Sunday, December 09, 2007 -- New Blog Name!

This blog has a new name, which matches the new URL, containing, perhaps, a bit of wordplay.

Nothing else has changed; this blog will remain committed to publishing the creative work of college students (and others).

As a college instructor, I remain convinced that when one reads and absorbs good literature, one writes better, and this blog offers compelling proof.

Many of these student writers are not English or Writing majors--just college freshmen who are filling an elective slot.

Often, when college instructors expect quality work and thinking, students meet those expectations, and then some.

The best part: while my students often surprise me with their astute insights and creative talent, they mostly surprise themselves.

And THAT is what keeps me in the classroom!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A New Memoir

I have just completed a memoir titled I, Driven: memoir of a teen's involuntary commitment.

When I was 18, I was committed, against my will, to a mental institution, The Cherokee Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, Iowa, pictured in this post (I snapped this photo in 2004).

The institution is still in business, but has added a new twist to its business: incarcerating sex offenders.

I'm in the process of shopping the memoir around to agents and editors. For those of you who are writers, you know how difficult it is these days to gain the attention of the powers who decide what gets published. So I have decided to try something a bit different:

I have set up a web page with an open letter to agents and publishers regarding my memoir. I'm also going to try the old fashioned way, but the other night, as I was checking out a domaining blog, I got this brainstorm: why not find a generic domain name and put my promotional information on it?

Amazingly, some great generics having to do with memoir were available and just ready for the plucking (for cheap), so I grabbed several variations. For now, you can see how I have used one of them (I'm still a bit slow with creating web pages):

This domain name was parked on Sedo for less than 24 hours and received three browser type-in hits, so I decided to pull it and DO something with it--that's my goal for all my parked pages; I just need to find the time without devoting my entire life to creating web pages. But this one felt important (at least personally).

Don't be afraid to promote yourself and your artistic endeavors on your own blogs and web pages; it may be the only free advertising you will ever get.



Monday, May 21, 2007

A Letter to John Hersey Regarding Hiroshima (Sarah Moser)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of writing a letter to an author, dead or alive, to ask questions and comment on their works. Sarah Moser chose to write her letter to John Hersey, author of Hiroshima, a non-fiction/journalistic account of six people who survived the a-bomb in Hiroshima.)


Dear Mr. Hersey,

What made you decide to turn [The New Yorker] article into a book? How did you even come about writing the article in the first place? Was it your idea? How did putting a face on the [Hiroshima] victims make you feel? Were you proud to be able to do this or did you just feel sad and ashamed? (You had to talk to the very people that we knowingly dropped a bomb on and tried to kill.) How did it feel to have everyone in the country talking about the book and the accounts within it? Why was distribution discouraged in Japan? Were they against the book being made, or was it just to be sensitive to their feelings about the past? Was the American occupation government trying to protect their feelings and not make them relive the event? Did you form a bond with the six people in the book or was it merely a professional interviewing relationship? I don’t know that I could hear these stories and not become attached. How did you feel about the bomb being dropped? Did this change at all while you were writing the article? After meeting these six people and getting to know them, did you keep in touch? How did they feel about you personally? I just can’t imagine being friendly to someone from the country that tried to kill me.

I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but history intrigues me, and I want to understand what the feelings at the time were like for both parties.

How do you think the Cold War affected the release of your book? Do you think that it was positive or negative? Did you hope that your book might cause people to learn from their mistakes and be more wary of similar situations in the future? With the climate of the world during the Gulf War/Desert Storm, did your opinions on nuclear weapons change at all? Do you think that the world view, or at least the American view, on nuclear weapons has changed at all because of Hiroshima? Will there ever be a day that this devastation is unleashed again?

I think you did a wonderful job on this book. Following these individuals from beginning to end humanized what happened. It now serves to make younger generations understand the situation. I feel that this book was written just at the right time—long enough from the event that people could read it in a different perspective.

Thank you for doing such a good job!


Sarah Moser


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission.

Janie Crawford Watches God and Children, a sequel (Joel Trimmer)

(NOTE: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature final exam, students were offered the option of writing a sequel to Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Joel Trimmer wrote his sequel in about an hour.)


[After Tea Cake’s death] Janie [Crawford, Killicks, Starks, Woods] went back to working the General store, as she always had. Hezekiah was happy for her return. It was if while she was gone, nothing changed in Eatonville. The men still gathered on the porch to play checkers and argue over anything that could be argued. It seemed as though a replacement for Jody Starks was even in place. Every day that passed made Hezekial more and more like Jody. He even smoked his cigar the same. Janie watched as the young man mused. Jody was the most respected man in Eatonville before he died. He set her up for the wealth and prosperity that she now lived. She had made peace with him. So if Hezekial wanted to be another Jody Starks that was as good a man as any to emulate.

In the coming years, Janie spent a lot of time reflecting. She sat on the porch like one of the man. She even swapped stories time to time like she would at the muck. She thought about Tea-cake most often. Every day she thought about Tea-cake. He gave her the opportunity to be fine. Janie felt isolated for years until tea-cake came and set her free. Janie also went fishing, just like tea-cake taught her. She fished for hours thinking about that first night Tea-cake too her fishing…

In all the reflecting that she did, she discovered she had no regrets. When looking back on her life, she was satisfied. Not many people can say that about their life, and Janie truly believed it.

