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Michelle Meyering is the Director of Programs and Events at PEN Center USA and founding editor of The Rattling Wall, a literary journal. Michelle has produced over 200 literary events across Southern California and in January was named a 2013 “Face To Watch” by the Los Angeles Times. She currently teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in Los Angeles.
Monica Carter, Program Coordinator for LGBT Writers in Schools, had an email interview with Ms. Meyering about launching PEN in the Community.
MC: Can you tell us a bit about your new program, PEN in the Community?
MM: PEN In The Community (PITC) was modeled after PEN Center USA’s long-running program PEN In The Classroom. PITC is a writing residency program offered to community centers, nonprofit organizations, shelters, or reservations.
PITC instructors are selected from PEN Center USA’s membership to best match the needs of the community where they will teach. In preparation for a residency, instructors and community hosts attend an orientation session and then develop a tailored curriculum, keeping the participants’ needs in mind.
Written work collected during each residency is published by PEN Center USA in PITC anthologies, which are interesting windows into participants’ lives—their struggles, hopes, and experiences. Each PITC residency culminates in a final reading.
MC: What prompted the progression from PEN in the Classroom to PEN in the Community?
MM: Three years ago, PEN Center USA began offering community residencies in addition to academic ones. Since then, interest in teaching, hosting, and funding community residencies has grown rapidly. This program development was in answer to that interest. Additionally, this development has allowed PEN Center USA to continue working with young people as well as adults, which is important for the future of the program.
MC: What type of writer are you trying to reach in the community?
MM: PEN Center USA is interested providing generative writing workshops in community spaces where people have stories that are not being told. Nurturing a person’s voice in this way is central to PEN Center USA’s Freedom To Write mission. All of PEN’s prgramming, including the Freedom to Write Advocacy program, stems from the “Freedom to Write” idea–that people should be allowed to write what they want and interested readers should have access to that writing. If people are not given the opportunity to explore writing, that voice, we feel their “freedom to write” has been infringed upon.
MC: Does that include serving the LGBT community?
MM: PEN Center USA is looking forward to providing continuing support to communities, including the LGBTQ community, in spaces where people have stories they’d like to tell.
MC: How can people find out more about PEN in the Community?
If you’re a teacher or community leader looking for a poet, writer, playwright or memoirist to visit your class in person or via Skype, please contact Monica Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Diego-based writer Walter G. Meyer has numerous interesting projects in the works including his new novel, Rounding Third. Walt has written for dozens of newspapers and magazines–some of that work can be seen on his periodicals page. The play which he co-wrote, GAM3RS, is being turned into a web series and two of his screenplays have been optioned to be movies and there is lots more in the works so check back often.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, he always knew he wanted to be a writer and this desire was reinforced when in the 4th grade he won a short story contest sponsored by The Atlantic Monthly. He wrote for his elementary school paper, his high school newspaper, (turning “pro” in the 9th grade by selling his first paid work to the local newspaper), then going on to write for The Daily Collegian at Penn State. One of his humor columns about the strange dialect of his home town was written up in the Penn Stater alumni magazine then picked up by other newspapers and spawned a host of imitations including t-shirts, coffee mugs and books featuring Pittsburghese.
His column commenting on college life was so popular that shortly following graduation he was asked to speak at his alma mater, a rare honor for a 21-year-old. He since has returned to speak at Penn State three more times, and has also addressed a full assembly of his old high school about bullying.
After college, Walt moved to California to continue his freelance writing career and worked a variety of jobs to support his writing habit He managed a racquet club, bookstore, motel, and an automated drive-thru grocery store, along with some modeling, acting, and stand-up comedy. He now devotes his full time to writing, business consulting, and teaching business seminars and adult education courses.
MaxM Ltd., 2009
Rob Wardell is a seventeen-year old who feels like he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere–not at home, not at school and not on the baseball field. The small, shy boy stays on the high school baseball team only to please his father since he knows he will never get to play. He’s living his life alone until he finds himself drawn into a friendship with the team’s new star pitcher, Josh Schlagel. The two boys hit it off instantly; maybe it’s because Josh isn’t exactly welcomed by the team either. But as Rob and Josh grow closer and start spending more time together away from the field, Rob realizes this his friend is hiding something. The bruises on Josh’s body and his reluctance to let Rob know about certain parts of his life have Rob suspicious. When Josh’s secrets are finally revealed and become life threatening, Rob and his family must step up to the plate.
emily danforth Visits with College of New Jersey
Dr. Emily Meixner’s class, LGBTQ Young Adult Literature, had another great LGBT Writers in Schools author visit. Emily Danforth joined the class via Skype to discuss her novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. The students asked emily about many aspects of her novel and enjoyed emily’s personality. The students raved about the novel, including Megan Carr, a twenty-one year old college student:
“Cameron feels more like a friend than a character; it was hard to put the book down because it was so brilliantly real.”
Alex Sanchez Visits with College of New Jersey
Dr. Emily Meixner’s class, LGBTQ Young Adult Literature, prepares aspiring teachers to teach LGBTQ works. Alex joined the class via Skype to discuss his seminal work, Rainbow Boys.
