Mistaken Identity started as a small project to print Sheila’s stories for a small group of friends. barbara had 60 copies printed. (The list had grown from the original 20 we had planned for.) She threw a big party to launch the book to those friends, and nearly everybody came. Some had been Sheila’s friend for as long as I had; others had come more recently into her life, friends, co-workers, neighbours.
The power of the printed word worked its magic on the crowd. Every one of them had heard some of the stories in the book; anyone who knew Sheila at all knew that she is often mistaken for a man, and she had told her friends about her experiences as they happened and as she tried to come to grips with them. But collecting them into a book gave them a weight, a heft that they had not had before. As people at the launch had an opportunity to thumb through the book, a chance to read a story or two, saw the accounts of situations more ugly or more terrifying than they had heard from Sheila herself, the totality of her experience made itself known.
They responded with shock and anger at what had happened to Sheila. They responded with pride at the allies she told about, who had stood up for her in dicey situations. They responded with admiration and love for the spirit Sheila showed in her writing, her determination to hold on to her identity. They secretly wondered if they had been good enough at being a friend and ally over Sheila’s lifetime.
Later in the evening, everyone crowded into one room and Sheila read two of the stories aloud, and all of those emotions poured out of the crowd as they responded with thunderous applause.
For Sheila it was an evening of healing and vindication.
I have launched many publications, both in print and online, of student writing, and the emotions are always the same. Healing. Vindication. Pride. Satisfaction at telling a story that might help other people in the same situation.
Families, friends, classmates, and the press (if I can get them)–everyone rallies around to celebrate the accomplishment of a difficult and meaningful task—making art out of life. Finding an audience for student writing is always worth doing for the improvement it makes in students’ writing and motivation to write. It is more than worth the effort it takes for the healing and growth in confidence it brings to the students who are published.
A launch for a classmate brings many literacy and numeracy tasks for other students to take on: making invitations, posters, and programs; budgeting and shopping for refreshments; making speeches; planning and evaluation of the event; in short, problem solving and reflection.
Finally, the fringe benefits to the program are enormous: better retention rates, positive profile of the program in the community, easier recruitment of new students…the list goes on. When you’re the instructor who makes it happen, administration pays attention!
- Making Art from Lives (katenonesuch.com)