When President Barack Obama launched Educate to Innovate in 2009 and shifted the conversation in education towards science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), higher education interpreted the administration’s new initiative as a clear, distinct, and in some circles, long overdue, headshot to the liberal arts. Such concerns were perhaps only intensified when President Obama made an off-the-cuff remark about the lack of value in art history degrees when compared to skilled manufacturing jobs. While the President did indeed apologize for an ill-considered comment, the sentiment it conveys represents an increasingly popular belief that in the modern global economy, the need for technical instruction trumps the need for creative expression. Perhaps this is my own liberal art bias talking, but the name of the initiative itself—Educate to Innovate—certainly begs the question: how do we become the ‘innovators’ of this new century without teaching, practicing, valuing, and rewarding creativity?
Winter is an excellent time to get your creative juices flowing, since few of us are going to brave the cold, wind, and wet that waits beyond our doors and windows. But even on these inspiring early evening, we all could use a little inspiration to pick up our pens or to put our fingers on the keys. Lucky for us, creative writers have always been willing to pay it forward and offer us advice and support to get us in the writing mood. Many of them offer practical advice about getting started and getting published, but they all talk about their personal relationships with writing, and why they continue to write and talk about writing years after their careers first began.
Here are our top ten favorite books about writing by writers:
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Earnest Hemingway On Writing edited by Larry W. Phillips
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamont
- The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
- On Writing by Eudora Welty
- Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut edited by William Rodney Allen
- Why I Write by George Orwell
- Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman
- First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process edited by Robert D. Richardson
- Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir by William Zinsser
Pick up one of these books today, and maybe someday, we’ll be adding you to our top ten list!
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. With that said, please enjoy the following submission by a member of our creative community.
About the artist.
Dr. Melissa Wehler is the Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Central Penn College. When she is not teaching writing, literature, film, or cultural anthropology, she is an avid photographer and fiction writer, including the co-editor for The Central Pen.
You might know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie if you have ever listened to Beyonce’s song “Flawless,” where the Beyonce sampled a portion of the author’s famous TEDTalk: “We should all be feminists” from April 2013. The sample portion contains the most quoted part of the speech: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls ‘You can have ambition, but not too much’.”
Adichie is no stranger to tackling the tough issues when it comes to writing and politics. In her July 2009 talk at TEDGlobal, Adichie talks about what she calls ‘the danger of a single story.’ Growing up, Adichie had only read books by British authors, and while she credits them with stirring her imagination and passion for reading and writing, they did not represent her or her native surroundings in Nigeria. Eventually, she comes to find African literature (she names Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye as examples) that featured ‘girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails.’
However, while these narratives helped to reinforce what she knew to be true—Nigeria and Africa were places of rich diversity, complexity, culture, and history—that another, more simplified and problematic narrative about Africa and Africans was the one told around the world. Through multiple experiences in the west, she learns about the ‘single story of Africa’ as a place of violence, poverty, hunger, and despair—images, she claims, comes from western literature and its colonial roots.
Listen and watch as Adichie creates her own narrative about the roles of reading and writing in personal and professional life and how they form narratives about peoples and places that shape our understanding of our global community.
Lovingly known as “The Wordshop” to local poets, Nathaniel Gadsden’s Writer’s Wordshop is celebrating its 37th year as a hub for poetic expression in the Harrisburg area. Many published authors can look back to what they experienced at The Wordshop as being transformative and instrumental to their success. The Wordshop invites all budding writers and spoken word artists to join them Friday nights at 7 on the Second Stage at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore (1302 N 3rd Street, Harrisburg, PA) for Cafe Word. These open readings and educational workshops are free and open to the public. Here is what you can expect in December:
Friday, December 5th
“A Poetic Kwanzaa Celebration” with Harrisburg Poet Laureate Emeritus,
Dr. Nathaniel Gadsden
Friday, December 12th
“Poetic Interaction” with York City
Poet Laureate, Christine Lincoln
For more information about Nathaniel Gadsden’s Writer’s Wordshop, contact Wordshop advisory board member and poet, Maria James-Thiaw at email@example.com.