She still got scowls from all the women in town. Janie was through weaving bonnets and tying her hair up. She was happy in blue overalls and loose fitting dresses. She was beyond trying to accommodate others. The next chapter in her life was to be dedicated to Janie. Janie used all her experience and knowledge of the world and shared it. She was as influential and controversial as she ever was. Suitors came and went. Janie said she was off the market, but deep down, she knew she was powerless to deny love if it came to her. She would have to follow her own teachings. When the young children of Eatonville gathered on the porch of the general store, Janie always gave them a freezie-pop and a story. Their favorite was the story of the hurricane. She always told them to follow their love. She told them never to settle for anyone. Love would find them if they kept their eyes open. This kind of talk stirred up all kinds of fussing in Eatonville. Parents were scared because their kids kept talking, “Miss Janie this…”, or “Miss Janie that.” That was Janie, though, and the people knew she couldn’t be talked down. The Janie that returned to Eatonville was a proud, strong woman. For all the grumbling, the townspeople still respected her. They also feared her. They saw her as a loose cannon, and worse, their children loved Miss Janie. The townspeople were terrified their children would run off to the ocean first chance they got.

Janie wanted her story told. Telling these stories made her feel good. She wanted the children to know what they could be for themselves. Janie had also never had kids herself, so this was her way of passing on her legacy. She spoke about her passions and freedom and loving life. She became a grand mother figure for all the children in town. She was beloved by many, and respected by all.

LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission.

Graphic Version of "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains" (Andrew Herr)

Text: Follow the arrows.

Panel 1: Tick-tock, 7 o'clock! Time to get up!

Panel 2: Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!

Panel 3: Nine-fifteen, time to clean!

Panel 4: Five O'Clock!

Panel 5: Six O'clock!

Panel 6: Eight O'clock!

Panel 7: FIRE!! FIRE!! FIRE!! FIRE!!

Panel 8: Today is August 5, 2026!!

Artist/Writer's note:

This graphic version of Ray Bradbury's short story "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains," coupled with some of the actual text, makes the reader to visualize the story line. The point of view changes when the reader reads the text, then looks at a picture of an actual house on fire. The shift from plain text to a text with visual representation makes the reader visualize what's going on in the story, the pictures acting as clues and reminders. The timeline style portrayed by the graphic version allows, in minor detail, for the reader to follow along during certain hours of the day as described in this piece of fiction.
LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007
Published with permission.

What happens When We Grow Old? (Kate Updegrove)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of writing a creative response to a poem, story, or play. Kate Updegrove chose to write a poetic response to Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem.")


What happens when we grow old?

Does our memory shrink
like a dried up sponge?
Or create a colorful canvas ---
And then smudge.
Do we laugh the same?
Or develop a lion’s roar
With a big mane?

Maybe we don’t move
Like a sloth in the wild.

Or do we reminisce our lives as a child?


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission.

The Game of War (Erin Collins)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of rewriting a story, poem, or play in another genre. Erin Collins chose to rewrite Tim O'Brien's short story "The Man I Killed" as a poem.)
the game of War

the face of a faceless man
staring back at me.
one eye shut
the other a hole,
looking deep into my soul

the face of a faceless man
haunts my dreams.
nose unbroken
hair clean and black,
glistening under the sun.

the face of a faceless man
I never did see.
his fingernails clean
skin smooth and freckly.

a butterfly rests
on the face of that man.
a man who is unknown to me.

what would have become,
should have become
of the man with no face?

a scholar or soldier?
teacher or lover?
maybe neither, maybe both.

all I knew
was what I saw:
the face of the faceless man.
fragile and beautiful
in life and in death.
LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007
Published with permission.

I’m Not Afraid of the Coppers (a sequel by Ashley Stahle)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students were offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel to a short story. Ashley Stahle chose to write a sequel to Alan Sillitoe's novella The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner.)

Well, I pulled my big job about two weeks ago, and the coppers haven’t started closing in yet. While that doesn’t mean I am in the clear, it is most definitely a good sign. It makes me smile to think about how the Governor would react if he knew about this last pinch. I like to think it stings when people like him find out they can be wrong, that just maybe someone like me can knock `em off their high horses even for only a moment or two.

The money from this last job will keep me going for a while, at least until I find myself a new mark. I’ve already got something in mind, but I need more information on it before I can decide if it’s worth the risk. It’s not that I’m afraid of gettin’ nabbed by the rats again. I know they’ll get me sooner or later; I just want to enjoy what I can get until that happens. For now, my plan is to just keep on running, fast and hard, see how far I can get, you know? It’s funny how the Borstal made me faster than ever when you think about it. They were supposed to be reforming me for the honest life. Instead, they made me harder to catch.

I haven’t seen my ma in a long while. Sometimes I wonder how she and the younger ones are doing. I still think about me pa, too. I remember how he slaved away doin’ honest work for them and gettin’ nothing in return. They’ll never get me like that, not me. They may catch me, stop me for a while, but they’ll never own me. I’ve found my own way, and though it’s not without risk, I’m making it just fine. Better off now than I’d be if they got hold of me for good.
I hid my take from this last job good. Even if they suspect me, those coppers’ll have a tough time hookin’ me for it. They’re not too bright, you know. With the set-up I’ve got, I expect they’ll have more than their share of work cut out for them. And no matter how hard they sweat me, I’ll never give ‘em a thing. I’m no fool; I know their tricks by now. They don’t know mine, though, and that’s all the edge you need most of the time. If you can just outthink ‘em, you’re golden ‘cause coppers, they think you and me are stupid, too stupid to hide from them for long. They underestimate us, and between you and me, they’re not doing themselves only favors that way.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission.

Technology: Love or Hate Relationship? (Arielle Pringle)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature final exam, students were offered the option of writing an essay that explored both the positive and negative aspects of technological advances. Writers were asked to use Ray Bradbury's "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains" as a springboard. Arielle Pringle's piece is a first draft, written in about an hour.)

