Monday, February 8, 2016

The RSU Writing Center can help, even if you haven't started your paper yet!


Hi, all! Welcome back to another semester. A common question this semester that seems to have carried over from last semester is how to brainstorm and prewrite for assignments. Many students, especially freshmen, have never utilized any type of prewriting technique for their essays and this can cause problems in upper level courses when assignments can be more complex. Brainstorming and prewriting are effective and valuable for multiple reasons: they allow the writer to visually see the ideas, make connections between ideas, and organize the ideas in a logical manner. Many different steps to brainstorming and prewriting and multiple techniques can be applied. Some of these steps and techniques can be found in The Everyday Writer on pages 58-74.

The first step is to brainstorm by communicating ideas with others, freewriting, or even using more visual methods like clustering. From this phase, the writer can then narrow the topic and create some sort of tentative thesis that encompasses the idea of the paper. This can always be changed later but many professors require a working thesis statement before any drafts are crafted. The next step is to gather resources to support the topic of the paper, and that information must then be organized. This is usually where some students run into issues; a simple method to organizing main ideas and supporting points for an essay is to make some sort of outline or flow chart. Examples of these can be found on pages 71-73 of The Everyday Writer. After a plan has been made, it’s time to start writing!

The Writing Center also offers assistance for the brainstorming and prewriting steps of the writing process, so please set up an appointment with one of the tutors using http://rsuwc.setmore.com. All you have to do is sign in using your student email and password. We hope to see you soon and have a great semester!

-McKinze Hefner, RSU Writing Consultant

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Where do I start?!


For many students, including me, the most difficult step in the writing process is getting started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at an assignment sheet, thinking to myself, “I’ve got nothin’.” With practice – and patience – you’ll likely develop your own process and techniques for initiating the writing process, here are some things that help me:
Read the assignment instructions. Done? Good, now do it again. Some assignments include multiple requirements – very specific requirements. I find it useful to make a checklist of the requirements and review the list before I submit my paper.  
Write. Write something, anything. This isn’t your final draft, so don’t worry about it being perfect. If you have an idea for your paper, this is the time to write it down. It’s easy to think it, but it can be challenging to put those thoughts on paper, and that’s why prewriting can be beneficial. If the assignment lists questions or prompts to consider, try writing brief answers to get started. 
What do I do when I don’t have something to say right away? I write anyway! Even if it doesn’t answer the assignment’s topic or prompt, I always have an opinion – and you do, too! If my assignment is to write a critical analysis of a selected text, I jot down my initial opinion, my reaction to the reading, and any comments I have. Even if you don’t think these ideas will be useful when writing your paper, they get you thinking about the topic of the assignment, and, who knows – later, you might come back to something you wrote and find that you can use it in your paper.  
I’ve got words…now, what? After prewriting and thinking about the assignment and topic, I start to think about how I’m going to present my information. I find that creating an outline, even a tentative outline, helps. I always include a bullet point for my introduction and my conclusion, but I never start there. Outlining helps me think about the order in which I want to present my information. After I outline my main points and sub points, I find that it’s much easier to tackle the writing little by little, focusing on one point at a time. 
For more tips on getting the writing process started, check out the University of Maryland University College’s Prewriting and Outlining page at this link. 

-Tessa Hill, RSU Writing Consultant

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

African American Poetry Workshop: Souls Who Speak and Listen


W. E. B. Du Bois' 1903 The Souls of Black Folk is a foundational text in the African American literary and cultural tradition. The opening to the book is a chapter called "Of Our Spiritual Strivings." You can find the entire chapter at this link; below is an excerpt of the text for reading and analysis. Notice that this is a first-person account of Du Bois' personal experiences. In it, he reflects on his interior life and his identity as a Black person in a society that privileges whiteness. 
BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.
 
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head,—some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.   
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.
--

One issue I have not yet addressed in blog series is my own whiteness and the issue of race at RSU, where, according to the 2014 Fact Book, around 60% of students identify as white, 5% as Hispanic, 13% as "American Indian or Alaska Native," 1% as Asian, 17% as multiracial, and 2.4% as Black (page 22). How can a white writer (or a non-Black reader) best share a literary tradition that they are not a part of? How can I build awareness in myself about the privileges that come with my race? Furthermore, as a teacher playing a role of authority in the institution of education, how can I best model and instruct others about why race and allyship matter and how to be an ally in a useful, genuine manner? 

