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Literary persuasions: Writers' Fortnight 2016

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The annual High School Writers Fortnight on UWCSEA East introduces students to authors and develops their writing practice in sessions focused around genre.

Literary persuasions: Writers' Fortnight 2016

The annual Writers’ Fortnight organised by the East High School English Department brings published writers to campus to speak about their experiences as a writer and to encourage students in their own writing. This year, students met novelists Alison Jean Lester, Mukul Deva and Chris Huntington, and special guest speakers—migrant workers supported by Transient Workers’ Count Too.

In addition, poet-in-residence Kosal Khiev came from Cambodia thanks to support from the UWCSEA Annual Fund’s Artist-in-Residency programme. Through assemblies and student workshops, Khiev shared both his remarkable personal story of going from ‘prisoner to poet’ and his passion for his craft.

Grade 9 students were given the writing assignment to persuade the intended audience of something they feel strongly about, as authentically as possible, following their experiences during Writers’ Fortnight.

Following are two examples of the student writing that was produced by Grade 9 students on East Campus. The first is about Kosal Khiev and written in the style of a feature article. The second, an op-ed, seeks to remind people of the power of literature and persuade them to read more books. To read additional student writings, visit this Writers' Fortnight page.

“I realised, that I had the power of choice”

Kosal Khiev: the man who found poetry

By Aparajitha Anantharaman
Grade 9
East Campus

Piercing brown eyes which have experienced too much grief, yet still gleam with exuberance. Deft hands which have been beaten one too many times, yet still bear the crafty gait of an artist. A man, who has been forced to confront his darkest fears, who has been exiled from his own home; a man, who has been broken to the point of oblivion. You would expect his face to be streaked with tears, yet Kosal charges on with the passion of an ardent fire.

When we first heard about Kosal Khiev, the man who had gone from “prison to poetry”, our reactions were mixed: while most of the class were slightly apprehensive about meeting someone who had been imprisoned for 14 years, there were others who couldn’t wait. His story was a touching one, and we were all keen to hear about how poetry came to him, and brought him out of the abyss of insanity he had nearly fallen into.

Before our first workshop session, the fifth floor was abuzz with the constant chatter of eager Grade 9 students: “Will he tell us about his experience in solitary confinement? Can we ask about that? How did he turn to poetry?”. The questions were infinite, and there was a tingle of excitement lingering in the air. Upon entering the room, and seeing him up close, he seemed different. We might have expected him to be cold, and quiet, but there was a glowing aura of warmth surrounding him, and it felt as if the tips of his fingers were almost spewing out energy.

Then he began to speak, nay, articulately recite his thoughts with conviction. The poetry took over him: the words weren’t words anymore, but rather, slicing twangs of significance. Kosal was working his magic with us, transporting us back in time, back to the harsh days in his confinement cell.

The room was stock-still: mouths agape, faces hanging, and eyes bulging out of sockets, immersed in the awe-inspiring tale he was retelling—spinning, weaving, nimbly intertwining the pieces of his life together through poetry. We could feel what he had felt, understand what he had gone through as if it had happened to us. Such was the power of Kosal’s poetry. The pace, the rhythm, the pathos, was exhilarating; he had struck us, with his jagged bolt of enchantment.

But how does one create such an intense feeling through poetry? Life had thrown one of its greatest challenges at Kosal, and instead of passively accepting his fate, he had picked himself up. Instead of giving in to the confinement cell, he battled on, searching for the light in the darkness, and in the process he found poetry.

“I had the power of choice,” he said, “The power to fight, or to die.”

He found solace in poetry: he was able to express his deepest feeling and emotions through words. This did not make them go away, but gave him strength to face them. The great thing about Kosal, is that when he performs his poetry, he performs for himself—so unaware of his surroundings, that he touches the depths of a poem. And in that blissful process, not only does he rediscover himself, but he also takes the audience on a sensational journey through poetry.

“There is no umbrella, or ceiling to poetry. There is nothing new under the sun. There are ideas everywhere, so all you’ve got to do, is take what’s out there and make it your own. When one commits oneself to poetry, there is magic.”

So what can we learn from Khiev? We can learn to reflect on our past—it is not about what happened, but the important thing is how we learn from it, and how we become better people. Poetry teaches us empathy, and with that, we can turn sympathy and pity, into compassion and kindness. We can learn to stand up for ourselves: if life hurls us down, it is always possible to get back up, every time, stronger than before. And we can learn to embrace our fears, like Kosal said, “Courage and bravery cannot exist without fear, they go hand in hand. Every time you take a risk, you overcome a fear.”

The power of literature

By Urja Gaurav
Grade 9
East Campus

Take a moment, stop taking selfies for Snapchat, or checking Facebook for your friends’ recent updates and try and remember the last book you read. What do you remember about it? Which character was your favourite? Did you enjoy it? Who was the author? Can you even remember what it was about?

In our world today, technology has taken over. It’s in everything, smartphones, televisions, cars, iPods, Kindles, laptops, microwaves, even some toilets are computerised. Many young children, instead of going outside or reading a book, are glued to their television screens or phones. While we are blessed to have automated voices telling us the latest sports updates, children, especially teenagers have gotten lost in the interwebs and have forgotten what a good book can do for them. Fictional writing takes you into a different world. At least that’s what it does for me. I remember, when I was little, I had a bookshelf and it was completely stacked with all of my favourite books. I loved them. The words captured every part of me and the illustrations sparked images in my mind that no TV show or YouTube video has ever done. I spent every spare moment on the couch, reading. Even today, after hearing an author, Alison Jean Lester talk about how she fell in love with writing and everything that literature has done for her just reminded me about how powerful it is.

There’s nothing not to love about reading—its complexity, its smell, its feel, everything about it. It’s so close to magical. Everyone gets one life and in that life, you follow your own story. Your life is a story but every time you pick up a fictional piece of writing, you get the chance to explore another story, explore another life. It’s just that a bright screen is a lot more inviting than a small beige page with words on it. The problem is, easy access to computers and the incredibly knowledgeable side of Google has caused a decline in reading habits …

“Literature is the reflection of human experience”, every literary piece is based on an experience that someone goes through and experiences are different through different people’s eyes. It is a tool that lets writers and readers go back in time and relive big and small moments that for some reason or another, changed a life or two. It is a tool that lets people see the world from a different perspective. It is a tool that gets people to think, feel and live through the imagery of the words the author uses.

Literature is one of humanity’s most powerful tools. It has been around for centuries and is the foundation of our entire world. Writing, reading, these are skills that a lot of people want to be able to do, and are skills that a lot of people can do. So try it! Stop watching TV and pick up a book. Learn about the different characters that this author has come up with. Follow along with the crazy plot and brace yourself for every twist and every turn. Savour the feeling of the smooth pages between your fingers. And remember that the book you’re holding has an entire world inside it.

More Grade 9 writings

An extensive selection of persuasive writings created by Grade 9 students is available on the Writers' Fortnight page.


Voices of Refugees writing event coming in June 2016

On Monday, 20 June 2016, International Refugee Day, the East Campus advocacy group Voices for Refugees will be organising a writing event.

With five detailed case outlines, lots of pens and paper and 12 hours on the clock, you will have the chance to be part of one of the largest awareness organising events our school has ever seen, as we write letters of advocacy to governments in order to push forward cases in which refugees have unreasonably been denied or treated inhumanely.

We hope participants will find writing these advocacy letters to be a most rewarding experience. It is a chance to make an impact in a way you might not have again. 


21 Mar 2016
Media and Republish

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