” Something subliminal is going on when a person reads something of quality; the brain is absorbing good sentence structure, correct spelling, multi-dimensional characterization, vivid description and more without the reader even realizing it, which automatically makes for better prose.”
Although the heavy winds are ripping gold and red leaves from the trees, and winter’s chill has begun to set in, let’s not forget the thrills of the Halloween season. The skeletons, the zombies, the witches and vampires –Face it! it’s fun to be scared, and that is why ghost stories are appealing all year round. One writer that has found success by scaring the “bejeezes” out of readers is short fiction writer, Kristi Petersen Schoonover.
Schoonover is an award-winning writer who has received three Norman Wailer Writers’ Colony residencies and was even nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize for short fiction. Some of her popular works are Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole, Bad Apple, and The Poisoned Ground. She is an editor of a literary magazine called Read Short Fiction and lives in the haunted woods of Connecticut with her ghost-hunting husband.
When describing her work Schoonover says, “I write short stories that explore relationships in twisted, surprising ways. I play with magic realism and psychological horror on a regular basis.”
In other words, her books are the kind the make your goose bumps rise and take notice. It only takes one look at her publication list to see that this is a prolific writer. However, she says that she does not have a set time and place to write each day. She feels most inspired in her own home office with a great movie score playing, but overall, she writes when she is moved to do so.
When asked what advice she would give emerging young writers, she says, READ! “It’s critical, but not just because it’s important to consciously study the craft. Something subliminal is going on when a person reads something of quality; the brain is absorbing good sentence structure, correct spelling, multi-dimensional characterization, vivid description and more without the reader even realizing it, which automatically makes for better prose.”
She has so many favorite authors, it was hard to narrow down the list, however, “Both Gina Ochsner and T.C. Boyle explore human emotions and relationships in fresh, original ways that haunt me long after I’ve put the story down,” Schoonover says.
This professional writer is serious about her craft. She makes time to write and expands her writing skills by reading. In addition, Kristi Petersen Schoonover puts her public relations background to use and markets her own work with the precision of a Hollywood publicist. It goes to show you that even if your degree is in another field, you can use what you have learned in your artistic vocation as well.
So if you, too, think it is fun to be scared, you will love the work of Kristi Petersen Schoonover. For more information visit www.kristipetersenschoonover.com today!
Ever thought about writing a novel? Have a great idea for story? A character that’s keeping you up all night? Well, November is your month! During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), hundreds of writers work on starting (and finishing!) their novels in the month of November in a feverish sprint of creativity. Some of the most popular recent novels have been products of this rough drafting process.
What is it? 30 days. 50,000 words. Last year, 669, 882 novels were written in the month of November with the help of the author forums, support groups, and tracking help all offered for free through the NaNoWriMo website.
What’s the point? The point of NaNoWriMo is not to write a final, polished draft, but to get a complete rough draft on paper. Editing and proofreading take time and are often the reason why most first-time writers never finish the first draft. Too often us fiction writers get distracted by the small details of writing and get frustrated when we can’t ‘get it right’ the first time. By writing under pressure and with other authors, you will learn to let go of those small things that can easily be fixed on a third, fourth, and yes, fifth read through.
Why don’t you just do that on your own? NaNoWriMo also makes it easier because, like all writing, it makes it a social event. Writing can be a lonely, unforgiving trudge from the first word to the final sentence, but it doesn’t have to be. Writing is always a communication between you and someone else (even if that someone else is your future self), and this process helps you to ask questions and get feedback much quicker than the traditional writing and publishing process. NaNoWriMo also puts you in direct contact with others who are trying to reach the same goals, so they will intimately understand your struggles and will be excited to relish in your triumphs!
Are you ready to take the NaNoWriMo challenge?
Let me guess, you didn’t know that today, October 16th, is the day where avid dictionary-lovers cling to their dusty tomes and reminiscence about the days when students were taught how to decipher the pronunciation key and how to use catchwords as the ‘quick search’ feature before there were such things a ‘quick search’ features. But don’t worry! You don’t have to be a lexicographer to enjoy today.
