Writers' Fortnight 2020: Tales of our time, for our time
By Tui Kennaway, Grade 10 Student, East Campus
As youth, we are constantly being pushed and moulded to fit the box. The box our parents want us to be in, our teachers, peers, coaches, anyone with a say in our lives wants us to do what they think is right for us. Not often do we get the chance to indulge ourselves in exiting the boxes and creating a space to make our own, to talk about the issues in our lives that are relevant and affect us, the things we care about.
Writers’ Fortnight is a UWCSEA experience that has been around for 9 years at East, and as someone who is new to the UWCSEA system and indeed this long-standing tradition, I’m very impressed with the amount of choice we get within this unit. It can be said (and proved) that not everyone loves English class, not everyone is good at writing essays on how the “motif in this book is a representation of the character's relationship with male figures in her life” - as an example of our current English classes. Not everyone is geared towards the life of a creative yet analytical person who has a plethoric vocabulary and impeccable grammar.
For people who don't feel they’re the type that can write as such, this unit was welcomed with open arms. Chris, a fellow FIB, talks about it as an experience that “gave us more freedom to choose”, which in his opinion “made it easier to be interested in the topic” and then write about it.
For others like Ayasha, Writer's Fortnight was an important experience for other reasons. For the annual writer-in-residence, Ms Levy, Head of High School English, had organised for Hannah Alkaf to come in and talk to us about her new YA novel, The Weight Of Our Sky.
Before meeting Hanna the only thing I knew about her was from a short description and a poster I’d seen around the school of her sitting cross-legged smiling pleasantly. However, I can say for certain, the version of Hanna we got was a lot different from the one we expected.
A young millennial woman adorned with a rainbow Tudung* and toothy grin, she was immediately a happy surprise. Using internet language clearly adopted from sites like Tumblr and Twitter and talking about commonly avoided topics such as mental health, religion and race so openly, her visit meant representation.
Ayasha, a fellow FIB who was the only other person in the room besides Hanna wearing a headscarf, said that “meeting Hanna was absolutely inspiring and incredible”. Especially because she “wears a hijab and writes amazing novels about her own culture”, which you don't often get to see as a minority. Instead, she remembers “feeling like she suddenly found a bigger picture of her that she never realised was missing”. Having grown up consuming primarily Western, Caucasian media, Ayasha “didn't see herself mirrored in them the way she did with Hanna”.
Hanna created an experience for people who don't see a representation of themselves anywhere, tailored to them and completely unapologetically too.
She joked about things that we could relate to and Emma Garrett from Grade 9 said that she was “able to make personal connections to the guest speakers.” This is so important in education, giving students the ability to see people who look and act like them represented in their schools, showing their success to the people who need it most.
Teenagers are going through the toughest point in our lives trying to balance academics, social life, sports, bad influences and our own body turning against us. So when we get the chance to have incredible insights into the lives of people around us we didn't even know existed, English lessons get more interesting.
*A Tudung is the Malay word for a headscarf, more commonly known as a Hijab