Change is a practice, part 1
Note: Please read our Ethics page.
To be clear: as a writing school, we are stepping up to help take down white supremacy.
We can't discuss visionary writing craft and technique without also looking at the inequity, exclusion and racism that's baked into literature itself. This is a dilemma we face every day as a creative writing school: how do we teach writers to write what they want to read, when we also know that the game is rigged?
The truth is, there is no model for us. We must learn how to make our craft anti-racist and inclusive in and through our writing and our practice. We change the old consciousness deliberately, by becoming the new consciousness.
Our Story Intensive teachers are writers who have either worked closely with me through mentorship, or who have graduated from the Story Intensive (or both). It’s common for a writer to be in our community for years before we consider them for a TA or teaching position.
This is one of our strengths: slow, deliberate growth that prioritizes lifelong relationships. Depth over breadth. In other words, we don’t just hire writers to teach our classes. We build a strong relationship with them first.
There’s been a consequence to this: homogeneity.
We’ve missed some opportunities, overlooking the fact that it may take more work for us to build relationships with Black and Indigenous writers in our school. It also takes more work for us to make connections with non-white writers for our Master Classes. We know that the work is worth it. We’re learning how to do it better.
I am committed to a practice of conscious, embodied, compassionate systemic change. I want all of our teachers to feel prepared to facilitate hard conversations about race, gender, and ableism. I want to hold the door open for the new system and be part of it. That’s why this school exists. This is no hashtag or trend: I have a lot of work to do, and I’m in this for life.
The more I learn about trauma, the more I understand what we are really asking when we ask writers to be vulnerable in their writing. It is much, much harder to do this when you don't have the basic protection of being white, abled, and heteronormative.
That means that we need to do much, much more for the writers in our community, to make sure all of our students are actually safe to write what they want to read.
Things we have put into practice:
Getting ourselves and our teachers diversity, equity and inclusion training (and doing the reps, with quarterly check ins).
Hiring amazing Indigenous, Black, brown and queer TAs to lead the Story Intensive.
Sourcing more Indigenous, Black, brown and queer guest authors to lead Master Classes and Special Courses.
Bringing in a mental health consultant for each semester of the Story Intensive.
Consulting with a trauma-aware movement therapist for The Story Course and Intensive.
Creating a scholarship program for writers in financial need.
Making sure we unambiguously express our commitment to help take down white supremacy.
Writing a Code of Conduct with guidelines for everyone in our community.
Updating our How to Critique instructions with guidance on how to have a more nuanced understanding when engaging with race in stories.
We would like to offer queer-only and BIPOC-only writing classes, and are working on that. We're also excited to partner with more Black-owned and queer-owned companies when we need to outsource work. We have a long-term goal there -- to put at least 30% of our school's budget into these companies before 2023.
To the People of Colour in our community: your experience is extremely important to us. We see some of the ways we haven't done enough to foster a true feeling of belonging for all of our community members. This isn’t okay with us. We've made some changes, and will continue to make more changes.
Meanwhile, I keep listening to this interview with trauma specialist Resmaa Menekem. If you haven’t come across it yet, have a listen. I have his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, and I am going to keep “doing the reps,” as he says.
Photo credit: Filip Kominik on Unsplash.