August 17, 2018

Young Writers Slam Into Poetry

by Choya Randolph, M.F.A. '18

Christine Di Dio may still be in high school, but she has a powerful presence and an opinion she wasn’t afraid to share through her preferred medium—creative writing. “They tell me, ‘Go back to your country!'” she announced to the audience of her fellow students and their friends and families gathered for the Alice Hoffman Young Writers Retreat Poetry Slam, which was held on the last day of the retreat.

The topics were deep for writers at this young age; students read about everything from racism to adoption to immigration. For example, Aisling Bennett had a unique perspective on Irish culture in her poem “I Think My Mother Wishes I Were a Boy.”

This poem is for the Irish mammies

Not the second generation

Plastic Paddy, corned beef cabbage types

I’m talking Celtic Tiger, forced into convents,

Haunted by the souls

of hundreds of unbaptized babies in Tuam

Each poem received applause with a sprinkling of “Whoo!” and “Yes!”

After the last poet had spoken, everyone came together to enjoy the last day of the retreat. There were a brown-and-gold cake, drinks, conversations and smiles.

For 15 years, the Adelphi University Ruth S. Ammon School of Education has offered this retreat run by Professor Robert A. Linne, Ph.D., and supported by its namesake, best-selling author Alice Hoffman ’73, ’02 (Hon.). Dr. Linne said, “It’s been beautiful to see many high school students who participated in the program go on to graduate college and work in creative careers.”

For four days, students participated in numerous activities to develop and hone their writing skills. On the first day of the retreat, Hoffman herself led them through exercises and then autographed copies of her latest book, The Rules of Magic (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

For addressing writer’s block, Hoffman gave students six words: graduation, brother, circus, dog, hospital, Florida. She asked them to make a story out of these words and to read aloud what they wrote. Students were sitting in a big circle in Angello Alumni House, swiftly writing in their notebooks, with faces full of thought and excitement as it became time to share.

“Sometimes it takes someone reading it, which is why workshops like this are so good,” said Hoffman to a student at the retreat, later adding, “If you just keep going, a world happens.”

Another day, students were asked to write stories about home. A particular activity that stood out to student Jovawn McNeil was one in which the students were asked to act out emotional car rides. Acting them out, he said, made it “easier for you to write it out.”

McNeil summed up his time at the retreat as “a great experience overall…full of laughter.”

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