These questions have followed me throughout the course of this series. My answers and strategies evolve every day, but my main strategy is LISTENING to voices that have traditionally been giving less attention or afforded less authority and AMPLIFYING those voices by sharing some of them here. Even the act of selecting whose voice is shared is a political act! Blogger/Vlogger Chescaleigh helps people think about and do allyship (and all sorts of other topics on race) in her video series Decoded. Below is her video "5 Tips for Being an Ally" that I highly recommend you check out:


So, please, return to the top of the page and re-read Du Bois' words. Re-read Angelou and Chisholm; re-read Adichie and Walker; re-read Baldwin and Cullen; re-read hooks, Beyonce, and Lorde.

Questions for Du Bois' excerpt:

1. In what ways do these paragraphs function as a lead-in to a larger book? How do they set up a certain tone using word choice, and how to they attempt to "hook" or draw readers into a larger conversation?

2. Again, why does this author use the rhetorical strategy of relating personal details? What is the effect of sharing his subjective experience?

3. What kind of figurative language does Du Bois use to describe his experiences? Identify and explain metaphors, similes, descriptive language, alliteration (repeated consonant and/or vowel sounds), repeated wording or phrases, and allusions (or references to other works of literature or texts) in the text.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

African American Poetry Workshop: bell hooks, Beyonce, and Audre Lorde

bell hooks.

Yes, she presents her pen name this way, without capitalization. Biographical information about this poet and thinker can be found at this link, and the main thing to know about her for our purpose is that she is a feminist, interested in the intersections between women's and African American identity.

Feminism, despite what you may have been told, is "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities" or is "organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests." Feminism is not one big belief system with static rules; actually, it is a huge collection of on-going, evolving conversations. Some newcomers to the conversations become confused because the discussions include lifting up or recovering of items/behaviors/ideas coded as feminine, like vulnerability and intuition, and the like, AND the discussions also include arguments that people should break down binaries like masculine/feminine, vulnerable/impermeable, and logic/intuition.

Generally, there are three or maybe four recognized "waves" of Western, particularly American, feminism: a first wave (19th and early 20th century) that promoted women's suffrage and legal legitimacy in the U.S.; a second wave (1960s-1990s) that sought to advance women's access to contraception, education, and equal pay; and a third wave (1990s-present?) that seeks to incorporate causes of women of color, LGBTQIA+ populations, incarcerated populations, indigenous women, immigrant women, non-Christian women, non-Western women, and more populations that white feminism has previously overlooked.

hooks states,
“As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”  
hooks made headlines in 2014, when she referred to Beyonce as anti-feminist and as a terrorist, in a critique of Bey's use of feminism in her art/product media. So, here's where Beyonce enters the conversation.


The image above shows up 10 minutes and 20 seconds into Beyonce's performance at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, which you can view below. At that point in the music, words from Chimamanda N'gozi Adichie are featured in the song "***Flawless" and highlighted on the screen behind Beyonce:

We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller
We say to girls, you can have ambition but not too much
You should aim to be successful but not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man
Feminist, a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes

Beyoncé 2014 MTV VMA Video Vanguard (Medley) | Show Performance from terry.harden.mercer on Vimeo.

No matter what they think of Beyonce or hooks, for that matter, listeners cannot ignore that pop culture is involved in the conversations about feminism and African American women. More of the lyrics to the song "***Flawless" include the following:

I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don't forget it, don't forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches (Crown!)
I took some time to live my life
But don't think I'm just his little wife
Don't get it twisted, get it twisted
This my shit, bow down bitches
Bow down bitches, bow bow down bitches (Crown)
Bow down bitches, bow bow down bitches (Crown)
H-Town vicious
H, H-Town vicious
I'm so crown crown, bow down bitches
...
You wake up, flawless
Post up, flawless
Ridin' round in it, flawless
Flossin' on that, flawless
This diamond, flawless
My diamond, flawless
This rock, flawless
My rock, flawless
I woke up like this
I woke up like this
We flawless, ladies tell 'em
I woke up like this
I woke up like this
We flawless, ladies tell 'em
Say I look so good tonight
God damn, God damn
Say I look so good tonight
God damn, God damn, God damn

Momma taught me good home training
My Daddy taught me how to love my haters
My sister told me I should speak my mind
My man made me feel so God damn fine, I'm flawless!

Whether or not readers agree that pop songs are poetry, they can still analyze them in the same way. Note the speaker (I), the significance of the diction, the allusions to her own life and to other cultural commenters (e.g. Adichie), the rhyme pattern, repetition, the fierce tone, and the encouragement to "ladies" who listen to accept themselves and not let others get them down. Notice also the layers of meaning in "I woke up like this"--remember, the theme of our poetry contest is "Get Woke." Here's an example of how others have analyzed the music and video of "Flawless."

