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Multicultural educators have been telling us for decades now that the “add one and stir” approach to diversity is insufficient: mixing in a couple of writers of color, a couple of women writers, and/or a couple of queer writers keeps them at the periphery.Revising our pedagogy to welcome all our students and nurture everyone’s talent means continuing to ask ourselves foundational questions.
They’re offered as potential models for , call “pointing.” In this feedback method, the writer reads aloud the revised piece while all the rest of us listen and jot down lists of striking words and phrases—perhaps those with particular emotional gravity, or linguistic freshness, or great sonic effects.
When the writer is finished, we go one by one around the room, reading aloud our own lists without commentary of any sort—no “I really liked didn’t work for me.” One person simply finishes reading, and then it’s the turn of the next.
Three preemptive strategies have worked particularly well to lay the groundwork for decentering whiteness and making generous room for all voices.
First, my syllabus includes a modified version of the Macondo Workshop’s collectively developed “Compassionate Code of Conduct”: ground rules for a sane, kind, and respectful workshop experience.
It builds respect for all the writers in the room, laying a positive groundwork for the traditional workshop-method critiques that will follow.
Yet I write with hesitation, knowing full well that having survived within the academy for so long means that I have surely and unconsciously imbibed many of its white-normative assumptions, no matter how critically resistant I try to be.
Because of my undergraduate experience, I entered my first one with a certain amount of trepidation. I feared he’d called mental health professionals, who’d soon arrive to take me away.
Numb, I sat there while the other stories were critiqued, envisioning straitjackets and bite sticks for electroshock. He drew diagrams on the board explaining the structure of my story—diagrams I didn’t understand.
As a professor who teaches in the creative writing, literature, and Latino studies programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where we offer the Ph. with a creative dissertation, I’ve been teaching creative writing at the college level for twenty years now, as well as to various groups in the larger community—domestic violence survivors, Latina and African American high school girls, sexual assault survivors, economically disadvantaged adults, at-risk inner-city teens—and I’ve thought a lot about how to make the creative writing classroom a welcoming place for everyone, especially writers of color.
I try to construct the kind of environment I would have wanted as a student. As an undergraduate in Texas in the 1980s, a first-generation college student, a Latina from a background of poverty, I was devouring (on my own) the writers of the Latina boom (Cisneros, Alvarez, Ortiz Cofer, Castillo, and so on), reading Robbe-Grillet and Duras on the side, and churning out twisted little stories that unraveled themselves in a kind of savage frenzy. My work was not nurtured, encouraged, or recognized as having any particular potential.