Thursday, February 27, 2014

News of a Former Student


I saw this article in the latest issue of Poets and Writers magazine, and I was, as we British say, extremely chuffed. The photo shows five young writers who have been selected to be student ambassadors in the National Student Poets Program. Second from the left in the photo, standing shoulder to shoulder with First Lady Michelle Obama, is Sojourner Ahebee. Sojourner took a class with Patty and me in January 2012, and seeing her in this picture made me a) extremely proud to have worked with her for a short period, and b) extremely jealous that she got to meet Michelle Obama.

The circumstances of the class: Patty and I were invited to teach a five day Journal and Sketchbook class to students at the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan. The students ranged in age from 15 to 18. They were musicians, theater students, writing students. Some of them were not that interested in the class, and some of them, like Sojourner, responded strongly to it. I particularly remember Sojourner because of her name, which she explained to me was given to her in memory of Sojourner Truth, the nineteenth african- american woman who was born a slave and became a travelling preacher. I can also still call to mind a piece of writing and accompanying drawing that she did in the class. Like many of the people who take this class with me and Patty, they aren't trained artists. But Sojourner wrote a poem about the Middle Passage, and the practice of throwing kidnapped Africans overboard to drown, sometimes just to make the ship lighter. The drawing that she made showed a ship and waves at the top of the page, and then a figure falling down through space towards the bottom of the page. Like the poem she wrote, it had concrete physical detail in it, and wasn't just an exposition of some history that she'd read.

From the article, it seems that she's continued to explore this material now that she is a poetry major at college. It was a privilege to meet her, and I'm sure we'll all hear more from her as she continues to grow as an artist.

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