To return to the world of poetry as it is more conventionally known, here is a work from writer Audre Lorde for you to read alongside Beyonce's lyrics:

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon's new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.

These three authors' words leave readers and listeners with lots to think about. Here are some brainstorming questions to consider as you digest their works and follow the embedded links down the rabbit hole...

1. What new words or terms did these poems or quoted lines introduce you to? What are the terms denotations (formal definitions) and connotations (informal cultural, social, or personal associations)?

2. What common themes do these women writers and performers address in their works--be more specific than "feminism," "womanhood," or "the African American experience." Think deeper, perhaps along the lines of body consciousness, sexuality, community and solidarity, exploring/exploding binary thinking, certain imagery, etc.

3. Why is personal, subjective experience so important in these works?

As always, remember to point to specific words or phrases in the works to support claims you want to make.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

African American Poetry Workshop: James Baldwin and Countee Cullen

I'd like to introduce readers to James Baldwin, if they are unfamiliar with him. First, here is a trailer to his biography so you can become briefly acquainted with him:


My first encounter with him was as an undergraduate when I read Go Tell It on the Mountain in a Religion and Literature independent study. His essays, novels, and poetry provide perspective from the intersections of African American identity, masculine, homosexual identity, and secular identity. 

In "James Baldwin Reappeared Just When We Needed Him Most," Saeed Jones describes Baldwin's posthumously released 2014 collection of poems:
Though Baldwin is perhaps best known as an essayist and novelist, he wrote poetry as well. Jimmy's Blues and Other Poems was published last month by Beacon Press. It has an introduction by Nikky Finney. 
"Staggerlee Wonders," the first poem in the book, which is written in the voice of a blunt, African-American character, is especially striking in light of this week's news cycle: "My days are not their days. / My ways are not their ways. / I would not think of them, / one way or the other, / did not they so grotesquely / block the view / between me and my brother."
One might choose to the excerpted lines above from the perspective of the current news cycle and the Black Lives Matter movement. According to their "About" page,
#BlackLivesMatter was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime, and dead 17-year old Trayvon was post-humously placed on trial for his own murder. Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our de-humanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.
...
#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.  We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project–taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.
Using BLM's description of their organization as a lens, read Baldwin's lines again.

My days are not their days.
My ways are not their ways.
I would not think of them,
one way or the other,
did not they so grotesquely
block the view
between me and my brother.

Consider how the speaker, an individual (my, I, me), contrasts with the other people (their, them, they) who "so grotesquely / block the view / between me and my brother." A third person is present, too: "my brother," or the family member of the speaker. With the Black Lives Matter movement and recent events in mind, brainstorm answers to these questions:

1. What does the speaker mean by "days" and "ways"?

2.. According to Dictionary.com, "grotesque" is defined as the following:
adjective
1. odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.
2. fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms, as in decorative work combining incongruous human and animal figures with scrolls, foliage, etc.
Why does the speaker use this adverb to describe the way that "they" exist between the speaker and his sibling?

3. Examine the diction (choice of words) and syntax (arrangement of words, sentence/phrase structure) of the lines. Is the diction more or less formal? Is the syntax more or less complex? How do they contrast with the sort of diction and syntax used by Baldwin's mentor Countee Cullen in these lines from his poem "Karenge Ya Marenge":

Wherein are words sublime or noble? What
Invests one speech with haloed eminence,
Makes it the sesame for all doors shut,
Yet in its like sees but impertinence?
Is it the hue? Is it the cast of eye,
The curve of lip or Asiatic breath,
Which mark a lesser place for Gandhi’s cry
Than “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Is Indian speech so quaint, so weak, so rude,
So like its land enslaved, denied, and crude,
That men who claim they fight for liberty
Can hear this battle-shout impassively,
Yet to their arms with high resolve have sprung
At those same words cried in the English tongue? 
TIPS: What historical events does this poem refer to? Choose 3-6 of the lines in the poem, translate them into simpler and more concise wording, and then contrast the diction and syntax with Baldwin's lines.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

African American Poetry Workshop: "The Danger of a Single Story" Paired with "When You See Water"

First, I'd like to return to Angelou's "Still I Rise" for just a moment and examine the diction (choice of words) in the first four lines a bit deeper:

You may write me down in history  (first word is "you," addresses someone overseeing speaker)
With your bitter, twisted lies,   (the authority figure's lying voice/writing has speaker captured)
You may trod me in the very dirt   (even though dominator may step on speaker in the bare ground)
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.  (notice shift word "but" and change in verb tense--may write, may trod--> will rise; also, notice the rhyme at the end of lines 2 and 4)

There's a lot more we could say about "Still I Rise," but I wanted to start by showing you how paraphrasing poems line-by-line can help you notice subtle shifts in pronouns, verb tense, and sounds. These are the small details that make a poem work.