In the year of 2007, there are many technological advances that some people love and hate. Some advances in technology that we love is the cell phone and the computer. Others are TV and the DVD players. The negative impact that cell phones have today: they are a distraction to everyone. If the phone rings, then we jump to pick it up, or if we get a text message or voicemail, we hurry to either reply back to it or listen to it. We stop just to work with our cell phones anytime during the day. Just like in the story “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” the house was a distraction for people. It made a lot of noise and it talked back to them (if anybody was in there). But a positive impact that the cell phone has made: it is a better way to get in touch with people. Also, the cell phone itself can do a lot of other things than just call out and receive calls. It can hold phone numbers so that you won’t have to carry around the usual address and phone book. It is also good to have when there is an emergency, but at the same time it may cause the emergency. Cell phones are both technology that people love and hate.

Another advance in technology that we have come to love and hate is the television and the advances in the screen look as well as the advances in the cable options. Back in the olden days, televisions were only in black and white and you could only get a few channels. But today television has advanced to have a bigger screen with better quality and look. There are now LCD screens and flat screens. Also, some people have the home theater system which makes your living room like a movie theater. The best movies are viewed in a home theater room. In 2007, we also can get over 500 channels, whereas back then there were only two. Satellite dishes are taking over. No more of the regular cable or the cable boxes; there has to be a dish sitting on top of your house in order for a person to be considered one of the best. That is also a negative look on today’s society with the advances in technology. People don’t look at your character or your integrity anymore; they judge you solely on what you have. If your house does not have at least one big screen in it, you are not qualified to be the best. My house has over 6 televisions in it, two of them being LCD 50” televisions. Does that make me a person of honor and integrity? Some people in this world would think so.

Other advances in technology that people would love and hate are the advances in home appliances. Now there are refrigerators that have the news and weather on them, washers and dryers that can sense how much water to use only by the size of the load of clothing, and microwaves that now grill and are convection ovens. These advances are great for some people but are a nightmare to others. Yes, to have these appliances in your house would be a big deal. To have a stainless steel, LG refrigerator with a big computer screen on the front would make your house nice. Also, to have the water and the ice on the door is an extra benefit. The high efficiency HEST washer and dryer are a big deal today, too. Being able to get rid of stains without even treating them before they go in is an extra benefit for some. Using less water in the load can save money as well. But what happens when the computer screen on the refrigerator breaks or the sensor on the washer goes bad? People are now wishing they would have the protection agreement at Sears. All the nice benefits of having these appliances are making the people love them, but as soon as it breaks down the people start to hate the fact they even considered changing their kitchen around. Having to go through the hassle of getting the parts to fix the appliance, then having a technician to come out to repair it is a whole other reason why people hate and love the advances in technology.

Yes, these advances are great for America and the world but it also creates problems that are unnecessary. Cell phones are a distraction to anyone, TV’s are over priced and home appliances are so advanced that it is taking place of another electronic in your house. People love to say and flaunt these advances in technology but they hate when something goes wrong. Then they have to worry about the consequences and the problems that come up. All the advances in technology have made a positive and negative impact on today’s society, as well as the society of tomorrow and other generations after the ones of 2007.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission.

So Muslims are Terrorizing Americans (Andrew Costanzo)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of writing a creative response to a poem, story, or play. Andrew Costanzo chose to write a poetic response to Jimmy Santiago Baca's poem "So Mexicans Are Taking Jobs from Americans.")


Are we? Do we come in
with tanks and guns and say:
Be afraid, terror has come?

Do you put down your weapons,
and concede to terror, and then
wage your war?

I hear we are terrorizing your country,
do we come in, voice high, and
while you are invading another country,
terrorize yours?

Even as you watch TV, and
See the terror that your bombs
and your soldiers have wrought
on the world, you can safely say,
we are taking down the terrorists.

So I look, I look for these
So-called terrorists.

Everywhere I turned, I looked,
Do you know what I saw?
American soldiers, American bombers.
And at the feet of these “heroes”
were thousands of dead.

I see all this and I, no, we,
are the terrorists? Through your
words of hate, thousands die
through terrorism, and it is not us

Turn and look in the mirror,
and you will see the face
of terrorism.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

"I Stand Here Ironing," a poem (Adam Shurnitski)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of rewriting a story, poem, or play in another genre. Adam Shurnitski chose to rewrite Tillie Olsen's short story "I Stand here Ironing" as a poem. This writer has captured the female point of view--not always an easy shift for a writer of the opposite gender.)


The iron, heavy, I drag
Back and forth, back and forth.
The most wonderful gift, but
Timing is everything.

Two years, quickly pass,
She is a stranger to me,
But I have little time to notice.

She is my perfect child, oh,
To love her properly all over again!
She is alone, in the dark, scared.
I assure her that it will all be fine,
And as perfect as she is, never complains.

What price must I pay to win the love,
Of my so distant, sweet Emily.
Nothing I have done justifies,
My poor upbringing.

As I stand here ironing,
It hurts my soul, to drag,
Back and forth, the destructive
Iron. The iron which crushes my
Sweet child.

I was never there,
To ease her pain and sorrows.
I never saw her life escaping,
My loving touch. I merely saw
Myself, ironing, dragging slowly across
A wooden board.
She deserves more.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I am the Slave Mother (Christy Torres)

(NOTE: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature class, students are offered the option of writing a personal essay, using an assigned literary piece as a springboard. Christy Torres chose "The Slave Mother," by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper as her springboard.)

His shrieks pierce the silence of the night. The rhythmic dance of inhales and exhales is disrupted. I can feel my mind slowly return to reality. My husband’s chest moves my hand slowly up and down. His breath continues its dance and he is oblivious to the cries shattering the night’s sleep. I force my eyes open and scan the dark room. My eyes stop on the clock, 3:42 a.m., its harsh fluorescent light mocks my loss of sleep.

