Recently Rita Banerjee sat down to Felicia Rose Chavez to discuss her pedagogy-changing book The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom for Kweli Journal. Launched in December 2009, Kweli is an online literary journal that celebrates community and cultural kinships. In this shared space, you will hear the lived experience of people of color. Our many stories. Our shared histories. Our creative play with language. Here our memories are wrapped inside the music of the Muscogee, the blues songs of the South, the clipped patois of the Caribbean. We currently publish four (4) online issues each year. In the interview and podcast (produced by Tavia Gilbert), Rita Banerjee and Felicia Rose Chavez discuss new approaches to the creative writing classroom. Here is an excerpt from their interview:
To me, it sounds like this anti-racist workshop model is neither a call-out culture or a call-in culture, but much more curious, inquisitive, and dialogue-based. It’s questioning, but not in an interrogating style.
Felicia Rose Chavez:
It’s about “what are you trying to do, and how can we best get you there?”
I would love for you to talk about the way that you utilize the Liz Lerman method. Because the one that I’ve been taught the moderator has a really big role in helping navigate the conversation. But in your model, it’s the artist is the one who’s really propelling the conversation forward.
Felicia Rose Chavez:
Yeah. I go to the extreme where students are seated in a circle to workshop when it comes to formal workshop and I’m actually seated outside of the circle. So I will be in the corner of the classroom. I’m not even participating as a restraint to myself because my impulse would be to turn towards dominance and control of the classroom. I’m not immune to these impulses as an educator. It takes great work for me to step back and say, “that’s not warranted right now. Nobody cares what you think right now, let them learn from one another.” So I do advocate that the student is the one who leads the workshop. They have a timing device and they walk their fellow students through the five steps of the Liz Lerman model in which I add a kind of unspoken sixth step in which they write an artist statement to the group.
So they write a letter, and they write about their fears about the piece they write about their successes of the piece. They write things like “God guys, I am dying right now. And I don’t know what to do when I feel so vulnerable. And so here’s what I need in this moment.” They also have an opportunity to articulate a future draft, saying things like “Here’s where I want to be. Here’s what I need to get there.” They enumerate three craft-based questions. Again, we all understand what those craft terms are. So we’re all speaking to the piece and we can engage with those craft concepts on equal footing that serves as their foundation. And so they have about 30 minutes and they read the piece aloud. Everyone reads the artist statement silently. They read the piece aloud and they’re able to walk through the Liz Lerman steps beginning with “I welcome your statements of meaning” and everyone offers what was challenging and beautiful and exciting to them.
Read the full interview on Kweli Journal here.
Felicia Rose Chavez is an award-winning educator with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Iowa. She is author of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom and co-editor of The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT with Willie Perdomo and Jose Olivarez. 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, th 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 Bronfman Creativity and Innovation Scholar-in-Residence at Colorado College. For more information about The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, and to access (and add to!) a multi-genre compilation of contemporary writers of color, visit www.antiracistworkshop.com.
Rita Banerjee is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing program at the George Polk School of Communications at Long Island University Brooklyn. She is author of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Echo in Four Beats, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps, and Cracklers at Night. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and her MFA from the University of Washington, and her work appears in Hunger Mountain, PANK, Isele, Nat. Brut., Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, and elsewhere. She is the co-writer and co-director of Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France. She received a 2021-2022 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool, and one of the opening chapters of this memoir, “Birth of Cool” was a Notable Essay in the 2020 Best American Essays. You can follow her work at ritabanerjee.com or on Twitter @Rita_Banerjee.
Writer, performer, producer Tavia Gilbert is the acclaimed narrator of more than 700 full-cast and multi-voice audiobooks. She is a Grammy nominee, Booklist Audiobook Narrator of the Year, the recipient of dozens of Earphones Awards, and a 12-time Audie nominee and Winner of the Best Female Narrator Audie. She produces several podcasts, including eight-time award-winner Stories of Impact, and teaches at Long Island University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.