Will My Name Be Shouted Outby Stephen O'Connor
Putting a human face on dire statistics about inner-city schools, Stephen O'Connor describes how his junior high school students--struggling to make sense of lives touched by violence, poverty, and broken families--discovered their own voices by writing and performing two plays.
Sent into the New York City public schools by the Teachers' and Writers' Collaborative, short-story writer O'Connor (Rescue, 1989) chronicles his attempts to engage junior high school students in a tough neighborhood with the craft of writing. O'Connor decides to have his students write monologues about real people on issues that touch their lives. He discovers that "by putting on the voices of other people, they were dealing with their own worst fears and experiences more honestly" than they could when writing directly about themselves. One series of monologues is based on the notorious Bensonhurst tragedy, in which Yusuf Hawkins, an African- American teen, was shot and killed after inadvertently entering a hostile white neighborhood. The shooting death of two teens in a Brooklyn high school becomes the scenario for another set of monologues. As they take on the various personae in these scenes, O'Connor's students discover fresh, profound avenues of expression. Almost all of them, it's clear, have been touched by violence and are only too familiar with abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, brutality, and homelessness. O'Connor becomes determined not only to offer his students inspiring writing lessons but to somehow transform their lives as well. He prepares his top drama students for auditions for the specialized LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, but he realizes the limits of what he can accomplish when none of them is admitted.
Though overly long and self-indulgent (O'Connor comes across at times as too much the great white savior), with many gratuitous details, this is a valuable reminder that teaching these days involves a great deal more than pedagogy.
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Meet the Author
Stephen O’Connor is the author of three books: Rescue (a collection of short fiction and poetry), Will My Name Be Shouted Out? (a work of memoir and social analysis), and Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed (a narrative history). His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, The Quarterly, Partisan Review, The New England Review, and elsewhere. His poetry has been in Poetry Magazine, The Missouri Review, Agni, Knockout, and Green Mountains Review. His essays and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere.
O’Connor is the recipient of the Cornell Woolrich Fellowship in Creative Writing from Columbia University, the Visiting Fellowship for Historical Research by Artists and Writers from the American Antiquarian Society, and the DeWitt Wallace/Reader's Digest Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. He teaches in the writing MFA programs of Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence. For eight years he directed and taught in Teachers & Writers Collaborative’s flagship creative writing program at a public school in New York City. He has received a B.A. from Columbia University, and an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, both in English literature. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City.
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