The Creative Writing in the Community is a course at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. An immersive, service learning opportunity, English 409 students meet with young writers in the greater Muncie community to teach creative writing techniques and to write and compose a collaborative text. Our young community partners are 3rd and 4th graders, at Longfellow Elementary School.
This semester, university students also engaged in the book publishing process, learning design, layout, and editing with our independent, 409 Press, which is committed to publishing young Muncie voices.
Our essential and guiding element was that it is an honor to be trusted with someone’s story. And our role was to honor our young community writer’s voices so the rest of the world can hear the simple, yet poignant and sometimes humorous wisdom and stories that only young people and young writers possess.
A discovery my Ball State students and I made during this semester is that young writers haven’t learned to filter. They don’t yet know what society teaches us about not sharing or revealing too much about ourselves. You ask them a question, and they will answer it… with brutal honestly. You ask them to create, and they will conjure worlds and images we can’t imagine. You ask them to tell you a story, and they will paint every sensory detail with their words.
My students also learned to lean in to the hard work and to love. They became very attached to these young writers and reciprocally, the young writers to them. My university students saw earlier versions of themselves, remembering best friends, parents breaking up, racism, and even current versions of themselves, who didn’t know what to write about or how to write about it. My university students, conversely, had forgotten how NOT to filter, yet they took a cue from these young writers and stopped editing themselves.
They learned to work the hive. To write and write and write and write, just like our young community writers. Hence the title, To Bee or Not to Bee…Storytellers. To quote Sue Monk Kidd in The Secret Life of Bees, my students learned to “love every little thing” the Longfellow students said, wrote, and taught them.