I push away the covers and pull my hair up in a quick ponytail. I force myself to leave the warm haven of my bed and creep slowly to the adjourning room. He is crying hard, his breath catching in his throat before being forced out into the darkness. I open the door softly, and walk over to where he is sitting helplessly on the floor. I pick him up and look at his brother, still sleeping in his bed, undisturbed by his brother’s cries.

He lays his head on my shoulder and hiccups. I walk down the steps to the living room where I can rock him. As I rock him, I think about my life. The constant routine, the furious pace that leaves me exhausted, the never-ending cries that bombard my mind. I feel bitter. I am bitter because it was my sleep that was forfeited. I am rocking a toddler that is now asleep; however, one slight move, one break in the rhythmic rock and he will be awake and wailing.

Tomorrow is Tuesday. I have school. I dare look at the clock, the only light in the dark living room. 4:12 a.m....time is still mocking me. In less than three hours I need to be up and showered. I need to wake my daughter and get her ready for school. I need to wake up the boys, change them, get them dressed, and brush their hair and teeth. I need to feed them, make sure her backpack is in order, put socks and shoes on feet, push arms into coats and be out the door by eight. Drive to the bus stop, give a kiss good-bye, and drive to the babysitters, listening to “Crazy Car” three times on the way there. Pull in the driveway, unbuckle seat belts, put shoes back on wiggling toes, carry each boy on either side of my hips up the walkway, spill into the house, take off coats, smile as they run in screaming “Nana,” thanking God for the wonderful babysitter that I found. Kiss each one goodbye three times, and try to walk out the door while my youngest clings to my leg, not because he is upset but because he thinks the ride is fun.

Once I am finally out of the house I must drive back across town to school. I need to be at school by 9:30, and it is 9:12. I drive across town and for some reason “Crazy Car” is still playing…and being sung…I am in school all day until 3:15, and then I walk home. In the house by 3:25. My husband and boys are asleep, they will wake shortly. It is time to thaw dinner for my family. I must clean up the house, load the dish washer, and take out the trash, which should be deemed radioactive from the fumes being emitted from the diapers inside.

It is 3:40, time to get my daughter from the bus stop. She bounces off the bus, smiling. My heart swells at the sight of her smile. We walk home and she tells me that she needs my help with her math homework. We walk in the door and I can hear my sons awake and playing in their room. I close the front door and I hear, “Mommy, et me out my ooom, peezze.” I grab two diapers, wipes, and climb the stairs, open the door to two smiling beautiful faces. Pick them up, tickle them and change them one by one.

My husband wakes up and we all go downstairs. I make dinner; they play with toys that I must later pick up. We eat dinner, food is thrown on the floor despite my instructions to “Use your fork, eat pretty.” They once again play with my husband while I clean up the plates, cups, forks, and food scattered around the dining room.

The clock glares at me, I am racing against time, and it is 6:45. Time is competing with my children’s demands, and I am the one losing the battle. I gather PJ’s and draw the bath water, the boys get in the tub, my husband bathes them and I help my daughter with her homework. Their bath is over. I dress the boys for bed, get their sippy cups, read them a story and tuck them it. Three more kisses are given to each little boy, and to my delight I get six of my own.

I turn the bathwater back on and fill the tub for my daughter. She bathes, and gets dressed, and I tuck her in. She reads me a story and I kiss her, once, goodnight.

My husband is in bed. The clock on the nightstand mocks me still. It is 8:30. I kiss him goodnight, and he begins his dance with the night. I, on the other hand, go downstairs to clean up and tackle my homework.

I am frustrated, I am tired, and I am running on a constant cycle. I am a slave. A slave to time, a slave to professors, a slave to my husband, a slave to my work, a slave to the constant mess of toys and a slave to the gooey, sticky substance that is smudged between the pages of the book I am trying to read. But mostly, I am a slave to my children. I am a slave mother. As my mind leaves the day ahead and turns back to the rhythmic rocking and the sleeping two year old nestled in my arms, I wouldn’t want it any other way, even if it is 4:58 in the morning.

Author's Note

I chose to write a personal essay on “The Slave Mother.” This piece was extremely powerful to me and I believe that I reacted to in such a strong way because I couldn’t imagine losing a child despite the frustrations involved with motherhood. After thinking about the piece and reading it to myself at least a dozen times, and reading it to my husband twice, I knew that I wanted to write something related to this piece. I approached it a little differently because I can not relate to the exact emotions of having a child ripped away. I was unsure of what I wanted to write until my son woke up screaming the other night and I had to tend to him. I was frustrated because I wanted to sleep and as I rocked him I got more frustrated thinking about my life. Then I thought about the poem and knew that although I was in constant motion and was a “slave” to their needs, I couldn’t imagine losing one. I realize the time spent with them is a blessing no matter how tedious the task throughout the day is. I think the maternal instinct and emotional attachment in the poem is what connected me in such a strong way and enabled me to portray my own emotional attachment to my children in this piece.


LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

August 2026: The Day My World Collapsed (Sarah Moser)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students were offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel to a short story. Sarah Moser chose to write a prequel, from the point-of-view of the family dog, to Ray Bradbury's "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains.")

I lay on my rug in front of the fireplace just waking up from a deep, dream-filled sleep. The day before had been full of intense activity and play. The prospect of what today might hold was almost too much to handle. I had even woken up to my feet furiously fluttering, as if running at high speed. After a brief stretch, I was ready to begin my routine. It always made me stop and stare, head cocked, when I moved away from my rug. The funny, little mice came out, buzzing furiously, while vacuuming up the hair I had left behind. In my younger days, I would bark at these interesting creatures, but now I just watch in amusement, day after day.

