We were inside. We were outside. We read texts. We wrote stories, and poems, and critiques, and journal entries. For the National Day on Writing, we hosted 18 educators at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and invited them to explore the past and write with us.
Here are the series of writing prompts we provided as suggestions for the different spaces within the Armory Museum and exhibits:
NOTE: For a writing marathon/party this afternoon, to celebrate Write Out and the National Day on Writing, we’ll be using excerpts from this historical fiction novel to inspire writing of participants. — Kevin
Reading The Wartime Sisters as someone who has been doing educational consulting work for the Springfield Armory National Historic Site for the past three years makes for an interesting web of connections to place and story.
Novelist Lynda Cohen Loigman, who grew up here in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, notes in her Author Notes that, like many of us who live here (including me), the Springfield Armory is often a forgotten part of our region’s history.
It has only been through many visits and by running summer camps for Springfield students and facilitating professional development for teachers through a partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory that I have come to more deeply appreciate the impact the Armory had had on this region, and also, on the country itself. Today, it is a museum. In its heyday, it was a manufacturing and innovative hub, one of two national armories (the other is in Harper’s Ferry).
The Wartime Sisters story is centered around two sisters whose complicated relationship and lives, and tragedies, revolve around the Springfield Armory in the time of World War II, when the Armory facilities were in highest gear with thousands of employees and a mandate by the government to produce more and more weapons. It’s also when women and immigrants flocked to the area for work, and for patriotic ideals, as a way to help the soldiers fighting overseas.
I’ve toured many of the old Armory buildings where the action takes place — including the Armory Commander’s house, now vacant and needing repair but still, with vestiges of the position the owners once held. I’ve walked through some of the manufacturing buildings, although many are now part of a community college. I’ve seen photographs of the gardens, the water fountains, even the swimming pool. We’ve taken students to the high elevation grassy overlook, the one that looks out over Springfield, where a huge and important concert takes place in the book. Armory Curator Alex MacKenzie, who helped Loigman with her research and spent time with her, has done presentations with our student and teacher programs.
And we’ve done whole units with students and teachers on the role of women in the Armory, and the way the war transformed society through work at the facility, bringing change to the communities even after the men returned home to reclaim their jobs. Like Loigman, I have listened to the oral history recordings of some of those women, and felt moved by their narratives. Also like Loigman, we have used the Armory’s own newsletter archives to tell the stories of the people, of where they came from, and how they lived their lives with the Armory at its center.
I would have enjoyed this book on its own merits, as a character study of two sisters and a community of women at a certain historical period of time. But the grounding of the Springfield Armory as the setting of the book, as a site with deep roots, made the reading of the book even more enriching for me. Loigman surfaces the stories of the people, using history as the door to show compassion and intrigue.
For a lover of books and of local history, what more can one ask?
Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, and as part of Write Out, I’ve been working with more than 100 fellow writers on a sprawling, beautiful collaborative poem based on George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem. As more and more lines were submitted by more and more people, I kept wondering: Now what I have gotten myself into?
But I’ve been here before, managing large online writing collaborations, and each time, at the end, the pieces that emerge have always startled me, the way so many voices can be woven together into something approaching art. Collaborative pieces — I’ve been part of radio shows, of plays, of poems, of stories — are full of wrinkles, full of voices, and finding the thread that runs through the collaborators is tricky.
For the Where We’re From collaboration, with hundreds of lines of poems, the trick has been to find themes and shift lines around to approach coherence. When read through, the Write Out collaborative poem takes on a new shape, one of US writing together as a single poet with a multiverse voice. We’ll be sharing the text of the poem this weekend, and then I am starting an invitation to folks to record audio pieces of the poem, which then I will – gulp – edit together into one large audio piece.
Anyway, for the National Day on Writing, which has the theme of “Why I Write” again, I thought about the question: Why Do I Write Collaboratively?
WHY I WRITE COLLABORATIVELY
Writing can be a lonely adventure. Oh sure, you can create characters to crowd your head. You can write scenes of noise. But the act of writing? You’re on your own, for the most part. Which is why I love to write collaboratively with other people. When you are working on the creation of a piece of art in a shared space — even when you trade coherence for chaos — there’s something wonderful that emerges — a different angle to what writing is, and how we tell stories. Collaboration requires flexibility, conversation, revision unlike any other. You are reminded that you are part of something larger in the world.
Last night, Write Out project hosted a wide-ranging Twitter Chat about place and stories, and hosts Amber and Bethany did a fantastic job. If you missed it, I used Wakelet to gather as many of the strands as I could, trying to connect some of the threads, as best as I could.
Although the Write Out project (now underway for the next two weeks) is supported by the National Park Service, through a partnership with the National Writing Project, there is no mandate that you have to explore a park. Not many of us have a National Park nearby.
