Mayor and Ambassador Praise WITS Writers of Bitola

Posted July 24, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

bitola art of wordsYesterday the United States Ambassador to Macedonia came, with the mayor of Bitola, to give out the awards to the children who are completing the Creative Writing Camp.  Today we did a new assignment that basically uses chopsticks to create a proclamation of the rights of children. We glue the chopsticks to a paper that has been turned sideways once the child has written about the rights of children all over the world.  We talked about the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States and what it meant.  Then we played (thanks to YouTube) a song by Tose called “This World.”  It is an amazing song about the rights of children that seems to both owe a debt to Michael Jackson’s songs about children and move away from concepts of Neverland.  If you have time, you should take a look at the musical poem.


After they read their proclamations and tied the proclamation with ribbon we began working on the plays.  All agreed on the rights of children to have kind families, to have enough clean food and water, to have access to education, books, and information, to be treated with dignity, to have health care. The debate was over whether or not a child had the right to have a dog. So you can see how things are going here.  Things that great men are still debating, are easy to solve here, but the right to have a dog, now that is an issue. Perhaps this battle is fresh in the minds and hearts of some of the children at the camp.  I remember this battle with my own child, Meredith Cunningham, who bought a dog and walked the dog four miles home and simply dared me to take that dog (Buster) back.  Of course, I did not.

Today, the play is the thing.  This afternoon the students will present 6 plays as writer/actors.  They are busy memorizing their lines.  That is right.  I said memorizing.  Some of these plays are long, but Macedonia has a great bardic tradition.  I discovered this last year when I listened with wonder and amazement to my students, who memorized their play in 48 hours.  I did not ask them to memorize their lines. I told them this was “Reader’s Theatre”; that we are a Creative Writing Camp, not a group of roving players.

It didn’t matter. They were sure that I needed saving from myself and the best way to do it was simply present me with the Macedonian reality that you don’t bring paper with your lines on it into a threatre in Macedonia.  I had read about the great 20th century bardic tradition in Macedonia, about a man who could simply speak poems for 33 hours at a time, but I had no idea that I would be looking at the bardic tradition with my on eyes and hearing it with my own ears.  It reminded me that Mnemosyne (memory) is the mother of the muses. (We will get into their paternity another time). I will let you know how the plays work out in the next blog post.

Until then farewell from the World Capital of Memory, Bitola and the Macedonian Express,

Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

Live from the Corners of Macedonia

Posted June 19, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Every embassy sets up a number of American Corners in  Cultural Centers and Libraries. Both Serbia and Macedonia have around 7 American Corners apiece. The ones in the major cities can be very large and have many programs a day. Right now the American Corners in the main Library in Skopje is having a program on how Macedonian students can apply to the right American Universities for their majors, their tuition needs, etc. These are very busy places and the State Department staff members work long hours cooperating with the American Corners. There must be 30 people in the library right now in a little room, and it is 6:26 at night. You can come to Friday night movies at an American Corner in a town that has no movie theatre. You can practice your English, read free books, check out American movies, all sorts of things. The American Corners open at 9 am and close at 8 pm. They also offer free internet for people like me!

Our summer creative writing camp starts tomorrow.  Today I met with my co-teachers from Bitola, Tetovo and Skopje, and we planned the assignments for the four day program. I used so many wonderful lesson plans from experienced WITS Writers, and my co-teachers are very excited about our venture. This is the first time, according to Amy Storrow who should know, that a Department of State American Corners Library has offered a creative writing course. Evidently, this has been done in the distant past by the British, but never before with us.

After three meetings, including a lunch meeting, we had one final meeting with Elizabeta Hristovska-Iceva the President of the English Language Teachers’ Association of Macedonia, and she invited me to write an article about our Creative Writing Camp in their newsletter, which I will be doing. There should be several Google accounts of Writers in the School’s Macedonian Express since so far I know that I have given at least 10 interviews. Please keep an eye out for them.

Tomorrow is the day that we find out how the children do with not just a single day of creative writing but four days of assignments including turning a Pourquoi short story into a Reader’s Theatre play to be produced by the writer/director and his or her writer/actors on the final day of the camp.  I will stay late after tomorrow’s workshop and tell you exactly what happened with our four hours of Creative Writing Camp here in Macedonia.

Reporting from the Macedonian Express, this is Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools (WITS)

WITS Travel Journal: The Macedonian Express

Posted June 18, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

[WITS Writer and UHD Professor Merrilee Cunningham is traveling in Eastern Europe for three weeks, teaching creative writing, primarily to school children.  Read the first two posts about this project here and here.}

Today the Macedonian Express is still on the border in Serbia but getting closer to Kosovo and Macedonia. I just finished working with 32 kids who write in either Albanian or Serbian with the assistance of a great translator named Mohammed Selima. Mohammed did an amazing job creating a bridge so that the students and I could communicate with ease.  The kids talked a lot about famous Serbian writers and inventors, such as Nichola Tesla and others.  I am certainly learning much more than I am teaching!

Since arriving in the Balkans, each day I lead at least two, sometimes three workshops a day. Today I am in the mountain town of Bujanovac, just across from where in 1991 there was a war.  Only yesterday Kosovo became more independent from its original state’s relationship with Serbia, but you would never know it from the library where I am writing this in an American Corner in Bujanovac. I have been in Bujanovac only since this morning and tonight I leave, at last, for Macedonia.

So the Macedonian Express will be entering Macedonia in an armored car but entering nonetheless. The next time I write, I will write from Macedonia, where I will continue to teach Writers in the Schools lessons (from our very own Tried and True) to Albanian and Roma children. I will write again after my border crossing. Love, Merrilee

[You can follow Merrilee on her journey through this blog, A Poem a Day. This photograph was taken in Bujanovac by Aleksandra Radonić and was borrowed from flickr.]

Thinking Inside the Box

Posted February 19, 2008 & filed under Notebook.


Usually we want our students to think outside of the box, but for this writing activity, I ask students to do just the opposite.

Last week I brought three ornate boxes into the classroom. We sat in a circle, and the students passed the boxes around. I told them that they could shake the boxes, but they weren’t allowed to open them. The students imagined something was inside the box that would give them special powers.

I told the class we were going to write a three part story. Here’s the breakdown:

Beginning –Describe the box and what is found inside.

Middle –What special power do you get? What happens when you get the power?

End –Do you get to keep the special power? Does it weaken? Get stronger?

I told students they could look inside the boxes if they worked hard during writing time. The students enjoyed writing these stories. Here’s one example.

The Magical Nickel

Today I went outside, and I saw a box. It was a big, green, glowing box. I went by it and a magic nickel just came flying out. I soon figured out that it was a magical nickel. I made a wish that I was the fastest runner in the world. Then I did a race with everybody in the world. I always won. I said, “I like this nickel already.”

Then I wished that I was rich. It happened. I was thrilled. I had like a million dollars. Then I wished I could fly and before you knew it, I was flying as fast as an eagle. Then I flew back to my house and went to sleep. Then I woke, did more wishing, and I shared my wishes.

That’s how my life went on until I was a grown up. Then the nickel went back into the box and then flew into a dimension far far far away from here. I tried to reach it, but I couldn’t. But my life was still good. I really don’t need the nickel any more.

by Orkan, 3rd Gradeamy-lin-in-a-maze.jpg

Posted by Amy Lin, Writers in the Schools