Walking over into the kitchen, I waited for the muffled voice I knew would come. Tick-tock, five o’clock, time to eat, time to eat, five o’clock! As if coming to greet me, a nook in the wall opened up to reveal a small robot Dalmatian carrying a miniature hose. It zipped out to my bowl and a stream of cold water majestically began to arc out of the nozzle. A minute passed and the Dalmatian, hose-in-hand, retreated into the wall it came from. The water tasted amazing! It always did, but today it seemed to dance on my tongue as I lapped it up. Almost on cue, three choices lit up on the screen behind my food dish and a new voice asked, “Turkey and gravy, Lamb and rice, or Beef and potatoes?” This was my favorite part of the day, until dinnertime any way. I pressed my nose to the Beef and Potatoes option and a robotic arm emerged clutching a can. A small saw buzzed in a circle around the top and the arm flipped over. The moist food glistened in my dish. Eat up, no time to waste, no time to waste, eat up! In a moment, the food was gone and my stomach was pleasantly full.

As I strolled back into the living room, a voice chirped again. Five-six, time to play, time to play, five-six! A bundle of toys appeared in the corner of the room; a rope, a few balls, and a bone. Normally, I would take turns playing with each of these toys until my family woke up. Today, however, all I wanted to do was go outside and play. After that fantastic dream, I was ready to run. One whine at the front door was all it took and I was free.

Outside, a breeze was blowing and the air was filled with familiar smells. The one that caught my attention was the scent of a rabbit. The hair on my back perked up and my eyes did a quick scan of the perimeter in search of my target. There it was! I darted over the hill and followed the speedy rabbit into the woods. Around bends and trees, carefully avoiding roots and rocks, my family should be up by now, but I persisted in my pursuit. Suddenly, as I ran through the winding creek a brilliant light seared my eyes.

The next thing I remember is waking up with half of my body in the creek, I didn’t know how long I had been unconscious, but my stomach told me I hadn’t eaten in awhile. My weak body struggled to get up. I felt nauseous, but sheer will-power kept me moving in the direction of home. The family must be worried!

What felt like a hurried pace was more of a slow crawl. As I came over the hill, I saw funny markings on the wall; however, my only thought was going inside to let my family know I was alive. Arriving at the door, a chill swept over my body and I let out a whimper. The door opened. I was feeling so weak that I barely even noticed the robot mice scurrying all around me. I hurried from room to room. What is going on? Where is everyone? I knew something was wrong, but the smell of breakfast lured me to the kitchen. The familiar scent was a small comfort. My family was gone and I frantically tried to think! The room started to get hazy and I felt myself spinning in circles. I fell to the ground and my last conscious thought was of my family and the hope that I might be with them once again.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pursuit of Absence (Lindsay Klunk)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel of a poem, story, or play. Lindsay Klunk chose to write a prequel of Sylvia Plath's poem "Edge" as a stream-of-consciousness short short story.)

February 6th, 1963

My hands are tired from carrying out the tasks of yet another painstakingly long and meaningless day in this place that hardly deserves the name of home. A more suitable name might be “residence,” or “quarters." I stay under this roof, inside these four walls. I don’t live in this place. To say that I live would suggest that there is some life inside this shell of a body. There is no laughter or smiling faces in this place, at least not when I am present. It is late, but the night differs little from the day for me. My days blend together from the lack of sleep. My world is one of 24 hour periods of monotonous time followed by more 24 hour periods of monotonous time. This never changing process is too much to bear, mostly. The children sleep and I am torn. Shall I take them with me, or leave them behind? Surely no good mother would abandon her children. Would any good mother have kept them to suffer along side of her for as long as I have? Oh, the quandaries I face this night, and every night. For I have thought to go on with it every time the moon is full, or half, or absent, or anywhere in between. She is gone this night. Perhaps I will join her soon. And be absent. I do miss her lonely smile, her lonely eyes when she is not present. But she always returns, as do I. You see, on occasion I have gone beyond simply thinking of leaving. I have left. But something drags me back here, every time. The stillness of this night engulfs my body like an ocean. The darkness surrounds me as I drown in a sea of my own short comings. I have failed miserably at life, and I am unable to succeed, even in death. What a triumph it will be, what a glorious day when I take my final breath and God carries me home. Mother Earth will finally have had enough of me. She will breathe a sigh of relief to see me go on my way. This world will be at peace to be rid of me. And I will be at peace to be rid of her. She has shown me no hospitality. My heart aches at the thought of what could have been, things that should have been, but will never be. Guilt and regret claw and tear and rip at the very core of my being. My soul is weary, exhausted from the battle within. Will my soul sleep? Or will it be awakened with a new life, with new opportunities in a new place? One can only hope. Would an eternity of rest be so terrible? My thirty-one years have left me with little more than enough energy to pry my eyelids open when the alarm sounds at seven with that persistent and undying burst of ungodly noise. An eternity of rest might be refreshing. The children stir. What is left of my cold heart seems to be fighting its way towards the back of my throat. I have got to face it. I simply must take them with me if they wake. It will be my sign from God himself. He will make the decision. It is in His hands now.
Author's note

I attempted to take on the persona of the woman from the poem, while keeping Plath’s voice. I wrote this piece as a diary entry, which is why I chose not to separate it into paragraphs. It is more of a stream of consciousness piece, from the point of view of someone about to commit suicide. I intentionally jumped from one thought to another in an attempt to recreate the irrational thought process of someone who is so out of touch with logical thought. I realize that I took a risk in writing this way.
LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007
Published with persmission

There Will Come Soft Rains (Autumn Darbrow)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature class, students are offered the option of rewriting a story, poem, or play in another genre. Autumn Darbrow chose to rewrite Ray Bradbury's short story "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains" as a poem.)

Tick tock, seven o’clock.
Breakfast is ready
In an empty house
Standing all alone, steady.

Tick tock, eight o’clock.
Time for work and school,
But the house is empty,
The air is calm and cool.