Dictionary Day shares its day with one of the celebrities of the dictionary world (the word celebrity, of course, is always relative: look it up!): Noah Webster, a man largely responsible for causing fights between family members when playing Scrabble (“What do you mean hollar isn’t in the dictionary? It’s a word. Like down in the hollar!”).
You probably don’t remember the days before Google or Dictionary.com when if you wanted to know how to spell something or needed to find its definition that you had to lug out the big red book with Merriam-Webster emblazoned in gold on the cover like the seal of some secret society whose sole mission was to protect words from an oncoming apocalypse where only cockroaches and antiquated words hither swithly avaunt into the sunset.
So, why should we continue to celebrate a piece of writing that is more likely to be used as a doorstop rather than be read? Because, like most things, it’s not about the packaging: it’s about the contents. Words! Beautiful amazing words. Webster devoted his entire professional career so that you could call your favorite professor’s voice sonorous; your least favorite cafeteria item odious; and the odd day when you get out of class five minutes early exhilarating.
And digital dictionaries have actually brought more people to these words than the printed loadstones that Webster had to work with. You can now get a ‘word of the day‘ that will tell you divarication means on one day and flapdoodle means the next. There are even ‘word of the day’ apps that will send fantastic words to your phone, so you can impress everyone you know by correctly using indemnify in a sentence.
There are no rules for celebrating Dictionary Day (none that I could find at least in my albeit very cursory internet search), and rather than tell you all to pick up your dictionary and start with aardvark, I would encourage you to find a couple of new favorite words and use them liberally: lascivious, masticate, garrulous, bellicose, egalitarian, caveat.
So go on and engage in some word play!
Poetry is the music of our soul here at The Central Pen, and we have a fantastic community of lyrical artists. From free verse to spoken word to slant rhyme, we love it all, and we are here to share our creative energies with you. Enjoy this submission from one of our homegrown poets.
About the writer.
Deje Butler is 19 years old. Born in Washington, DC, she was raised in Dale City, Virginia. She has recently changed her major to criminal justice (originally business administration). At CPC, she volunteers at the writing center and will be a part of the college’s new drama club. She loves writing and art as well as meeting new people. She also enjoys going to museums of any kind and reading. She says, “I feel like I’m going on a adventure when I do so–its exhilarating!”
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a 26-year-old poet, writer, artist, and journalist from the Marshall Islands, recited her poem about climate change and its effects to a delegation of world leaders at the United Nations who had gathered for the Climate Leaders Summit earlier this week on September 23. Jetnil-Kijiner had been chosen to perform her piece alongside the impassioned speeches of presidents, prime ministers, and celebrities, including Al Gore (Chairman of Generation Investment Management and the Climate Reality Project) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Actor and UN Messenger of Peace).
Her performance, which ended with her being joined by her newborn daughter and husband, brought many world leaders to tears:
Jetnil-Kijiner’s home is the Marshall Islands, a group of low-lying coral atolls in the northern Pacific Ocean, which have already witnessed the effects of rising ocean levels. Her poem, ‘Dear Matafele Peinem,’ was written to her daughter: “You are so excited for bananas, hugs and our morning walks along the lagoon.”
The lagoon becomes a key metaphor for her, her daughter, and the future of the Marshall Islands: “I want to tell you about that lagoon. That lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise. Men say, that one day, that lagoon will devour you.” The rising ocean levels have caused the waters in the lagoon overflow their banks, slowly ‘devouring’ the land around it.’
But in Jetnil-Kijiner’s poem, the lagoon does not yet win:
“And we are canoes blocking coal ships. We are the radiance of solar villages. We are the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past. We are petitions blooming from teenage fingertips.
We are families biking, recycling, reusing, engineers dreaming, designing, building, artists painting, dancing, writing.
“We are spreading the word. And there are thousands out on the street, marching with signs, hand in hand chanting for change NOW.”
Her performance received a standing ovation from world leaders and summit delegates, proving (yet again) the power of poetry. You can see Jetnil-Kijiner performing her piece at the UN Summit here and watch a high-definition video for it here.