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Young writers put texting aside – for 'rl txt'

July 28, 2010

Got text?

The inaugural summer of the “rl txt” young writers’ institute, sponsored by the Central Arizona Writing Project in the Department of English at ASU, proved that young people do have “text” – real text, real writing – to share.

Forty-six young people from grades six through 12 converged for two sessions of this revamped youth writing project on ASU’s Tempe campus during June 2010. They came with expectations to collaborate, to free the soul, to inspire and be inspired, to listen fully and intently without ear buds to block the experience, to release pent-up frustration, to take a hiatus from boredom, and to grow as writers – hoping the “awkwardness shall subside.”

The rl txt institute focused on writing with self-generated topics and no threat of assessment to paralyze idea production, so the students’ passions, idiosyncrasies, media influences and, according to institute directors, “peculiar humor of youth” flavored their writing.

When asked what they most valued about the experience, participants frequently named the taking-a-line-for-a-walk strategy and the writing marathons.

“Taking a line for a walk” is a metaphor inspired by visual artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) who described drawing as “simply a line going for a walk.” Perhaps best known for his color-rich compositions, cosmic metaphors and surreal figures in fantastic landscapes, Klee’s inventive, often humorous paintings and drawings allude to music, dreams and poetry.

Drawing on this analogy, writing workshops use the method to spark critical thinking, writing and discussion. After reading or hearing a song, poem, or other text, writers choose from the text a line that strikes them, copies it and then continues in their own words, letting that line lead their thinking. The strategy illustrates the power of spontaneity.

The writing marathon, on the other hand, is an idea conceptualized by Natalie Goldberg in “Writing Down the Bones.” The National Writing Project added a sense of place to Goldberg’s concept by borrowing from Ernest Hemingway’s “A Good Café on the Place St. Michel,” a selection in “A Moveable Feast.”

These field trips and walk-abouts provided a chance to escape the usual writing setting: “Because it differed from the norm, the writing marathon gave me a chance to think of things that usually don’t come to mind in a classroom; visiting Gammage Auditorium and the Secret Garden kind of refreshed my creativity.”

Another writer reported that the diversity, “the moveable feast,” stimulated the flow of brain juices and supplied a cure for writers’ block.

After two weeks, Session A writers (grades six through eight) had written odes and other poems, stories and six-word memoirs, such as “Life is plain without computer games” (Matthew Johnson). Their Word Wall memorialized “you had to be there” moments, such as “Bless his cotton socks,” “It’s epical,” and “The paint was giving me issues.” It also captured philosophy, shared by renowned writers: “Paper is more patient than people” (Anne Frank) and by one another: “Pull out a blank piece of paper; repaint your future” (Charlotte Godart) or “Words shimmer like tangible objects” (Xoreena Danford-Sanchez).

Session B writers (grades nine through 12) penned poetry and prose, flash fiction, magical realism and sentences with potential: “It was an eerie, shift in your seat silence,” “Summer shines with skinny dipping moonlight,” “Childhood inhabits a world of chopstick wands, fairy dust, and moonshine,” and “Butterflies flutter in the belly of a lover.” Their words shimmered with imagery richness and paid homage to heroes and to words:


Memories arch across the sky.
Rainbows of experience and emotion,
they leave behind the scent of history,
books written without ink and page.
Feathery moments brush your mind,
each a fledgling reminder
fixed in the vast wings of time.

                  – by Raquelle Weight

Dear Darth Vader,

     Vader, I love you & think you are a total badass, but when you lost Padme and yelled NOOO!  Yah, that was super lame. You are supposed to be a person filled with anger & evil, not love and compassion. You really let me down with that NO. In fact, you did not only let me down, but you let all of us down, all of us Star Wars fans. Next time, be a little bit more of an evil badass, not a pretty princess.

Yours Truly, Simón Gutkin


The sky is filled with hollow air,
the beach is filled with birds,
and over the waves, there sails a ship,
upon a sea of words.

The fishermen haul in their nets,
ripe with adjectives and nouns,
and while they package up the words,
the sea rolls up and down.

The baking sun dries up the words;
all parched, their edges curl.
The fishing ship goes back to port,
And seagulls’ wings unfurl.

They take the letters in their beaks,
then, soaring, ropes of lingual pearls they 
With garlands pure they drape our sleeping
and we awake and raise our heads and sing.

                 – by Annelisa Leinbach

"Little Sister"

I’m just your little sister
Trying to fill your size 8 shoe,
And even when you find a mister,
Our bond will hold like glue.

I know I am a little dork—
The biggest one you know;
Someday I’ll learn to hold my fork,
Or maybe I’ll even grow.

From my gut I never sing;
I never go to church.
I gaze at posters of the King
From my wingless perch.

My napkin isn’t in my lap;
My shoes are on the floor,
But the shoes are cities on my map
To try to get to yours.

                  – by Emily Lierle

Similarly, their rants carried strong voice as they shared opinions about texting: “You try to look hip with every vowel you skip”; with descriptions of adolescence as “a drama infested inferno”; and with insight about love: “When the heart breaks, it doesn’t break even.”

Institute directors Donna Miller, a doctoral student in English education and Kathy Deakin, an alumna of the English education doctoral program, designed the program to explore issues of literacy sponsorship. They wondered: What differences might we see in the perceptions of adolescent writers when they have a sense of ownership or personal investment in their writing, when the texts are not teacher-directed, simply prompted and left to their own design? What happens when young writers receive the opportunity to write such real texts in a non-evaluative environment?

The directors conclude that the resources and sponsorship strategies used in the rl txt institute contribute to literacy growth: “While we can’t take credit for their creativity, the production of quality writing is clearly not connected to the threat of grades, or to red-pen commentary. It is about powerful prompts, time and opportunity to create.”

For more information about rl txt, please visit its website:

Written by Donna Miller