Today’s SCMP Article on adolescent literacy, the link, or text below…
In advocating literacy, we have mostly discussed the importance of reading aloud with children. But there’s a second part we haven’t addressed as deeply: writing.
Writing is powerful. Consider this: history happens, but the one who writes it down becomes the arbiter of its future understanding. The writer shapes public opinion, provides context, persuades and inspires. We would know virtually nothing of the past were it not for writers. Time changes everything, but in books, it will always look as the writer wishes it to appear.
Writing has to be nurtured. Like reading, writing instruction in Hong Kong sometimes unintentionally prioritizes performance over pleasure and the need to develop a deeper insight into the world. The process of learning to write is so much greater than cultivating beautiful handwriting and perfect spelling. In fact, those skills are somewhat beside the point.
The writing process can be particularly therapeutic for teenagers who are trying to figure out who they are and what they believe. Writing allows one to express frustration, to explore connections and relationships and to develop consciousness. Writing only works when it is truthful and honest, and oftentimes the process itself helps the writer determine what she thinks about a topic.
Deborah Wiles, award-winning author of children’s books, spent nearly two weeks in Hong Kong working with students and teachers at both HKIS and CIS this month. She demonstrated how fiction can be as powerful a medium to convey ideas, inform and to convince, as is nonfiction. “Think of the power you have if you hold the pen,” she says. People become what you can imagine. For example, in her award winning, Love, Ruby Lavender, three crotchety aunties who had always reminded Wiles of chickens feature prominently as such in the book. Revenge is sweet when her real life nemesis younger brother appears as an unpleasant little girl in one of her books.
Wiles’ books are deeply personal, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it, as the creative and fanciful stories are every bit as imaginative as pure fiction. Set in her childhood homes and drawn from her stock of memories, they are her own stories, but not standard memoirs. Her history takes the form of young adult fiction, picture books and what she calls a documentary novel, a trilogy about the 1960s that defies categorization.
“I write so I can say I was here. So I can find like-minded souls to share the road with. You must tell the whole story of your whole life with your whole heart because that is how we create life.“
Writing and life is about paying attention, making connections and asking questions. She teaches aspiring writers to “know, feel, and imagine.” Writing can also help with grief. Writing helped her through the grieving process during a particularly difficult year of her life. Of the process of writing and recording her experience, she said, “I learned to carry my grief. You do not ever get rid of it, but you learn to carry it.”
The good news is that in one form or another, we are all writers. We write every day. Emails, business communications, term papers, thank you notes and the occasional one-off essay, we write to communicate, to persuade, to express gratitude and to inform.
In a New Yorker column this week, acclaimed author Andrew Solomon wrote, “What I’d really like, in fact, is to be young and middle-aged, and perhaps even very old, all at the same time—and to be dark- and fair-skinned, deaf and hearing, gay and straight, male and female. I can’t do that in life, but I can do it in writing, and so can you. Never forget that the truest luxury is imagination, and that being a writer gives you the leeway to exploit all of the imagination’s curious intricacies, to be what you were, what you are, what you will be, and what everyone else is or was or will be, too.”
Creative writing is as important a process and skill to cultivate in adolescence as are all the traditional communications and persuasive tools. Parents, your child’s fanciful stories are a path to one of life’s most essential skills and must be nurtured and celebrated as such.