PEN in the Classroom

I made a book with tenth graders about art and everyday life.

In February 2012 I started a writing residency with PEN Center USA, an international organization meant to stimulate and maintain interest in the written word, to foster a vital literary culture, and to defend freedom of expression. As part of the PEN in the Classroom program, I led a series of 12 art writing workshops with tenth graders at Animo Locke I High School in Watts, California.

The PEN in the Classroom project sends writers to classrooms at under-served schools, where they work with students to produce a published anthology of their work.

I worked with the students in Kathleen Hicks’ tenth grade English class to produce a series of written works inspired by Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July’s Learning to Love You More, Sister Corita Kent and Jan Steward’s Learning by Heart, as well as thematic issues like public space, psychogeography, and guerilla art. You can see a PDF of our anthology, Locke is Power, here.

Sample Student Work:

Manny Becomes More Manly, by Manny

Los Angeles, CA, a Bathroom:

On April 29th, 2012 at 6:27pm, Manny  noticed a change in his facial features. He noticed two chin hairs sprouting from his chin. He believed this was a sign that he was becoming more of a man than he already was.

“I can finally stroke my chin when I am thinking,” said Manny. Manny did not expect a change, for it was a normal boring Sunday. And like always, he would sit around and watch TV and eat waffles. When he told his Mom, she couldn’t believe it. She replied, “Boy, that’s just peach fuzz.” Manny laughed and continued to watch TV. It was an interesting day for Manny, now he waits for the sign of a third chin hair.

I’m So Sorry, by Quincy

I’m so sorry.

I’m so sorry for putting salt in the Kool-Aid.

it was probably the wrong thing to do.

I’m so sorry.

It might taste like salty Kool-Aid

like when you lick your lips after working out.

I’m so sorry.

You might say something bad after you drink it.

You will want to hold a chair while you

drink it because it will probably throw you

to the floor.

I’m so sorry.

It might smell like some nasty

Kool-Aid that has been sitting for months.

You could see the salt at the bottom of the jug.

I’m so sorry,

but I thought it was sugar.

So you can’t get mad at me because

I’m so sorry.

Violence in Watts, by Eduardo

People should stop the violence in Watts. Watts is all ghetto and has too much tagging on the sidewalks, walls, and tagging on cars. It’s pretty stupid to gangbang other people for their stuff they have, like their phones, skateboards, and hats. In Watts, there are black/brown people who rob, and that’s all they do for a living. I’ve lived in South Central for 5 years, but then I moved to Watts. Now I’ve lived here for 10 years, and Watts is a hard place to live.

When I go skate, I see people getting beat up and getting shot. Watts has too much violence. There are fewer hoes, but too much gang violence. I’ve seen people get jacked for their cars. I know too much stuff from Watts. My friend got his phone and skateboard jacked a bunch of times. They should stop the violence and stop stealing other kids’ things.

Ten years from now, I want Watts to be clean and violence-free. I want there to be no more tagging. I hope there will be no more people getting jacked by people going into their homes.

I want kids that skate to go skate and have fun, because nobody wants people to get beat up if they didn’t do s***. Kids skate because they want to, and no one can stop that. I want there to be no more gun shooting, there’s too much s*** going on. The lesson is not to do anything to people, because if you mess with one person, you end up messing with all of them.