I took on the role of host last night for the first Video Chat for the Write Out project now underway. Along with some facilitators and participants who have been sharing work and planning/hosting live events, we invited Catherine Stier, author of the picture book If I Were a Park Ranger. Our conversation touched on a lot of topics, from uncovering stories of places, to the role of National Parks in society, to primary source databases, to how we might inspire ourselves and our students to write.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
With the start of the Write Out project, getting outside to observe the world has been on the list. Yesterday, my wife surprised my youngest son and I with one of her “magical mystery tours” in which she doesn’t tell us where we’re headed until we get there.
Yesterday, it was an hour or so north, up to Brattleboro, Vermont. We had hoped the Autumn foliage would be more brilliant than here, in Western Massachusetts, but that actually wasn’t the case. There’s more green to the north than here, which was sort of disappointing, but the drive was beautiful, and our hike along the Sunrise Trail loop through Fort Dummer State Park in late afternoon was lovely.
Since “discovering stories” is a theme of Write Out, I did a little research on the Fort Dummer State Park. It was one of the first settlements and was built in 1724 with an overlook of the Connecticut River. Soldiers there, along with Mohawk Indians, protected the area from the French and other tribes.
Later, I had this idea of a music composition running around in my head, inspired by our hike through the woods, so I spent some time, creating the soundtrack — I call it Woodlines — and then used SoundSlides to put the music with the images from our walk in the woods.
Kevin’s NOTE: Author Catherine Stier, who wrote this picture book, is going to be a featured guest on the Write Out video chat on Tuesday night, Oct. 15, from 7-8 p.m. EST. More information about the chat and how you can join us in Zoom, if you want, is available at the Write Out website (look under Scheduled Events category).
I’ve had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time in the past few years with National Park Service rangers through collaborative projects (including running youth summer camps at the Springfield Armory Historic Site) and let me tell you, they are some of the nicest, most curious, adventuresome folks I have mingled with.
One of my ranger friends from Connecticut’s Weir Farm National Historic Site recommended If I Were a Park Rangerby Catherine Stier for our work with the Write Out Project (which launched yesterday, and runs in conjunction with the National Day on Writing next Sunday), and I really appreciated this picture book, and I find it a perfect fit for most elementary classrooms.
Stier captures the work of those folks who greet visitors and who sustain the National Park system, itself a wonder of both open spaces and urban history. In this picture book, readers learn about the many ways one might come to work for the National Park Service, and what a typical day might be if you were a ranger. With lively and inviting artwork from Patrick Corrigan, If I Were a Park Ranger will inform, educate and invite you to explore the many spaces around you (and not just park service spaces, either, but city blocks and suburban fields and woods).
The picture book aptly represents all of the many facets of historical artifacts connected to spaces, ecological and environmental awareness, public ownership of public lands, and the ways in which visitors and those working for the National Park Service are partners in preservation of lands and stories.
These topics, and more, are all central to the Write Out project now underway this October, connecting writing and history to place-based learning and connected opportunities for students and teachers. Learn more about Write Out (it’s free!) and sign up for information and news about the project at the website.
As the Write Out project kicks off today (and goes for the next two weeks, with the National Day on Writing right in the middle of it all), I wanted to share out a project I have had underway for a few weeks now, in which my sixth grade students have been going about their small suburban town “capturing the wild” with photographs. We aim to use the photos as part of a connection with another school, and for some writing this week.
Friendship is surely one of the trickiest areas that sixth graders navigate through, as they begin to leave elementary school behind and step into the middle school world (even at my school, where our sixth graders are still physically in an elementary building).
Writer Shannon Hale, with illustrator LeUyen Pham, dive into this world of young girls with compassion, humor and confusion in their two graphic novels — Real Friends and Best Friends (which just recently came out).
Both books are based on Hale’s own life as a young girl with significant anxiety issues that made her entry into friendship circles trickier than most, fraught as they are with shifting allegiances, cultural connections and more. In these two graphic novels, we come to understand how the world is viewed by young girls, and as a male teacher of sixth graders who often has to untangle friendship issues between girls (and boys), I found these books highly entertaining and highly informative.
The first book — Real Friends — is set in elementary school and the second in sixth grade, the start of the middle school years. Shannon is the main character and narrator, and many of the characters from the first book come back in the second book — Best Friends — and there are plenty of unresolved issues among the characters, which Shannon (author, and character) reminds us is natural — sometimes, friendships don’t survive because people who think they are good friends, real friends, are not made for each other, and it all falls apart. That may be true for school friendships more than anything.
I was attuned to the way the young Shannon, particularly in Best Friends, is driven by a need to be in the loop with pop culture, from the music that her peers are listening to, to the television shows they watch at night. Today, it would be the apps that people use and the YouTube channels they watch. The technology changes, but the desire to fit in remains as strong as ever for many adolescents.
An author’s note at the end of Best Friends was beautiful, as Shannon Hale writes of where her story came from, how one teacher helped her see herself as a writer when others did not, and how anxiety still lingers for her, today, and that understanding it and having strategies for it was the thing that has helped her cope with the crazy world unfolding around her. All good lessons, bound up in two entertaining graphic novels.
National Public Radio did a nice piece on Hale and Pham (who are close friends) that I found informative.