At least sixteen Nebraska Writing Project teachers descended on the Twin Cities for the National Council of the Teachers of English convention November 19-23.
NeWP teachers presented at three panels. Pius X teachers Lauren Funk, Katie Elsener, Tom Seib (emeritus) and Jane Connealy (emeritus) presented on their Holocaust education program.
NeWP Director Robert Brooke was joined by three past NeWP teacher leaders, now site directors at other Midwestern Writing Projects, for a panel on NWP and community engagement. Maggie Christensen, Director of the Oxbow Writing Project, spoke about their young writers partnership at the Hope Center. Cathie English, Co-Director of the Ozarks Writing Project, spoke about her teacher education course. Susan Martens, Director of the PrairieLands Writing Project, spoke about Writing Marathons. Robert Brooke, NeWP Director, spoke about the Veterans writing workshops our site ran this year in Lincoln and Omaha.
NeWP University partners Lauren Gatti, Nicole Green, and Sarah Thomas presented a panel on the Secondary English Education program at UNL, and were part of a post-conference workshop session Monday on the same topic.
Jeff Grinvalds, our Technology Liaison from Westside High School, Jane Connealy, Maggie Christensen, and Susan Martens all represented our site at the NWP meeting the day before the conference. Susan Martens organized a NWP- sponsored Writing Marathon in downtown Minneapolis on Friday and was joined by fellow Nebraskans, Dan Boster, Jane Connealy and Jeff Grinvalds.
Other attendees from Nebraska included Daniel Boster (Ralston), Sally Burt (Pius X), Katrina Gottschall (O’Neill High School), Darin Jensen (Metro Community College), Jeff Lacey (Ralston Schools), and Colleen McBride (Pius X).
Over sixty teachers gathered Friday night, May 1st, 2015, to celebrate the year’s achievements in the Nebraska Writing Project, and to honor this year’s award recipients.
Diana Weis, a 5th grade teacher from Cather Elementary School in Millard, received the 2015 Carol
MacDaniels Nebraska Writing Project Teacher of the Year award. She attended the event with her parents, brother, and a few close friends. Her nominators praised her for the “quiet and humble” contributions to NeWP programs since 2004, and for helping make them – and her students – better people.
Kathy Fleming, principal at Saratoga Elementary School in Lincoln, received the 2015 Administrator Certificate of Recognition. She was nominated by her school staff for her support of, and full participation in, this year’s Embedded Institute at Saratoga School.
One highlight of the evening was a performance by five members of the State Champion Slam Poetry Team from North Star High School. The poets performed individual, duet, and group slams – teaching the audience how to click and when to shout “speak, poet!” in the best tradition of slam.
Also performing were four writers from the Nebraska Warrior Writers program, a new program featuring writing from veterans of the US Armed Services. This program, sponsored by a partnership between Humanities Nebraska and Nebraska Writing Project, brings together veteran writers for series of Saturday morning writing sessions. This year, veterans of the Vietnam War, the Coast Guard, the Navy, and the Gulf War read from their work.
Also celebrated were the Young Writers Programs for the past year (including the Poetry of Place Celebration), NeWP Masters and Doctoral graduates, the year’s Retreat and Marathons, incoming participants in the Summer Institute and our two Embedded Institutes at Gretna and Saratoga Elementary, and advanced participants in next summer’s Leadership and Professional Writing Retreats.
This year’s quilt raffle winner was Diana Weis – who took home a beautiful quilt made especially for this even by Jan Knispel of Valentine.
We look forward to seeing even more members of the NeWP network at next year’s Spring Gathering. It’s already scheduled for April 29, 2016, 6-8 PM!
On September 12th, an assembly of Writing Project Teacher-Consultants met on an unusually cool September afternoon to begin the Annual Fall Writing Retreat at Platte River State Park. After sharing fire-warm pizza at the Chokecherry cabins, we began a writing activity in which we wrote the recipe for the perfect autumn day, with many writers noting that maybe right here, sitting in the screened-in campground porches and surrounded by other writers, we were living it. As many of our autumn poems noted, while at the Writing Retreat we were all able to leave student e-mails, papers needing grading, and the hard work of teaching behind for a weekend and focus on being writers.
As darkness settled in, we huddled around a campfire Friday evening to try and squint a glimpse of the aurora borealis, a rare sight for the area. Though unsuccessful in this endeavor, everyone was able to enjoy the company of other teaching writers and share the joys and uplifting moments of both teaching and writing.
