Write for Mississippi
- by LB Kovac
“The world is very different now.” So said John F. Kennedy in his famous inaugural address, given nearly 56 years ago to the millions huddled on the National Mall. Though in context his speech refers to the transformation the country had undergone since its founding in 1776, Kennedy’s words ring true today in 2017.
During a recent visit to her childhood high school, Katy Simpson Smith was feeling this “difference.” Smith said she assumed “[she] wasn’t able to do anything” about many of the transformations happening within her community and state.
But the demeanors of the students within the high school ultimately shifted her attitude. “I was so inspired by the kids,” she said. “They had so much of a sense that they could change things.”
On the Shoofly
And so it makes sense that, from her initial inspiration in that high school classroom, Smith would develop a way to demonstrate to students the power of their words.
Smith’s questions are questions that writers from every generation of American history have considered. One example is Maya Angelou, author of the poem, “Still I Rise.” Published in 1978, the poem speaks to the era’s restrictions imposed on the civil liberties of African Americans.
By the simple act of writing the poem, Angelou brought to light a pressing problem in her own community.
Smith hopes that students will be inspired by the works of writers like Angelou, Danez Smith, Langston Hughes, and others. By getting students to engage with issues personal to them and asking them to think about possible solutions, Smith says it will “provoke students into thinking of themselves as agents of change.” From there, who knows what will happen?
This bill, which Governor Phil Bryant signed into law, would make it legal for organizations, businesses, and private citizens to discriminate against patrons or employees based on their perceived sex or their sexual orientation.
The response to Smith’s latest project, Write For Mississippi so far has been heartening. More than 40 writers have volunteered their time and skills to lead the project’s proposed 50-minute classroom workshops. Teachers and educators in 22 of Mississippi’s counties have responded with requests for these visiting writer’s workshops. And a GoFundMe page set up to cover costs reached more than 85% of its goal in less than 18 days (click on the link to donate to the project).
But Smith isn’t satisfied with those numbers. She’d like to have all 82 counties in Mississippi represented in the project.
Area teachers interested in participating in “What Can We Do For Our Country?” can contact Smith through the Write for Mississippi website. Smith will pair each classroom with a writer and plan the workshop sometime between the beginning of February and the end of April, schedules permitting.
And educators unable to accommodate writers can lead their own workshops with the classroom materials and sample lesson plan provided on the Write for Mississippi website.
This way, other students across the state will feel empowered to address issues in their own communities. And, among the voices of the next generation of Mississippi writers, there might be another Kennedy, Smith, or Angelou.