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Our Instructors' News



We've been talking to our instructors about what makes them tick - as teachers, as writers and as language lovers! Enjoy learning a little more about Northern Virginia instructor Qinglan "Q" Wang.

What do you learn from your students? I love learning how my students see the world as a place full of color and endless possibilities!
How has teaching impacted your craft? Teaching has brought the art of improvisation and sharpening of writing technique to my personal writing.

What is a favorite word of yours? Use it in a sentence!  Mesmerize -- The glint of sun from the pond mesmerized the girl.
Share with us a quote or a poem that has been meaningful to you.

Porcupines by Marilyn Singer

Hugging you takes some practice.

So I'll start out with a cactus.




We've been talking to our instructors about what makes them tick - as teachers, as writers and as language lovers! Enjoy learning a little more about longtime Bay Area instructor Emily Phillips.

What do you learn from your students? So many things! How to be brave, how to be silly, how to let go, how to be a better teacher, a better person...and the list goes on.
How has teaching impacted your craft? It has prompted me to follow the advice I give them: don't take my first drafts too seriously, take risks, think of the 5 senses and use strong active verbs. Be brave and have fun!

What is a favorite word of yours? Use it in a sentence!  What a preposterous question! All words are my favorite.
Share with us a quote or a poem that has been meaningful to you.

The Black Snake
by Mary Oliver

When the black snake
flashed onto the morning road,
and the truck could not swerve--
death, that is how it happens.

Now he lies looped and useless
as an old bicycle tire.
I stop the car
and carry him into the bushes.

He is as cool and gleaming
as a braided whip, he is as beautiful and quiet
as a dead brother.
I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinking
about death: its suddenness,
its terrible weight,
its certain coming. Yet under

reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones
have always preferred.
It is the story of endless good fortune.
It says to oblivion: not me!

It is the light at the center of every cell.
It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward
happily all spring through the green leaves before
he came to the road.



Spotlight! Words of Wisdom from Instructor Vanessa Flores

We've been talking to our instructors about what makes them tick - as teachers, as writers and as language lovers! Enjoy learning a little more about the Bay Area's Vanessa Flores, first in our Instructor Spotlight Series.

What do you learn from your students? Of course we all use our imaginations when we write, but TMWFI students are the best teachers when it comes to really allowing the imagination to run wild and free. Go ahead and let popsicles fall from the sky while your character is having an argument about pancakes with their little brother. The narrative can grow in big, magical ways when we let our imaginations not only lead us but push us toward the strange.

How has teaching impacted your craft? My students remind me to play. Graduate school can be very serious -- but one of the reasons I started writing in the first place was because it was a way to play and let go!

What is a favorite word of yours? Use it in a sentence! Rutabaga!  I'm not sure if I love the way rutabaga tastes, but I'm sure I love the way it sounds. 

Share with us a quote or a poem that has been meaningful to you. "You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself." Ethel Barrymore



Reblog - Sondra Hall from The Roar Sessions

Jena Schwartz asked me to guest blog this month for her series "The Roar Sessions". Here is my piece about loving my work with writing and kids.


Leaving Job City
by Sondra Hall

Looking back now, at 55, I realize that I felt landlocked for most of my professional life. For years, I did “good work” for nonprofits, producing conferences and fundraisers. I earned a living, but part of me was desperate to get to the seaside, so to speak, to inhale and exhale deeply, watch the rhythm of the waves and feel the expanse of sea and sky.

To continue the metaphor, it was like being stuck in the middle of Job City without a car. Life was fine, I had what I needed, but on the rare occasions when I would get out to the beach I was reminded that there was another horizon; I remembered how to breathe.

Eventually, I decided to quit working in Job City and leave my landlocked life behind. I packed all of my stuff and moved permanently to an entirely different place where I could really breathe. I call that place Creativity and I’ve lived there ever since.

You have to take a lot of air into your lungs to breathe deeply and even more to let out a roar.

Now that I’m allowing myself to breathe more deeply, I roar quite a bit.

One of the things that I believe in wholeheartedly is the power of writing to transform. Writing has been a conduit for my frustrations and fears, aspirations and anger since I can remember. I’ve got several shelves filled with journals where I mused and questioned, proclaimed and confessed from high school, through my twenties, and into my thirties. It’s always felt good to express my feelings on paper, as well as to write stories and poems.

Because writing creatively has always been so important to me, I wanted my two children to have the opportunity to have adventure with words as well. By the time they were in elementary school George W. Bush had signed the “No Child Left Behind Act” that started the obsession with testing and assessments. Art, music, dance and creative writing got the short end of the stick and my children weren’t getting much time during school to explore their author-selves.

It upset me tremendously that public school kids weren’t being encouraged or supported to explore their creativity because it couldn’t be measured and tested.

