Topics in Multiculturalism Class Explores the Voices From The Land

ChristineZeidersA few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in an amazing training weekend for teachers from the EIRC’s Monarch Teacher Network. It was called “Voices from the Land. ” The project blended lessons in the principles and elements of design, the elements of poetry, writing and environmental science as well as multiculturalism and multimedia.  We were informed by the beautiful and inspiring work of environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, and wrote and published poetry based on our own environmental creations. I was thrilled for the opportunity to introduce this project to Central Penn College students in the Topics in Multiculturalism class on Earth Day, 2015.

The Voices From the Land project allows students to go outside and become one with nature, then allow nature to speak to them and through them. After several weeks of discussing how different cultural groups used art to promote social protest movements, students were open to imbuing their own thoughts and beliefs into this project using natural elements around them. After creating and photographing their artwork, they wrote poetry about them. Christine Zeiders sculpted natural elements to create the photograph you see on the left. Below are a few more photos and poems from my Spring 2015 class.  These students weren’t art or creative writing majors but they put a lot of effort into these projects and did a fabulous job.

JenaiaOnly She Knows

by Jenaia Everett

Only she knows what lies behind the center of her joy.

Fear, uncertainty, change and

hope encompasses her soul like the circle of life,

like the eye of a storm, who’s power swallows her emotions deep within.

Only she knows what lies behind the center of her joy.

The sky cries like the tears streaming down her face,

shedding darkness and dismay.

From the death of past hurt and pain, rises color,

happiness and light.

But only she knows what lies behind the center of her joy.

A new beginning, a new circle, a new life.

The calm and quiet well after the storm.

But only she knows what lies behind the center of her joy.


Sun Moon Star

by Matthew C. McCottryMatthew

Sun meets tree

high on the hill

Tree s t r e t c h e s

and leaves dance in

fading shadows


beneath the trees

Smooth, fluffy cotton surrounds the

opaque moon

Moon reveals its scars to a world

of dreamers

Night owls sing to the starlight above

stories of galaxies

framed in black

Sun, Moon, Star,  together eternal.


SarahYoung HollyRamsey:

Left: Sarah Young ;  Right: Holly Ramsey

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Facing the Changing Father Figure in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

During the glorious summer weeks leading up to the July 14th release date of Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee’s second novel and sequel to every 11th grader’s favorite, To Kill A Mockingbird, I’d heard everything. From admonitions from those who descried a sequel, to controversies about Ms. Lee’s mental state, there was no shortage of opinions or speculation about the relative merit and eventual  legacy of Ms. Lee’s follow-up to the coming-of-agWatchmane story of Scout, Jem, Dill (remembering these names yet?), and Boo Radley.

Thanks to my student membership in Amazon Prime (highly recommended), my crisp copy of the book arrived on release day.

I was all set to write a simple review, with a tongue-in-cheek, under-qualified “thumbs up/thumbs down” at its conclusion, but then I felt I would be doing the book a disservice in comparison to the deep cultural reactions from my friends as well as those folks covered in the press.

I wondered, perhaps even aloud, “What could I do to make my reading of the book meaningful to others?” I decided that I would take up as my audience an imagined version of my students, themselves bound to wonder if their instructors actually practice what they (t)each when it comes to doing critical reading.

They do . . .Watchman 2

The story itself features but a handful of characters, few of whom can be found in Mockingbird. I was unprepared to learn quite early on that Jem, Scout’s older brother, had dropped dead. Yes, he just dropped dead (this knowledge becomes more significant later on, but as I read it the first time I found myself writing a NSFW response in the margin of the text), so I wouldn’t be reading about a successful cannery that he and Dill incorporated, or about his exploits playing football for the Methodists.

No, this read what going to be much different from what I expected. Jem had been killed off so that we might focus more closely on Miss Jean Louise Finch, still referred to as “Scout” by family members and the other inhabitants of Maycomb, Alabama.

