Poets Jennifer Perrine and Alex Dang gave almost exactly the same answer, when asked to recall a particularly helpful bit of advice they received when they were applying to college. They both said a version of, “Reach for what you want, rather than trying to please friends, family or teachers.”
Jennifer and Alex are creating the first videos in a new series launched this Spring by Literary Arts Youth Programs’ College Essay Exchange (CEE). CEE matches community volunteers with local public high school students to punch up the students’ college application essays. In response to a thoughtful request from teachers, Literary Arts commissioned Jennifer and Alex to create short, upbeat videos designed to help reluctant writers thrive in what can often be a bewildering and intimidating situation. As Alex acknowledges in his first video, “Tell us about yourself,” is a very weird thing to say to a person.
Another point Alex and Jennifer agree on is that writing is a process that must not be left until the night before. Jennifer often writes their first drafts in less than an hour, but will spend as many as ten hours spread out over two weeks on revisions to complete the poem. For his part, before he even begins writing Alex carries around a poem in his head for up to a month. He writes the first draft in two to three days, then chisels away at it until he is just moving around commas. At that point, he gives the poem to one or two trusted readers for feedback.
Jennifer likens the process to baking bread. To make a loaf of bread, they combine a bunch of ingredients in a bowl. But they don’t actually eat it yet! Not until they knead the dough and it rises and bakes in the oven, do the original ingredients become edible.
Alex’s first video includes prompts to spark student writing on their own personal identity. Jennifer guides students toward discovering the hook in their story, that will attract readers to engage further.
Literary Arts will offer these videos to public high school educators via the Youth Programs YouTube channel. Our intention is to offer another resource for students to overcome obstacles on their individual pathways to higher education.