What does home mean to middle and high school students in our area? What memories inform their concept of place and what it means to live in the Southern US? As part of the Capturing #MySouth program, Charleston-based author Cinelle Barnes led workshops with students at to help them put into words formative memories and associations with the concept of “home”.
Teens and preteens are people who tend to clam up, especially if asked to talk about emotions. Yet, Barnes was able to get them to share very tender and vulnerable stories with each other. To do so, she first got students to use something tactile and visual to summon memories and help them loosen up. In her own work, she has found that the best path to words is through drawing. So, she shares with students her own experience using drawing and mapmaking in the conception and writing of her book, Monsoon Mansion: A Memoir, which she wrote here in Charleston. On the classroom board or on a large piece of paper on the wall she drew a simple plan of her childhood home. As she proceeded to fill in the basic structure of the various rooms, sharing with them tactile, visual, and anecdotal elements of her memories. These helped her build the character of her mother, a central figure in her memoir, and of the Long Dark Hallway, a suspenseful, meaningful place.
After sharing her own story, she then asked the students to draw a place they call home or in which they have meaningful memories. She prompted them to use the drawing to write a story of some change that happened there, some person they will never forget, or something else that really formed them related to the place they drew. She asked them to use sensorial terms, to describe the smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures of the memory, such as the smell of potpourri in their grandma’s house.
In her workshops, Barnes has found that she very rarely has to coach students in their writing because the act of drawing first is so productive and generative. With only one exception, all students have felt comfortable sharing their stories with the class, even though some stories are quite personal or even traumatic. Barnes asserts that all people, even young students, are born storytellers and want to share their stories. She has found that “people are dying to be given an avenue, skill, or strategy to help them share.” Barnes’ sensitive introduction to the process of nonfiction writing gave them the confidence and skills to find the words to do just that.
Click here to see a selection of the students’ Mapping & Memory worksheets. You can download a blank copy of the worksheet to do the activity yourself!
Project funders: Arts, etc. and the South Carolina Arts Commission
Johns Island Regional Library
Prism Photo & Framing
Photographers Rachel Boillot, John Lusk Hathaway, and Titus Brooks Heagins
Shannon Boyd, Goose Creek High School
Dana Brown, Haut Gap Middle School
Erin Carter, Burke High School
Kim Reese, Palmetto Scholars Academy
Shari Schultz, St. John’s High School
Meg Skow and Elise Stuck, Rollings Middle School for the Arts
Taylor Stewart, Fort Dorchester High School
and all of the students that participated in Capturing #MySouth!