Summer Writing Camp, Macedonian Style

Posted June 23, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

It is a good thing that I believe in words or words could not describe how much fun this is. My 7 to 9 year olds are writing a Bio-electronic play (the characters are bio-electronic) at one table while another table of young writers are getting all the heroines of fairy tales together for a feminist revolution. Below I am posting one of the first drafts from a student named Angela.  We have a “Best So Far” award that has been very difficult to decide. There is also a play called Harry Plotter, which, as you might guess, is a parody of the famous books by J.K. Rowling.

A Short Story About Me

My name is Angela Momizovska, and I’m 14 years old. I was born on 31st of December 1993 in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia. I live in a house with my mom, my dad, my sister, my granny and my aunt. I’m a scout in IPO Jadran 0 Skopje. We sometimes go camping. There, we meet a lot of new friends, we hang out together and we have a lot of fun. All the scouts love camping.

My favorite holiday is New Year’s, not because my birthday in on New Year’s, though. I love the atmosphere, the mood. It’s even better when it’s snowing on New Year’s Eve. It’s the perfect view. I like foreign languages. My favorite foreign language is English. I especially like the British accent; it’s very interesting. I’d like to study in an English university.

I also like sports. My favorite sports are volleyball, tennis, and football.  I’ve played volleyball for almost four years. It fills me and makes me happy.

There are many important things in life, but one of the most important things is happiness. I think people should do what makes them happy and not to try to be happy with what they do.

by Angela, age 14

There are news reporters coming in and out of our summer camp at an amazing pace. Apparently Creative Writing is either a very old or a very new notion here in Macedonia. We work again tomorrow and I will try to write in the morning as we have a busy schedule in the afternoon. The children are very, very happy that they are in the program. The administrators seems amazed at how well things have gone, and I am having a great time. It is wonderful to teach in a library surrounded by books. This morning I wandered into a collection of 19th century books and realized that I had walked into the library before the librarians!

I had a great time in the market before class buying my food for dinner. You should see the tiny pears and peaches. I should write more about the new things that I have never seen before.

Camp is….?  Camp is for the Campers, yes, but it is also Camp for me.

Much Love, Merrilee, on the Macedonian Express

Macedonian Bridges

Posted June 22, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Today was yet another amazingly beautiful, sunny day in Macedonia’s capital.  In fact, I haven ‘t seen a drop of rain since I got here.  This is given the fact that the flowers in the flower market are beautiful, the wheat crop is up 40% over last year, and Macedonia is willing to give up its name and turn itself into “New Macedonia” for a chance of getting candidacy in the E.U.  Yet if you saw the amazingly beautiful city of Skopje, you would think that this was a paradise with its stone bridge from early Ottoman times, its amazing stone fortifications, its beautiful river Vardar, of which the citizens are so proud.

It is these and more images that the students wrote about in their Ekphrasis assignment. Ekphrasis is writing an extended definition, and it is from the Greek, but it has come, by custom if nothing else, to mean writing about art, and that is what my students did today.

They did an absolutely amazing job given that each and every one had to write a poem using Ekphrasis in a language which is their second, third or fourth language. First I had them read Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn and Auden’s Musee de Beaux Arts, and then  they began. I will send you the results on Monday. They did a great job.

Tomorrow I have the day off so I am going to walk their stone bridge (the original bridge on the site was Roman) and then I will tell you the difference between seeing image and walking the stones.

Until Monday then. that’s all from the Macedonian Express. I wish that you could walk the stones with me tomorrow.
Enjoy your weekend, Merrilee

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.]

WITS Travel Journal: Belgrade

Posted June 17, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

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.


Merrilee, WITS Writer in the Balkans

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