Friday, October 23, 2009

The Gift the Guest Artist

This month we celebrated National Writing Day at our school with a special guest, an alumna, Kristin Bair O'Keeffe, who had just given birth to her first novel, Thirsty. It was a great time for our students and aspiring writers.

It took me back to times when writers visited the high school I attended as a youth. I recall hanging on their every word as they described the writing life. Once, I read James Weldon Johnson's "The Creation" from God's Trombones. It's a poem, the cadence of which sings from the Negro Spiritual. I let the rhythm carry me as I read, but I did not fall in to parody. I didn't realize this, though, until the visiting artist (whose name I can't recall) told me so.

That one moment of critique has stayed with me ever since. I consider the praise and its inherent admonition whenever I practice a recitation of poetry before my students. Having a guest artist is such a priceless gift to students. Now how wonderful your teaching, a guest has the novelty to capture your students rapt attention for a day or two, and their memories for a lifetime. They have clout of experience and an authentic voice to say "good work" completely detached from scores.

O'Keeffe gave our students many treasures during her fleeting visit: ideas, stories, hints, and tips. No doubt some of these gifts will be as lasting in the students' hearts and minds for many years hence.

If you haven't experience the magic a guest artist--a writer, a poet, an actor, a musician, a painter, a dancer--then now is the time to figure one or two into your schedule. For your students' sakes, and for yours.

Image Credit: "Tiffany Gift Box." By Jill Clardy. 26 May 2008. Flickr.

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