As I read, I made copious notes in my journal…Watchman 3

The events in Watchman take place twenty years after those of Mockingbird, although at points in the book we get brief snapshots of other time-bound events (without reference to the actual times to which the events are bound, of course). I later realized that this bit of foreshadowing allows us to better apprehend the import of Scout’s fragmented memory. It, much like the self-consciousness and conscience about which she was so proud, is not consistent. This is not really a surprise, though, since twenty years have passed.

However, what is surprising is that Scout has received a college education. The fact itself is not surprising, but as the story reaches its climax we are presented with reactions and thoughts from Scout that belie this education. This might be seized upon as a way to read the text against itself, but that paper would really belong in a different forum with an amazingly smaller readership.

The climax of which I speak is Scout’s clandestine attendance at a town meeting called to debate and discuss potential NAACP actions in Maycomb. At the same time as Scout does, we learn that Atticus Finch is not as perfect as our memories would like. One of the admonitions that stuck with me as I began the book concerned Atticus. In essence, many readers of Mockingbird did not want what their idealized father, Atticus, to be shown as anything “less than,” and they swore off reading Watchman to keep that ideal father alive. Continue reading

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2015 Slam Champs Ignite the Mic then Walk Away with Cold Hard Cash

Winners with swagOn Thursday, September 3rd The Central Pen Literary E-zine and Professor Maria Thiaw’s ENG330 Contemporary American Writers of Color class coordinated Central Penn College’s 3rd annual Poetry Slam. The event was hosted by activist poet and entrepreneur Jubair Yother and ENG330 student, Daouda Bamba.  Professional spoken word artist “The Gingerbread Man” made an appearance, and the event was judged by students, faculty and staff.

First prize weAmanda2nt to Amanda Khloer, a 2014 graduate and founding member of Knight Writers Creative Writing Club   . The second went to Rob Hollenbach, a student inspired by ENG330, who gave a powerful and poignant message of love in the face of racism, war, and homophobia. Knight Writer Teta Gaye walked away with 3rd place for her poetic statement of cultural pride. Each student received cash and a Central Penn cinch sac.

In addition to the art of spoken word poetry, the audience was exposed to visual art displays featuring contemporary writers, including Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Joy Harjo and others. These colorful displays were created by ENG330 students.

For more information about upcoming literary events, keep visiting The Central Pen Literary E-zine. You can also join The Knight Writers, an organization of students that enjoy creative writing in all of its forms. Their first meeting is the S’mores Social at 3:45 on Thursday, October 8th in the Writing Center.

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Indulge Your Writer’s Cravings!

Snip20150702_48Of course, you want to write.  Everyone wants to write.  But there’s a difference between wanting to write and actually doing it.  There are a thousand excuses why we don’t start writing projects, and a thousand more for why we don’t finish them.  More often than not, the easiest way to jump start a writing routine is to indulge one of your writer’s craving for the things that writer’s love most: pens, papers, books….coffee.   Here are some of our staff’s best picks for indulging your dangerously creative self.


133744_411_2Of course, this list is going to start with a pen because of course it is.  And not just any pen.  One of the most sassy writing pens you can get.  Made by kate spade new york, the Nom de Plume ball point pen will set you back a cool $36, but it’s worth it.  Besides, that won’t like very much at all when you are sitting on top of the New York Times‘ bestseller’s list.  (Also, when you get to the number one spot, don’t forget who told you to pick up that lucky pen.)

il_570xN.494221209_pbw3There is nothing quite like beautiful stationary to get you excited about putting pen to perfect paper, especially if that paper is wonderfully illustrated.  Get in the mood to explore the realm of fantasy writing with this lovely stationary set that features all the whimsey of a magical faerie folk, and at just $15, you can travel to the other world without stopping at the ATM along the way.