This state of affairs made me roar.

One day (and I still remember the moment, sitting up in bed that morning) I woke up and decided that I was going to do something about this. I wanted to create a place where elementary school kids could use their imaginations and be encouraged to “color outside the lines.” I called it, “Take My Word For It!” and seven years later we’re going strong with 20 plus programs throughout the Bay area, outside of D.C., in Cambridge, MA and in Chicago. Our aim is to create an environment where kids feel supported and safe in expressing themselves and are free to dive into their imaginations.

Our curricula are designed to let them stretch their creative muscles, the ones that have been too dormant in school all day. They write about reaching into their pockets to find polar bears and portals to other worlds, and compose odes to calamari and chocolate mousse. They embrace metaphor and simile, personification and alliteration and are thrilled to discover the places they can go with words.

They learn that what they have to say is valid and important. They learn to R O A R.

At the end of each session of classes we put on a reading where the kids have the chance to share their work with family and friends. I’ve attended countless readings over the years and have never ceased to be bowled over by the power, poignancy and inventiveness of their writing. Here’s an example of a Question Poem, written by one of our students, Patrick, who was in fourth grade at the time. (His spelling has not been corrected.)


the tears of god?

And why hasn’t god been crying lately,
there is so much to cry about?

Why don’t fish go to preeschool,
and learn how to share?

Why do some kids hate preeschool?

And why do some of the
smartest people on the planet
have few friends?

Why is there so much discrimination
in the world?

Why can’t people that are so much
the same
yet so different be friends?

Why do people be unkind to people
only slightly different than themselves?

Why can’t people be friends?
Why can’t I spell freainds right?

Why do people have to yell to be
heard as a whisper?

If I were to ask the man on the
moon why he is so silent
would he answer?

Why do I say what I write in my
head as I write it?

Why Is the world so complex
yet so simple?

What trigered the big bang?

What is Luck?

Why does the human race
have such a major sweet-tooth?

Why is the human race never
satisfied nor content?

Why does the earth grieve
when the sun goes down and dawns
its black cloak?

Why do people get sick?

Why is it when I ask
a question I get the answer no,
more than yes?

Pretty amazing, right?

So, since I moved and set up my professional life in the town called Creativity, I’ve never looked back. Actually, that’s not quite true. I have looked back and when I do, I know I made the right choice when I got out of Job City. I’m doing something I believe in, that has purpose and meaning and, I love it. I’ll roar about it to anyone who’ll listen.



June's Teacher Spotlight

Want to get to know some of the creative writing masters behind “Take My Word For It!”? Meet this month’s teacher spotlight, Wes Solether!

Name: Wes Solether

Hometown: Lombard, Illinois

Who is your favorite author? Paul Celan

What’s your favorite NOUN? Constellation

If your life was a book, how would it begin? I would hope it would begin in the present tense.

Did a teacher or another writer inspire you to write? How? 

I took up writing really late in my life, compared to most of my friends and classmates. My sophomore year of college I took an introduction course in English literature. My professor was a poet and gave us a little sample of every genre of literature out there. We went through a play, poems, short stories and a novel. He taught Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated. I didn't think anyone could write a book like that. It was experimental in the way it was composed, but it was still resonant and heartfelt in all the right places. I remember we once talked about pursuing a life in teaching and writing. He said very clearly it wasn't a calling he would recommend to anyone that expects money or fame. I remember it was the first time I said I wanted to write and teach and really meant it. I was inspired to try some creative writing workshops and now I'm finishing my MFA in Poetry at USF. Something must have clicked in that class!



May's Teacher Spotlight

Want to get to know some of the creative writing masters behind “Take My Word For It!”? Meet this month’s teacher spotlight, Annie Rovzar!

Name: Annie Rovzar

Currently working at: Claire Lilienthal Elementary

Hometown: San Juan Capistrano, California

What’s your favorite bookstore? Green Apple

What’s your favorite VERB? I love the diversity of verbs out there too much to single out just one verb. But I will say that I'm delighted by verbs that also function as nouns, like "surfaces" for example.

If your life was a book, what would be the title? "Why I Wake Early"

Did a teacher or another writer inspire you to write? How?

Yes, there have been many! I think the first person who ever inspired me to write was my best friend in grade school...I remember she once wrote a poem about the beach, and there was a line in it that went something like "the crashing waves are a screaming tea kettle". I think we were in fourth grade then, and at the time, the metaphor really blew my mind and inspired me to start writing. In high school, I was quite moved by the poetry of e.e. cummings, William Blake, and Emily Dickinson...each in their own way awakened this deep desire in me to encounter the world through language. There have been so many poets and writers since then who've continued to inspire me, but those three definitely made a claim on my life that's stayed with me years later.