A Better Way to Workshop
By Jenell Krishnan
The Antiracist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom is one part memoir, one part guidebook. Author Felicia Rose Chavez invites all writing instructors to revise the writing workshop in favor of humanizing writing community practices for the 21st century. Chavez’s call to action is inspired by June Jordan 's Poetry for the People, a program dedicated to the reading, writing, and teaching of poetry at university and in communities. Most importantly, Chavez demonstrates strategies for safe workshop spaces that empower writers of color through open discussions of their own work, inviting critique that they see most helpful for their own vision of the text. In her book, Chavez dismantles the silencing judgements of traditional workshop methods. She offers actionable strategies for what workshoppers should do instead. Here, I outline select strategies from the book for facilitators looking to cultivate a better way to workshop.
Defining “safe” for writers
Representation matters. Period. Chavez begins by juxtaposing this truth with the realities of many university facilities, classrooms, student cohorts, and syllabi. She asks writing instructors to audit the marketing materials that invite writers into “safe,” supportive workshop spaces. Chavez shares,
Prioritizing safety in recruitment materials by offering this definition is the first step to creating a safe, humanizing workshop space for writers of color.
The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom concludes with a focus on camaraderie and collective power. To do so, Chavez deconstructs the good writing/bad writing hierarchies that may crop up in traditional workshop environments by centering individual, process-based assessments that invite participants to “go inward with perspective and intention to gauge their personal progress” (p. 14).
This liberatory, empowering, call to action represents “the way it should be,” a far cry from “the way it’s always been.” If you are interested in learning more strategies for developing anti-racist writing workshop practices, join us on 7/28/2021 at 10am (PST) when author Felicia Rose Chavez will be leading a webinar titled “Educate to Liberate: Tools for Teaching Writing in the Anti-Racist Classroom.” Register here.
Felicia’s teaching career began in Chicago, where she served as Program Director to Young Chicago Authors and founded GirlSpeak, a feminist webzine for high school students. She went on to teach writing at the University of New Mexico, where she was distinguished as the Most Innovative Instructor of the Year, the University of Iowa, where she was distinguished as the Outstanding Instructor of the Year, and Colorado College, where she received the Theodore Roosevelt Collins Outstanding Faculty Award. Her creative scholarship earned her a Ronald E. McNair Fellowship, a University of Iowa Graduate Dean’s Fellowship, a Riley Scholar Fellowship, and a Hadley Creatives Fellowship. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, she currently serves as the Creativity and Innovation Scholar-in-Residence at Colorado College.
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