5b0e7efffb47f77094df3370f872d59e.f4f4967b4463258f8415f3e665aa0ac6While there are journals of every shape and size, the Classic Travel Journal from Rouge Journals will make you feel like you have just stolen a magical adventuring book from Biblo Baggins library.  Whether you are stealing magical rings from wicked creatures or burgling the treasure hoard of a fearsome dragon, this leather bound journal will make sure that all of your adventures are kept safe there and back again.  (Also, for only $50, you will still have enough of that dwarf gold to buy a much bigger hobbit hole.

o-WHATWOULDJANEDO-570If you find yourself sitting along in your study, thinking about which suitor (if any) would be most socially acceptable for your polite if eccentric heroine should settle on, then this aptly titled book What Would Jane Do?: Quips and Wisdom from Jane Austen is exactly what you need for your book shelves. “My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

il_570xN.791965194_1bjcWriting is half inspiration, half coffee.  Satisfy both the cravings of your imagination and your body with this mug.  Whether it’s coffee, tea, or a delicious mug-brownie, grabbing a cup of inspiration will certainly make the difference between thinking about finishing that last chapter and actually doing it.

il_570xN.682157818_o70qFor most writers, where they do their writing is just as important as what they’re writing about.  Having a comfortable, ‘noise free’ space allows you to focus more on the page and less on the piles of excuses sitting on your desk (and probably also your floor).  Removing these distractions with something like this lovely, literary inspired piece will make sure you hit those daily word counts.

– – –

The Central Pen Staff

[Images from featured vendor’s websites.]

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Welcome to the Information Age

Snip20150702_40The internet is the most wonderful thing that has happened for college students in many decades as it allows us to have an infinite amount of information at our fingertips.  Gone are the days of debate about who won the 1998 World Series (New York Yankees) or who won the Best Actress in 2005 (Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby).  Anything we want to know is only a moment away.  Seems great right?

The unfortunate side of the information age is the quality of information our students use in their research.  High school and college students today are so used to using Google and Wikipedia in their personal lives that they transfer that into their studies.  And while technology literacy is a wonderful attribute for them, understanding the pros and cons of the internet when writing and researching is essential to success.

In this blog piece, I’ve decided to take a look at the positive and negative aspects of the internet when it comes to certain aspects of the writing process.  Hopefully, this will make students aware of some of these pitfalls before doing their next paper. Continue reading

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Slam Poets: Tell Us How To Throw Down!

Maria James-Thiaw asked the local slam community advice on how to throw down at a slam contest.  This is what they told us!


“Practice. Some practice is better than none.”–Marilyn Kallet

“Winning the slam will never help you win yourself. Win who you are, your purpose.That will always remain in your hands.  So always carry your purpose to the stage with you. ” –Slangston Hughes


“Romance the mic and believe that no one else can do that better than you! If you focus on your own performance, there will be no room for comparing yourself to anyone else (which is a BIG wagging, shake-a-finger NO NO!).” –Quill Reed

“…Just like entering the hundred yard dash or a boxing match, you go in to win, connect and show them what you’re really made of figuratively.”–Femi Drifish


“Don’t be self-conscious about your performance — don’t even think about it as a performance, but as you speaking your heart to friends. Everyone supports one another in these. Go!”–Michael Lear-Olimpi

“Slam because you have a story to tell. A poem you have to share. An experience someone else might need to hear on any given Tuesday.” —Dawn Saylor


…and of course, don’t forget to sign up for the 3rd Annual Poetry Slam.  Get the details here.

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Get Ready to SLAM!


Come on out to the 3rd Annual Poetry Slam brought to you by the Central Pen Literary E-zine and Professor Maria Thiaw’s Contemporary American Writer’s of Color class to hear some good words or give some- or both! A poetry slam is a bit of a competition, but a lot of love. Poets are judged by their writing style and their performance ability.

Central Penn alumna Shonyah Hawkins will MC the event and poets will be judged by the esteemed spoken word artist Ladi Glori along with other faculty and students.

The slam will be held in the Capital Blue Cross Theatre on the Summerdale campus Thursday, September 3rd at 7:00 pm. Oh yeah, and it’s FREE!

If you’re interested in competing send your name, your contact information, and the name of your poem to Be sure to hurry, spots are limited! Poets will have 3 minutes to speak. All you need to bring is yourself and your poem.  And as if sharing your poem isn’t enough, $100 goes to first place, $50 goes to second place, and $25 goes to third place.