The breakfast is old
And discarded right away.
Dishes are cleaned
And put back to stay.

Tick tock, nine o’clock.
Robot mice come darting out.
It’s time to clean.
They do it with no doubt

They whirl around
Cleaning every spot;
An empty house immaculate
Not even a dot.

Tick tock, ten o’clock.
The sun shines now
On a city of ash and ruin.
This house still stands somehow.

The west face has been burned.
No pretty white paint.
Only spots here and there,
But ever so faint.

Tick tock, eleven o’clock.
The house is paranoid.
It waits for the tenants
To come fill the void.

It still asks for passwords
And inquires who’s there.
Nothing better come close.
It better not dare.

Tick tock, twelve o’clock.
A starving dog cries.
The house opens the door.
Its voice it does recognize.

The dog searches
For the long gone family.
It soon realized the emptiness
The house can also see.

Tick tock, one o’clock.
The dog runs around, cries,
Spins in circles, bites.
Then it dies.

Robot mice come flying out
And dispose of the dog.
An incinerator burns it to ash
As if it were a log.

Tick tock, two o’clock.
Bridge tables fold down.
Playing cards flutter out
As chairs sit all around.

Martinis appear
Ready to be drank
With egg-salad sandwiches
Sitting on the bench’s wooden plank.

Tick tock, three o’clock.
Silence still around.
No cards being played.
No laughter. No sound.

Food is cleared away
With drinks following, too.
Tables fold into walls.
Silence still seeps through.

Tick tock, four o’clock.
The nursery comes alive.
Animals on the wall dance:
Many different types, even butterflies.

Giraffes, lions, antelopes
Dance in brilliant colors.
Some animals move to the waterhole
Followed by all the others.

Tick tock, five o’clock.
Bath water falls.
The tub is filled up,
And steam the mirror draws.

Tick tock, six, seven, eight o’clock.
Dinner dishes come out.
Inside the study, a fire is lit,
And a cigar burns, patiently waiting about.

Tick tock, nine o’clock.
Circuits turn on.
Beds become warm
Thwarting a waiting, cold dawn.

In the study a voice comes alive
And asks Mrs. McClellan for a poem choice.
No reply comes back.
“Sara Teasdale, your favorite poem, then,” says the voice.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Tick tock, ten o’clock.
The house begins to die.
A tree bough crashes
through a window.
Cleaning solvent shatters over the stove. “Fire!” comes a cry.

Doors spring shut
As the house tries to live,
But windows are shattered open and
Oxygen to the fire the window gives.

Water falls from the ceiling.
Tiny mice try to help, too,
But the water reserve is empty.
The house is through.

Walls are burnt, revealing wires,
And voices cry out until the fire stops them.
The house falls down now.
It’s not even worthy to condemn.

As dawn approaches,
There stands one wall.
The fire did not get it.
This one did not fall.

A lone voice comes from the wall saying,
“Today is August 5, 2026.”
It plays repeatedly over and over.
“Today is August 5, 2026.”

LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

A Prequel to Alice Childress' “All About My Job” (Julie E. Pennella)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature class, students were offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel to a story assigned for the course. Julie Pennella chose to write a prequel that retained the original dialect, still from Mildred's perspective.)

Well, Marge, I was walkin’ home tonight from Miss Jennie’s and, wouldn’t ya know, it was gittin’ cooler out and so I put my coat on. I hate that raggedy ol’ thang, but it wasn’t doin’ me no good carryin’ it, so’s I put it on anyhow. I dug my hand into the pocket and, do ya know what I found, Marge? There was a ticket for that fancy movie theatre over on Main Street. And with the ticket I found a note from Miss Jennie. It said, “Thank you for all your hard work this week. See a movie on Thursday night. My treat.”

Can you believe that, Marge! Miss Jennie treatin’ me to a movie. How nice! Well, come to think of it, she probly is just tryin’ to keep ma mouth shut about Mr. Dixon stoppin’ by the house this afternoon. Miss Jennie’s husband don’t like it when that man talks to Miss Jennie. Actually, he gits aweful mad at her for it. Miss Jennie don’t seem to care much though. Mr. Dixon already been over to the house twice this week and both times Miss Jennie would fluff up her hair and put on her red lipstick before she answer the door. I don’ know why she likes that color on her lips anyhow. It looks like her mouth is bleedin’ or somethin’.

But, anyhow, Marge that’s not all I wanted to tell ya. As I said, I was walkin’ home tonight and I found the ticket in ma pocket. I was holdin it in ma hand as I was a walkin’ and this nasty wind came and blew it right outta my grip! I was so mad at that wind I could’a kicked it if it had a physical bein’ to it. Marge, I looked around where I was standin’ and around where I looked for damn near ten minutes for that thang! I was too damn dark to see nothin’ and that ugly wind was blowin ma hair in ma face. Finally I seen it lyin’ in the middle of the street.

Well, Girl, I walked over to it, to grab it before the wind blew it up again and before I knew it I was gettin’ tackled to the groun’! Ya know what happened, Marge? A car almost took my out! That’s right, it almost ended me right then and there. Luckily, this man quick pushed me outta the way of the car. It hurt some, but I’s just thankful to be alive! Marge, I tell ya, the man saved my life!

Well, I got maself collected again and we stood on the sidewalk talking for ‘bout a half hour. He was a nice man, Marge…good lookin’ too. Tall and big with great big hands and shoulders and deep dark color skin, like chocolate. Yeah, Girl, he was a looker! And he looked like the kind’a man who has a good appetite. Someone who be needin’ a housewife to cook for him and take care of him. Well, Marge, we got to talkin’. I told him my name was Mildred and he says I looks like a Mildred. Do ya think I looks like a Mildred, Marge?

