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Flint Hill Takes Writer’s Day

Photo Credit: Victor O'Neil Studios

Photo Credit: Victor O'Neil Studios

By Jack Lovelace, Managing Editor

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On Thursday, April 20, the Flint Hill Upper School held its annual Writer’s Day. In the front of the gymnasium sat a row of English teachers and writers alike, all of whom are integral in keeping the art of writing in the English language alive. During the celebration in Town Meeting, authors Noah Stetzer and Dr. Matthew Ferrence spoke about the importance and power of writing, and, as a conclusion to the short but eventful ceremony, Mr. John Copenhaver, author, teacher, and Chair of the 7th-12th Grade English Department, presented the school’s writing awards.

Preference – what allowed the school English department to pore over submissions and choose which pieces they thought were the subjective “best” – is often the key to determining good writing. As such, Stetzer and Ferrence shared their most cherished styles of writing.

“I’m a fan of poetry because poets use words the way a composer uses musical notes—thinking about how they sound one by one but also how they interact with other words around them, how all the words in a poem sound together,” said Stetzer.

“The personal essay is my truest love,” said Ferrence. “It’s defined as a ‘meander,’ just like a stream, flowing over the twists and falls of a working mind. I find that terribly exciting, following a writer as she moves us through her intelligence, how she stumbles through the difficult parts, comes up with a conclusion, turns it around, finds another, makes meaning of her own life. I can’t get enough!…[But] I’d say that while the medium is different, the desire to create art is common across many disciplines, from photography to sculpture to music to, yes, biology. It strikes me that a key human desire is to make sense of the world.”

Additionally, Ferrence argued that life is really just a story to be written, that inspiration for writing is eternally extractable from daily experiences.

“When you boil it all down, all of our lives are organized through narratives,” he said. “Think about the stories that underlie so much of what we do: the comeback story, the rags-to-riches tale, the comedy, the perseverance of the underdog. These are narratives, and when we don’t really think them through, we become susceptible to manipulation by those around us who can spin narratives that don’t make sense. Literature lets us live different lives, to be inside the heads of characters and authors and see the world from perspectives that are not our own and, in that way, we start to see how we can imagine better, more just, kinder, tolerant futures… When books start being carted away, that’s when I start to worry. That’s when we start losing our ability to connect.”

Perhaps most interesting to hear are the many reasons our writers, students and adults alike, love to write. To add on to Ferrence’s statement: while each of us are tied together by the great life-force of humanity, we are nevertheless unique and form our own narratives.

“I love writing because I think that it is the most powerful tool I have to express myself,” said junior Kamryn Olds, who won last year’s Freshman/Sophomore Creative Writing Prize for “Before the Night is Done.”  “Sometimes, I feel that when I am forced to speak words out loud, I struggle to get my point across and [have] people truly understand what I am trying to say. However, when I write, I feel that I am able to articulate my ideas much more easily and accurately. I am most proud of my work when I feel that I have expressed myself in a way that truly illustrates how I feel and puts together perfectly all of the thoughts that are in my head.”

“To not only transport oneself to another place and time, but also to immerse oneself in heartfelt analysis, considered scrutiny, and willing acceptance in the body of a character or even an author is enlightening and powerful. Nothing quite compares to that moment of clarity and empathy when one becomes – if only for a moment – someone else,” said Cecily Wolfe, who received an Honorable Mention last year for “Running With the Birds” and won the Richard Rouse Prize for Expository Writing this year for “An Environmental Concern.”

“I love writing because it allows one to deeply engage with and reflect on the human condition and experience,” said Nala Duma, who won the 2014 and 2015 Creative Writing prizes for his short stories “Seven Square Inches” and “They End Up in Blood.” “Writing forces the distention of time, space, feeling, and action to convey meaning, and what you’ll find (in the process of writing) is that even life’s tiniest moments can hold profundity or guide you to some higher place.”

Writing truly is a gift of language which gives each and every one of us the right to be personally expressive.

“I still have the little green composition notebooks from my third grade classroom (this was back in, like, 1983!), filled with all sorts of stories,” said Ferrence. “I don’t know that I’d thought of myself as a writer yet, but it was clear the impulse to do it was there. I kept at it, encouraged by teachers along the way, and finally in college I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Then I panicked and became a biology major! In my junior year, I finally returned to writing and it stuck for good.”

“[Writing offers] autonomy, at least initially,” Copenhaver said. “You’re alone, creating a world you’re entirely in control of. Most other art forms begin with a lot of constraints or a need to collaborate. Don’t get me wrong, to get what you write into print you’ll have to become a collaborator and that’s a good thing, but there’s something about that initial autonomy that’s exciting and freeing. [When it comes to how a writer might best optimize his or her skills], it’s really up to the student. When I was in high school, I did a lot of writing on my own. I kept a notebook. Find a way to write any way you can. I don’t believe in being overly prescriptive because you just need to find your own habit. But I’ll say this:  Write, don’t just talk about writing.”

“I think what I like about writing is that it uses the same medium that we the readers use: language,” said Stetzer. “When we go to appreciate a painting, a part of what is interesting is that we (maybe) don’t use watercolors or oils ourselves. Writers, on the other hand, are using the same words that we, the readers, are using all the time, but a writer is using them in different and surprising ways.”

But writing is not a one-way transaction, and what one puts in one will get out. Writing takes hard work, but the rewards it reaps are lessons about the world and life itself.

“I find for me, writing is the best tool to allow me access into that sense of discovery. … As well, I love how writing lets me be a professional dilettante, able to step in and out of lots of areas of expertise through research, then write about it. I’d encourage everyone to just take even three minutes a day, right when you get home from school maybe, before you do anything else, and free write whatever comes to mind with a simple prompt: how did my mind change today? Moving your pen or pencil on that page will get you thinking, and even if you came home thinking, wow, that was the most boring day ever, you’ll probably be surprised at what you discover. Writing is the secret code to unlock the door to our own minds. Try it!” said Ferrence.

“To loosely quote Nina Simone, art is supposed to reflect the times,” Duma said. “And, to extend that definition, “good” art is not only cultural documentation about an individual’s contemporary attitude towards the world around them; it also looks to the future in some way—through questions or prophecy—to encourage people to think about what a better future looks like and how that future can be achieved. I think celebrating good literature, therefore, is important for highlighting profound reflections on the world today and inspiring people to discuss those ideas.”

It is through a combination of each and every one of the powerful, and equally valid, things said above that Writer’s Day comes alive. Writer’s Day allows students and teachers to have this opportunity to be with one another and just talk about what makes us human and talk about the art of language and written communication.

“Writers’ Day is a time to acknowledge the impact of the written word,” Wolfe said. “For the Flint Hill community specifically, it is a time to simply enjoy the transformative elegance of literature without the academic pressures often associated with reading; it is a time to rediscover the simple pleasure of losing oneself in a good book.”

Students (From Left to Right) Leyla Ebrahimi, Claudia Wood, Julia Finkelstein, Lena Cohen, Isabel Mejia, and Cecily Wolfe pose as they accept their writing awards.

“To me, Writer’s Day is a day that the school dedicates to celebrating an art form that I not only love but also feel is incredibly important,” said Olds. “Especially in a school that is so innovative and on the forefront when it comes to technology (which I also think is great), I feel that it is important to set aside time for days like this as well and equally demonstrate the importance of areas such as the arts and humanities. But, then again, maybe I am slightly biased.”

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The School Newspaper of Flint Hill School
Flint Hill Takes Writer’s Day