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Everyday I’m Scribblin’

I was recently reminded of a harsh reality about writing: the only way to write, unfortunately, is to write. An obvious, simple, yet (for me, anyway) an f-ing elusive truth, and always easier said than done.

At the end of May, I experienced a huge setback with my PhD dissertation (a major research project estimated to run 200+ pages), which forced me to draft a lot of material in a short amount of time–40,000 words in four weeks! And I’m proud to report that I met that goal–and then some.

Snip20150709_53Now, what I ended up with wasn’t highly polished, carefully edited prose. Far from it. But I did get exactly what I needed: a finished first draft, always the hardest part of the writing process for me, which I now can spend a few weeks revising before submitting to my dissertation committee at Duquesne University at the end of July.

How did I achieve this Sisyphusean feat–a trip to my local crossroads at midnight? Nope–no Satanic bargains for me, thank you very much. I just stopped thinking (ie judging myself negatively) and started writing. I broke the project into small, daily writing goals: 1600 words a day, every day–no matter how tired, or how frustrated, or how bored, or how anxious I was. Most professional writers I know–and all of the “writers on writing” books I’ve read–say the same thing: daily, regimented writing routines are how writing happens. Continue reading

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$100.00 to go to Poetry Slam Champion – Sign-Up Today!

The 3rd Annual Poetry Slam will be held on Thursday, September 3rd in the Capital BlueCross Theatre on Central Penn College’s Summerdale campus. This event will be hosted by the Central Pen Literary E-zine and Professor Maria Thiaw’s Contemporary American Writer’s Of Color class. The first place slam-master will walk away with a cool $100.00. There are second and third place prizes as well.


The Slam will be judged by students, faculty and Baltimore spoken word powerhouse, Ladi Glori. Central Penn alumna, Shonyah Hawkins will M.C. the free event.  Performers must be students or alumni of Central Penn College and can sign up by emailing no later than August 15. Spots are limited, so don’t delay.

What’s a Poetry Slam?

A poetry slam is a contest in which poets are judged by both their writing style and performance ability. Poets don’t merely ‘read’ their original work, but they deliver it with dramatic flair. Since no one sees the work on paper, slam poets don’t have to worry about being grammatically correct or holding to a traditional form. Poetry slams are a national pastime that has brought the art of poetry off the page and out of the classroom for regular people to enjoy.

Are there rules?

Although the rules of grammar and form are relaxed in a slam, wordsmiths must remember these tips for success:

No props but the poem and the mic!

The first rule of a poetry slam is that there are no props allowed. You can’t talk to an empty chair, hold a dummy, or throw a paper airplane. It is just you, the word and the mic.   For this particular slam you are allowed to have your poem on paper, however most slam champions memorize their pieces and perform them with power.

No disclaimers!

Do not explain your inspiration, apologize, or give a soliloquy about the piece you are about to perform. You only have 3 minutes and the timer starts when you open your mouth.

Respect the Mic!

Although a vast array of once taboo subjects are welcomed in poetry slams, hatred, misogyny and homophobia are not. Please stay away from racial slurs, anti-gay rhetoric or religion bashing. This is a multicultural event. Let’s celebrate the art of the spoken word together!

How Can I Be Down?

So you want to watch the slam? Show up to the Capital BlueCross Theatre in the Underground on the Summerdale campus on Thursday, September 3 at 7 pm to support your friends. Give them lots of love, snaps and claps when they’re on stage.

Oh, you want to walk away with $100.00 and some Central Penn swag? Sign up to perform by sending an email to by August 15. Send us your name, contact information and the name of your poem.

Got Any Tips?


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Send us your seasonal shots!

Spillway; Pine Grove Furance State Park

Spillway; Pine Grove Furnace State Park; Dr. Melissa Wehler

At The Central Pen, we are committed to all types of art and artists, including the visual arts.  We believe that creative expression, no matter the medium, has an important place in our education and in our lives.   Use our ‘Submission’ page to submit your best seasonal shots!


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by | August 1, 2015 · 8:00 am