Empowerment through Language...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

The weather is turning rapidly toward winter. The trees are baring themselves to the wind and rain. Halloween is just 10 days away and my birthday comfortably slid by last week, leaving smiles and a knowledge that I am blessed with a multitude of friends and beloveds. The garden needs to be prepped for the long winter sleep and I have lost three of my towering maples in the past 2 months. There is much light but it seems somewhat naked in the yard.

So where was that summer?! It was hot this year, that is certain. But I spent most of the season planted in front of a fan and my computer working on a book project. Five years ago, I started to notice that there were so many rich and poignant experiences in the classrooms where I was teaching that I needed to capture them. I started a list of ideas for essays. I found that list one steamy afternoon this summer as I was working on final stages of the draft of the book that will appear this winter.

Approximately 3 years ago, my dear friend, colleague, fellow poet, Quraysh Ali Lansana, suggested that perhaps the seed in my brain for a book on poetry in the classroom would be a terrific collaboration. As is frequently the case, he was correct.

We debated, we scrapped, we drafted, we outlined and researched, and we have a book! Although the planning and first stages moved slowly, once we agreed with Teachers & Writers Collaborative to create this entity and we had publishing contracts, we barged forward at a furious pace.

The summer was a marathon of writing and the most amazing experience of putting words to page from that swirl that is my brain I have ever experienced. Working in collaboration with another writer was quite remarkable as well. 

We completed the draft manuscript with 100 more pages that the contract called for but we agreed with our publisher that it is far better to have more than we need than less. This called for a major amputation after first review from T&W. We managed our "slash and burn" edit from 314 to 197 pages in 4 intense days. There is no way to describe the effort adequately. It was still insanely hot for the Northeast. We kept our tempers. We worked hard. We did it!

The full essays will be repurposed for print in trade journals in the writing, education, and arts-in-education fields. Other sections, paragraphs, sentences, whatever the excess, were either stripped out completely or saved for later. We are already formulating ideas for book two.

The comments are coming in now from our peer reviewers. I admit that I was nervous! It is my first venture in critical writing to this degree. My partner is used to this part. I am relieved to have the affirmations we are receiving, as well as some editorial guidance that will serve the final product.

I see the end of the writing process not far beyond my reach. There are so many to thank, I  cannot even start the list here, beyond my partner, our publisher/editor/ally Amy Swauger and her staff, all those who have read the drafts (both friends and peer reviewers), and the funders who have made the publication possible. I have learned a great deal about negotiation, sharing creativity, and what I believe I have learned from my work thus far. I have discovered how writing in tandem is exhilarating. And frustrating. But it is all worth the effort, and this is a serious understatement.

So now, we will finalize this project and begin a new part of the journey: the promotion of Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy, & Social Justice in Classroom & Community. This will be a game changer in so many ways, not just for me and Q, but we believe for teachers and writers nationwide. We want to share what we have witnessed and how we have delivered poetry to students and teachers for more than three decades between us.  We aspire to providing many professional development sessions. We hope that we sell a lot of books too!

I will keep you posted and next year, I hope to do more gardening.