National Writing Project

Writing the Personal-Academic School Gravity Connection—A Chapter From Personal Narrative, Revised

Date: September 2016

Summary: Bronwyn LaMay explores how combining academic and personal writing, both within and across assignments, makes writing meaningful to students, giving some a reason to engage with academic content, and giving others a safe path to self-reflection and personal growth.

 

Excerpt from Chapter:

Alisha wrote all of the academic essays, and all of them centered on the theme of interpersonal relationships. She inquired into the reasons why certain characters were afraid to love, and she explored how their fears affected their family relationships. When I asked her to talk about her academic writing, she said the thinking behind it originated from her personal life. The way she put it, she had trouble writing about herself in the first person, even though her personal story bled into her academic work. She described, 'Like if it's academic and I feel like I'm not making it I and me, then I can do it. The one I'm writing right now, actually I'm enjoying writing it. That's why I told you it's gonna be hard for me to end it.'

Like Kylie, Alisha created school gravity through the social-emotional element of the academic curriculum. She chose to engage her personal narrative through academic reading and writing in ways similar to what Toni Morrison describes as the inroads into characters' internal lives that serve as paths into our own: 'Like Frederick Douglass talking about his grandfather, or James Baldwin talking about his father...these people are my access to me; they are my entrance into my own interior life' (p. 115). Martha Nussbaum (1995) complements Morrison's view that literature can create a safe space for us to think about ourselves in the third person. Literary characters can encourage us to take risks and face stories that we have trouble confronting directly. Nussbaum writes, 'Literary works that promote identification and emotional reaction cut through those self-protective stratagems, requiring us to see and to respond to many things that may be difficult to confront' (p. 6)."

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