On Saturday morning, the annual Summer Institute Reunion took place at Owen’s Landing, which went right up to the 7th Annual Fall Writing Marathon. For the next three hours, the whole assembly spread out through the park and surrounding communities in groups of three or four, each with our own notebook, pen, and personal proclamation that “I am a writer.” Groups of writers went to places including wineries, area antique shops, an art gallery, and others enjoyed the scenery and ripe writing fodder of Platte River State Park itself, which was followed by a read around and a pot-luck supper. The night concluded with our second campfire, complete with the confused carols of our campground neighbors.
Be on the lookout for the details for next year’s Fall Writing Retreat, which is already being planned.
Excerpts from the Writing Marathon
by Cynthia Meredith
Right by the river. Running. Cold. Running. Halloween is here in this little shack. Bikers? Country? Biker country? So comfortable, so quaint. It’s not threatening and I am not faint . . . at all. At first thought of a biker bar, I entertained the idea that it would be cold as the river that runs by it and run down – more so than it really is. But in this little nook of the world, it’s not. A bar. A table. An ugly beard. I have a feeling it’s all objective – this biker bar.
We’re all just people. We’re all just living day to day. “Hi darlin’” I hear the ugly beard say. His way of acknowledging the woman with fuzzy hair who just walked in. She smiles at him and feels beautiful. Swaggers over and says, “Hi, baby”. They look at each other. They smile and think about their tryst. Will they be the “it” couple here in this little corner of the world? Warming each other by the cold river late at night when no one else is here?
The shabby shack is laced with a poster of United States Presidents, funny thing to see in a biker bar, old mirrors and a wistful painting depicting its namesake – Heron. That country music is so unexpected, so displaced. I hate country music.
The scenery and the air around the bar are cool as fall breezes through and passes by with the river. It sends a shiver through me. Like the darkness of Halloween. All Hollow’s Eve. The sun is still shining through the trees casting shadows on the rickety patio outside.
If you stop, you can listen to the water rushing by.
River flowing without a thought of me as it rides by effortlessly. Going that way . . . and only that way. Hello. Good-bye River. So cold, so swift. Manifestation of rain and land. River, sweeping, picking up, dropping off. What secrets do you hold in your pockets so deep? I wonder. Death? Life? What is carried away and dropped off without a care? Oh, river. I’m in awe of your size, your waves, and your path. While the wind goes along for the ride slapping your waves rolling by me. Not a care. Just like my husband, who didn’t have a thought of me. Going that way, and only that way. Without me. But with her. Manifestation of another life. A different life than what we had. Picking up, dropping off. Secrets. Emptied pockets. Emptied life. Emptied heart.
I sit at this unlevel table having a red beer, thinking about this shabby bar. The ugly beard is happily talking to three women now. In front of me on this table sits one of the many Halloween decorations plastered along the walls, the floor, hanging from the ceiling and posted on a pole outside – the skeleton head; a witch, ugly one – just as ugly as the ugly beard. She stares at the person sitting next to me. She and her putrid straw hair are so stiff. She’s just so ugly.
by Jackie Byers
brilliant september sun light
icy autumn breeze
november pushing early
marathon writers gather
for lake, small towns, trails
platte river inspiration
poetry and prose journals
sharpies, pens, pencils
create marathon magic
Recipe for a Perfect Autumn Day
by Robert Brooke
Set to the side sixteen unanswered e-mails
blend forty-three student essays about Cynthia Urbanski’s
writing workshop tidily next to
a stack of books, at least fourteen inches high, with red covers
shred that last memo from your department chair
close your office door, after setting the thermostat for 68 degrees
though it’s always 76 no matter what the gauge says
simmer the whole mess for a weekend
to deepen flavors in a nut brown roux.
Once outside, the curry
of chlorophyll- deprived leaves
and frat boys still wearing shorts
will glaze in the mist of almost rain.
Somewhere a wee helpless bunny
nibbles tarragon and sage
from your neighbor’s garden, the one
with the heirloom gold tomatoes
at risk from the coming frost.
In the back of your mind
you dream of chocolate
at least 70% dark
with hints of lavender
and memories of places
you’ve never been, or maybe
were once, in another life–
pomegranates come to mind
baked in eggplant, the rich purple kind,
with Greek yogurt and a little drizzle
of Meyer lemon olive oil—
Something out of the ordinary
like the way the world’s already turned
or that pinch of snow
you can scent on the air
when you breath in, deep:
not here yet, but coming,