Belgrade is called the white city, probably because of the whiteness of the Ottoman Empire fortifications against Bulgars, Hungarians, early Serbians and others who would have liked to control and tax the trade at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. I have been here for three days, and they have been more than busy. I have given two workshops in creative writing for children at the libraries associated with the embassy American Corners program. Along with that were four interviews for cultural features in magazines and newspapers. One of the best questions that I was asked is “Can you really teach creative writing?” I was surprised at how passionate a response I had for the reporter, stressing how important it is to teach creative writing in a way that will actually achieve both writing and creativity.

In my first lesson with the children, we used brown paper bags. (I have a small suitcase with my clothes in it and a large suitcase with my colored paper, bags, note cards, pencils and other supplies.) My writers (there were about 30) were very happy to be writing, and in this paper bag project, they wrote about something that they would like to get rid of. The youngest of my writers had a list of carrots, pears, bugs, and teachers that he would like gone from his life, at least over the summer.

Yesterday at noon was my scariest audience. I gave an hour lecture to the Faculty of English and Creative Writing at the University of Belgrade. Though I was a little nervous, and had spent the entire night working on my lecture and getting no sleep, they were all very generous about what I said and friendly. They would like to establish a relationship with Writers in the Schools Houston. Afterward, I was invited to lunch with several of their writers and I want to discuss more about that meeting with Serbian authors in the future. I have about 7 novels by Serbian authors and as soon as I have read more than one, I will blog on the state of great modern Serbian authors.

Today the embassy attache is coming to take me in an embassy armored car to the south of Serbia where I will meet with public school teachers and their creative writing students this afternoon and tomorrow. You might be wondering about the armored car. On February 28th or so of this year the American embassy was set afire about recognizing the independence of Kosovo and later Montenegro. Yesterday marked the official independence of that state so things are very tense here concerning both these events and the ambiguity of the recent elections.

Tomorrow evening I hook up with Amy Storrow, and we begin our simulacra of the WITS Summer Writing Camp in Macedonia. Amy has prepared, to say the least, an ambitious schedule, but I have every intention of keeping up with her and it. Once a WITS Writer, always a WITS writer, I say.

I will keep you in the know about what is going on here. Belgrade is fascinating, often beautiful, always interesting, with book stores everywhere. People are very serious about what they are reading. I look forward to my drive south through the green countryside of what was once part of the Byzantine empire. More anon.

Love,

Merrilee, WITS Writer in the Balkans

[photos of Belgrade by Akcjia / Katarina 2553 on flickr]

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