institutions have failed. With our Writers in the Community program, we send writers to schools, to detention centers, to workshops for teenagers and adults who’ve left school. Some of these people have no idea that anything they would ever say could be valuable. `When we have` readings, we see these lives change. One girl who came to one of our “returning high schooler” workshops — I just got a letter from her. She’s a freshman at university. To me, that’s success. One person at a time. And there will be a ripple effect from her; one person who attains literacy and goes on to further education serves as inspiration to sisters, neighbors, cousins, friends. One person at a time, that’s so worth it.

Naomi Shihab Nye
Poet, songwriter, essayist, activist, 4-time Pushcart Poetry Prize winner, and visiting poet in San Antonio for over 30 years

The change I’ve seen in so many years is how little time or resources are allocated towards creativity. Kids are hungry to do, to engage, to feel those intangible things. Actually, writing is not intangible. Having to express yourself gives you so much power in so many areas, from the personal to the acadmic to the political. There’s too much teaching to the test; that’s education, backwards. You shouldn’t start with the goal of a standardized test; `testing is` supposed to evaluate how much you’re learning, and without creative writing and other art, it’s — it’s a waste. Recently `I was` approached by this young guy … very street, there with his girlfriend and kid. He recognized me, and as soon as I looked at his face, I knew exactly which student he was; and he was so bright, and so talented, and eager. He said to me, “I have never felt intelligent, since. That was the last time I felt like I was smart.” That such a smart kid could feel that way is a heartbreaker.

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