Anne Frank’s uplifting courage in the face of adversity has been in my mind recently. Apart from by being given a birthday present of their own notebook, how do young writers find the confidence to speak their truths to the world? Anne herself had doubts as well as aspirations:
‘Will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh I hope so very much, because writing allows me to record everything, all my thoughts, ideals and fantasies.’
Anne had discovered one of writing’s ‘affordances’ at the age of 15. Had she lived, she would have been 89 this year, and seen how widely her hopes have been fulfilled. And yet how important it still is, for our sensitivities and morals, to hear her young voice today.
My own mother, born five years before Anne, has been luckier to be still alive at 93 – but she is beginning to forget. During a month of caring for her, I have been writing daily, in spare moments at the beginning and end of each day. This has helped me to hold on to events and put my feelings in perspective. I have charted my mother’s increasing forgetfulness, as well as my own frustrations. My written record has ‘held’ my observations for future reference - medical, family or personal. Only when I have been emotionally reconciled to events have I been confident of my tone and ‘orientation’. Then, I have sometimes begun to shape and craft my writing. However, occasionally, on re-reading, I have been ashamed of my moments of intolerance, and, have determined to write next time with more understanding, and less judgement. I have not always succeeded, but writing has given me the chance to try.
When Jeni and I set up NWP(UK) 9 years ago, I had little idea about how the project might develop or what we might learn. Now I see that, teachers’ have been pleasantly surprised and fascinated by occupying their own creative spaces. Word has spread, the number of groups has grown (Stamford NWP launches in June), more writing teachers write, and see the writing process as rich and rewarding. They write 'from the inside out' as Jeni has said. By recalling events, examining feelings, adopting positions, reflecting on tone and discussing pedagogies, they continue to be refreshed, inspired and strengthened.
In 2016, we introduced NWP 3-day residentials, which have provided more sustained opportunities for writing teachers to explore deepening approaches and discuss richer pedagogies. And this year, for the first time, Jeni and I are offering a 3-day retreat for writing teachers; the sole purpose will be for teachers to have space to explore their own ideas and to hear each other’s writing.
The writer and rights activist, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who was born in 1890, 39 years before Anne Frank, and who died in 1998 at the age of 108, and in whose memory the Florida school noted for its recent tragedy was named, wrote this:
'Be a nuisance where it counts, but don't be a bore at any time….Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action….Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics - but never give up.'
As Jack Davis, History Professor at the University of Florida, wrote today in the Tampa Bay Times, Marjory would have been proud of today’s young people. They are trying to improve the world - as Anne Frank did. As writing teachers, let’s give them the confidence and space to do so.
NWP outreach director
NWP will be represented at the Holocaust Education Event at Stamford Welland Academy on March 13. A new NWP teachers’ writing group will launch there in June.