Anyhow, he told me his name is Henry and we got to talkin’ bout this-n-that and where I was headed and everything else in the universe. But, Marge ya know what happened next? I told him I was a houseworker comin’ home from Miss Jennie’s. I know…ya thinkin’ so what. Well, soon as I told him that, he said he had to be gettin’ home to his wife! His wife, Marge! I’ll be damned if he actually got a wife! He was talkn’ to me for bout a half-hour on that side walk and he wasn’t wearin’ no weddin’ ring on his finger! He ain’t got no wife, Marge! He was just usin’ it as an excuse to stop talkin’ to me. That’s what men do, Marge…it’s easy for em’ to just say they takin’. Gotta be getting’ home to ma wife! Men like him, they don’t want no houseworker. They want a pretty-face, size-ten or so, red lip stick-wearin’ girl who ain’t no houseworker with a free movie ticket.

Damn he was a good man though, Marge. He was a good man needin’ a wife. Girl, you been married before…Ya think he has a wife? Ya think he really is takin’? I suppose it could be the truth. Girl, thank the Lord I got a friend like you, cuz Lord knows when men like that come ‘round we be needin’ friends to keep us goin’.

Epilogue (Author's note)

I chose this piece as a springboard because I really liked the sense of pride that the main character portrayed throughout the story. In the beginning of the story, she says that she hates her job as a houseworker, but by the end, she changes her mind and realizes that she should not be ashamed of her occupation. I felt like I could relate to the story in this way because I grew up on a farm, working hard for my parents all my life. My mother was always a homemaker, keeping busy with the farm; she never had a paying job outside of our home. While I knew some other children whose mothers were housewives, it was not too common among families. Most children had mothers who were dentists, teachers, hairstylists, and even artists. Growing up I was somewhat ashamed of the lifestyle my family lived; however, I look back now and realize that I am proud to have grown up under those conditions. It instilled in me a sense a pride and a good work ethic.

I also liked the stylistic aspects of this writing. I enjoyed reading the story because I felt like the main character was personally having a conversation with me. The story is written in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner. It takes on the form of a person talking to another. The main character rambles on with her thoughts, sometimes going on tangents. I tried to simulate this style of writing as I composed my prequel to the story.

I also tried to write using the dialect that the main character uses in the original story. As I wrote the prequel, I used words that are grammatically incorrect and some sentence fragments here and there. It was a little difficult to keep the writing legible, but it was actually quite fun. As I was writing, I was talking in my head with a southern accent! It actually helped!

There were also many elements of the story that I used to create an idea for the plot of the prequel. I wanted to include Mildred’s negative feelings toward housework in the prequel, since that is where the original story begins. I also wanted to end the prequel with Mildred feeling thankful to have a friend like Marge, since this is also mentioned in the beginning of “All About My Job.” I chose to include an encounter with a potential mate for Mildred in the prequel because, in the story, she talks about her need for a husband and mentions that Marge has been married once. She also talks about her weight, referring to herself as a size fourteen. I used all of these elements to come up with a plot for my prequel; however, I added some unrelated elements of the story such as, the character of Miss Jennie, and the story about the movie ticket.

In all, this piece was very fun to write and I think that it is a pretty decent prequel to the original story.
LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007
Published with permission

I Am a Motherless Child (Valerie Anderson)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature class, students were offered the option of rewriting a poem into a story. Valerie Anderson decided to rewrite "Motherless Child" [Anonymous], an African-American (Negro) spiritual, into prose.)
No sense in pretending anymore. Life has been too long and too hard for my brief twelve years on earth, on this plantation, on this same God-forsaken piece of earth. I am abandoned and I am alone.

I do not know who my mother is or who my father is. I do not know who this “God” is that the other Negroes sing about. I feel like a motherless child because that’s what I am. I am motherless, fatherless, Godless, hopeless. When I pick cotton I try to daydream, try to close my eyes and imagine a family and a warm wooden cabin with a freshly swept dirt floor. I can hear my momma singing as she stirs a stew over the fire and I can hear my pa’s soft and hypnotic voice telling all of my brothers and sisters a story.

In this house I can smell the fresh, clean earth, devoid of blood and sweat. That smell coming from over the hills is a feast for my family to enjoy, and not for the white family that has enslaved me and caused me to forget, to never know, who I am and where I came from.

In my daydreams it is my birthday, it is April 15, because that day is always beautiful and sunny and flowers are in bloom. It is beautiful, just like my momma tells me I am. I am wearing a clean new cotton dress that belongs to me and only me. It is not a dull brown color, smeared in dirt and sweat. No one has worn it before me because it was made just for me. And I look just as fresh as the beautiful April day.

But the story stays the same – just a story. The crack of a whip and warm blood trickling down my back bring me back to a harsh and unpleasant reality. There is no cabin, no stew, no dress, no ma, no pa. There is only myself in my dirty clothes and cracked and blistering hands.

I am a motherless child, a family-less child. Yes, I know I have been adopted by the older slaves as their own, but it’s just not the same. I am their child for their own sake and not for my own. I am replacing their children but I don’t want to be a replacement, I want to by part of my own family. How dare they pretend to know how I feel! How dare they call me selfish and stubborn when they can’t possibly understand how my life is! I do not feel lucky to be alive, to be provided for, to be loved by God. I feel alone and miserable and spent.

This life is too long and too hard and I know that there is more to the world than this. I know that I could endure my breaking back and bleeding hands if I was loved, if I had a family, not just the mournful and pitying eyes of slaves just like me, whose position in life is not much better than my own.