Week 2's workshop features another pairing: writers Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Alice Walker.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

First, learn who Adichie is at the link in her name and then watch her TED Talk (or read the transcript) "The Danger of a Single Story" at this link.

Next, free write for ten minutes about a story you bought into about a group of people different than you. What exactly made that group different than people you identify with? What did you believe about that group? How were those assumptions challenged later when you learned more?

Alice Walker

Third, read Alice Walker's short poem, "When You See Water":

When you see water in a stream
you say: oh, this is stream
water;
When you see water in the river
you say: oh, this is water
of the river;
When you see ocean
water
you say: This is the ocean's
water!
But actually water is always
only itself
and does not belong
to any of these containers
though it creates them.
And so it is with you.

Click here to learn who Alice Walker is. Here are three questions to consider about Walker's poem:

1. What are its formal features? Buy this, I mean how many lines does the poem have, does it rhyme, if so what is the rhyming pattern, are there any related words, and how many stressed syllables are there per line? (There are more formal features to list, but those are some good basics to begin with.)

To identify stressed syllables, you can look up each multisyllabic word in the dictionary and see which syllable is marked as stressed, you can read the poem aloud holding your hand a half-inch under your chin and marking syllables you say as your chin drops to your hand, OR you can pay attention to the vowel sounds in the words (stressed syllables usually have fully pronounced vowel sounds, not just the schwa or "uh" sound). For example, my first name is Sara. The stressed syllable is the first syllable "Sa." The second syllable is unstressed. You can confirm this yourself by trying the three tests above.

2. What parallels do you see evident between Adichie's ideas and the speaker's in the poem? Use evidence (quotes) from the speech and poem to support your claim.

3. In Walker's poem, why did she compare the listener's identity to liquid rather than, say, solid or gas?

Happy Reading and Writing!
Sara

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lessons from Our Writing Center Work: Tessa on Integrating Evidence into an Essay



My experience working as a writing consultant this semester has reminded me that I’m still a developing writer. While I might secretly think I can create a list of works cited in MLA format blindfolded, the truth is – I still have a lot to learn. Before my first appointment as a writing consultant, my biggest fear was that a student would ask me a question I didn’t know the answer to. But, it happened. It still happens – a lot. Realizing that I don’t have all the answers has helped me become a better writer and a better student. Each time I’m confronted with a writing question that I don’t have the answer to I try to look at it as an opportunity to further develop my own writing skills. 

Recently, I have met with students asking for help with introducing a quote with a colon. I knew it could be done, but it’s not something I do every day. I knew right away that if I wanted to use a colon (for something other than a list) I needed to have a complete sentence on each side. For example, when trying to introduce a quote with a colon, I couldn’t do this:

   For children in The Giver: “The front-buttoned jacket was the first sign of 
   independence, the first very visible symbol of growing up” (Lowry 40). 

The problem here is that I only have one complete sentence. If I take the quote away, I have:

   For children in The Giver. <– This is not a complete sentence. 

To make correct this example, I need to turn this fragment into a complete sentence. For example, I could do something like this:

   For the children in The Giver, clothing is not a fashion statement, but a part of their   
   identity: “The front-buttoned jacket was the first sign of independence, the first very visible
   symbol of growing up” (Lowry 40).

It is also important to remember that when using a colon to introduce a quote, both sentences must be related. It wouldn’t make sense for me to write the following:

   Lois Lowry’s The Giver is set in a dystopian society: “The front-buttoned jacket was the
   first sign of independence, the first very visible symbol of growing up” (40). 

I do have complete sentences on both sides of the comma, and my initial sentence is a true statement about the novel. However, the quote following the colon does not really relate to the information in front of the colon. 

Helping other students understand how to introduce a quote with a colon has helped me, too. Now, I find myself using this method to introduce quotes in my papers more often than I did before. Being a writing consultant has reminded me that I still have a lot to learn, but it has also provided me with opportunities to grow as a writer.

For more tips on how to introduce a quote with a colon, check out Integrating Quotations into Sentences from Illinois Valley Community College. 

-Tessa