“It’s one thing to read and study texts in a college seminar. It’s an entirely different experience when the text’s author is a part of that conversation. Our understanding was both deepened and challenged as a result of our discussion with Alex Sanchez.”-Dr. Emily Meixner
Find out what students had to say here: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/lgbt-writers-in-schools/recent-visits/
Jenny Betz is the Education Manager at the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) where she develops resources and professional development for K-12 educators across the U.S to make schools safer and more respectful for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Before joining GLSEN, Jenny worked for the Anti-Defamation League, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and GLSEN San Francisco-East Bay, providing anti-bias training, educational programming and community events designed to give schools and communities the tools to create bias-free environments. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Jenny earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English from St. Mary’s College and her Master’s Degree in Gender/Cultural Studies from Simmons College.
LGBTWIS: As Education Manager for GLSEN, what do you find the most inspiring about your job?
JB: I’ve been GLSEN’s Education Manager for just over 3 years, but my connection to the organization goes back more than a decade to when I was a volunteer with my local GLSEN Chapter. Until that time, I wanted to be a high school English teacher. Growing up in an unstable home and the target of bullying at school, my teachers provided a much needed steady stream of positive attention, support and love. So, naturally, I wanted to grow up and be that for other young people, but realized that my skills and passions were best used outside the classroom.
I may not have ended up teaching in a traditional sense, but in my role at GLSEN I get to help educators find ways to better support their LGBT students through Professional Development, curriculum and other tools. I hear their stories and am inspired by their dedication to creating learning environments where all students thrive. I support educators. They support their students. It’s a perfect combination.
LGBTWIS: What role do you think LGBT literature plays in helping schools become safer and more accepting of all students?
JB: Let me start by saying that I am a total nerd when it comes to LGBT literature! I just returned from the American Library Association’s annual conference, where I geeked out with librarians, authors and publishers. It’s amazing to see so many new LGBT-related books each year, and you can bet that I came home with more than I could carry.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the Stonewall Book Awards, honoring books relating to the LGBT experience, and watched with pride and admiration as many of the winning authors shared their desire for their work to connect with young people and help them feel less alone. That is the power of reading books that reflect our identity; our own experiences become real, valid and part of a greater whole, especially when legitimized by our schools and teachers. And, it’s not just LGBT students that benefit, but all students who are given the opportunity to better understand the people and communities around them.
GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey shows that LGBT-inclusive curriculum (including LGBT literature) can improve LGBT students’ school experiences. Students with inclusive curriculum (compared to those without) heard fewer homophonic remarks and negative comments about someone’s gender expression, felt safer, missed less school and had a greater sense of connectedness to their school community. They were also more likely to report that their classmates were accepting of LGBT people.
Along with supportive educators, comprehensive policies and gay-straight alliances, LGBT-inclusive curriculum is key to creating and sustaining safe and affirming schools for LGBT students and their peers.
LGBTWIS: What have challenges have you encountered in the current educational system regarding the safety the LGBT student?
GLSEN has been championing LGBT issues in K-12 schools for more than 20 years. In that time, the education landscape has changed and so has the overall cultural climate related to LGBT issues. We see more positive representations of LGBT people and stories in the media, have far greater legal protections for LGBT people in many parts of the country and are learning from a generation of young LGBT leaders making a difference in their communities.
At a time when openness to, and even demand for, LGBT-related resources, curriculum and professional development in schools is rising, there is less time, less money and less opportunity for these interventions to take place. Schools and districts are increasingly focused on high-stakes testing and have seen their budgets shrink, leaving little room to address school climate. Educators have more responsibility, more students and more stress, with less support than ever before.
Despite the challenges around resources, many educators we hear from are doing whatever it takes to make their classrooms safe and affirming for all students. They are finding ways to make their curriculum LGBT-inclusive, supporting GSAs, creating safe spaces for those targeted for bullying and harassment, collaborating with colleagues and taking a stand as visible allies to LGBT students. For them, GLSEN remains steadfast in our commitment to help build learning environments where all students thrive.
LGBTWIS: What discoveries have you found most striking in your work as Education Manager?
JB: I truly consider myself a life-long learner and try to slow down enough to appreciate the journey I’m on. As I travel across the country representing GLSEN, I’m often struck by the compassion of strangers who just want to do the right thing. The respect I have for educators who go above and beyond for their students is immeasurable. I’m infinitely grateful for the opportunity to work with them as partners and allies.
LGBTWIS: What can high school teachers do to contribute to a safe and positive atmosphere for LGBT students?
JB: Every little bit helps! As I mentioned before, there are four interventions that can really improve the experiences of LGBT students: 1) supportive educators, 2) comprehensive policies, 3) GSAs and 4) inclusive curriculum. You get to decide what’s right for you and your students. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Be a visible ally to LGBT students! Check out GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit, designed to help educators create safe spaces for LGBT. The kit includes book recommendations, tips for responding to “that’s so gay” and other anti-LGBT language, a guide to supporting youth who come out to you and more.
Find ways to include LGBT people and history into your curriculum all year long! Take a look at GLSEN’s guide to creating inclusive curriculum and visit the Educator Resources section of our website for lesson plans and resources.
Support your school’s GSA! Find out when and where they meet and visit a meeting. No GSA at your school? Help start one.
Contact a GLSEN Chapter near you for local support and resources!
Check out the findings here.
Findings from the GLSEN 2011 National School Climate Survey demonstrate that California schools were not safe for most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) secondary school students. Read more…