I feel ready to quit, ready to lie down and die in the dirt that I toil in day after endless day. I am a motherless child, forgotten in a world of motherless children. I have no more hope, no more future, and only one foster parent – the cruel and unforgiving King Cotton. What a poor replacement for the family and love I want more than anything. I feel like I am almost gone.
Epilogue by author

When I was in high school, I sang an a cappella version of this spiritual. In order to be able to sing this with feeling, I tried to imagine what it would be like to feel like a motherless child. This prompt gave me an opportunity to imagine the back story that I had already partially developed several years ago.

Although the poem is fairly simplistic, it is still incredibly powerful. I wanted to create a short piece that had the same power behind it as the fifteen-line poem that I was inspired by. The part of the poem that struck me the most was the line, “Sometimes I feel like a feather in the air.” I really wanted to focus on what would help a slave feel unburdened by their hardships.

Therefore, it seemed entirely appropriate to me that the person who would relate most to this poem would be a young child who is not only motherless, but also doesn’t feel as if she has a place or purpose in the world. The added tragedy is that the child is so young and already wants to give up.

My goal was to create a story that read like an extension of the poem, and I think I accomplished that. My story is about a girl who is imagining an escape and a better life, just as the author of the poem is imagining flying away from her circumstances.


LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

Biography of J. Alfred Prufrock (Lauren Penkala)

(Note: in Jennifer Semple Siegel's Introduction to Literature, students are offered the option of responding to literature in a creative manner. For T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Lauren Penkala decided to write J. Alfred Prufrock's biography--from the point of view of an added character: Emily, his sister. This piece was done during a 75-minute test)


I, L. Emily Prufock, sister of J. Alfred Prufock, think of my brother as a man who lived an interesting life. Here today, at his funeral, I will give a short biography of his 68 years of life.

When I think of my little brother, I think of a mischievous boy, always curious, throwing caution to the wind. He got himself into more trouble as a child than all of our other siblings combined, but this helped him in the future. He did learn from his mistakes, and this made him an experienced contemplative, deeper man.

In his teen years, he became more quiet, but not shy. J. Alfred loved the ladies, and most loved him as well. Maybe it was his dark, full head of hair, or his muscular, masculine frame. Maybe it was his occupation – a business man. Some say it was because of how handsome he always looked in his simple yet eye-catching business suit. He listened to music on a regular basis – to help him clear his mind. Alfred was an orderly person who hated not knowing the future, and planned out his every moment – all the way to his death.

After work, Alfred, despite his handsomeness, did not go out with the ladies (he only flirted), he went home for a quiet evening alone, where he drank tea, had toast, and watched his sleek yellow cat, Chester.

Alfred could have made many friends, and probably even found a wife. But he was a hard worker and valued his time alone. He did not enjoy art, which made it difficult for him to relate to a woman once the relationship got past flirting (if it ever did).

Alfred got his strong body from walking on the beach. Sometimes Alfred ran. He imagined mermaids in the ocean, and he swam too, but never found a mermaid.

My brother had one weakness, the fear of death. After retiring from the business world at a fairly young age, 40, he began to have this fear. He wrote much about it too. Alfred even spoke of it to me. He read the Bible and believed in God, but that did not end his fear.

So he wrote about it, hoping the fear would disperse. Alfred compared death to his cat, Chester, and worried so much that by the age of 42, he had a bald spot shining. He was very self-conscious and thought people were talking about him. As he grew older, his body withered quickly, becoming frail and thin. Alfred went from a mischievous boy, to a confident teen, to a successful business man, to an old, weary man of age of 55. We assume that a disease overtook him – a 40 or 50 or 60 year old man should not look as badly as he did. He wept, fasted and prayed, as did we all, but he did not improve. On his final day, he requested to be taken to a nearby window to look out at the ocean. This was difficult for me, an 80 year old woman, but I managed – I could see it in his 68-year-old eyes that this was his last desire. I lugged him to the window, and left to prepare lunch. When I returned 25 minutes later, he could not be awakened. He had met his mermaid.

Maybe he could reunite with mom and day, our two older sisters, and my husband. Maybe, just maybe he is no longer afraid.


LIT160 Introduction to Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission

I Am Woman (Jamie Sterlacci)

I, too, am a woman

I am heavier then most
My hair is not perfect
My skin is blemished.
The boys call me
To complain about the others
I listen
I answer
I laugh at their silly ways.
They look through me.

One day they’ll call me
Just to talk to me.
And I will know it’s because
Of who I am inside.
I’ll listen
I’ll answer
We’ll laugh at their silly ways.
He sees into me.

One day, they’ll see
That under my skin I am gorgeous.
They will be sorry they undervalued
What I can do.
But I won’t need them; I never did need them.

I, too, am Woman.


I used Langston Hughes’ poem "I, Too" as a starting point for my poem. His poem is about how black people are oppressed and shunned. They are ignored and considered a lesser being, but others do not realize what they, specifically Hughes, are capable of. Hughes does plan to show them what he can be – that he has the potential to be something great and that he will rise up against the oppression. Hughes is proud of who he is and considers himself an important part of America. One day, people will be ashamed of how they treated him and they will appreciate him for all his worth.

In the year 2007, although most people do not make judgements based on skin color, they still judge people on the way they look – if someone is not as aesthetically pleasing as others, they are often judged and become outcasts. I know that most people have felt less then beautiful at some time in their lives, including myself. People who are outcasts because of their looks are oppressed in sort of the same way as African-Americans were during slavery or in the South under the Jim Crow laws, when Hughes wrote this. The less beautiful are kept apart from those that are considered to be better looking, just like black people were separated from others. These separations have nothing to do with who is better, smarter, or earned the right to be considered accepted. Instead the separations are based on shallow notions that what a person looks like on the outside defines who they are on the inside.

It is important that people do look past the exterior and get to know someone because they could be truly great on the inside. My poem is based on the idea that all women are beautiful, not just the ones who are obviously so. It also stems from the idea that the only way some one can be completely happy is to see past looks and get to know someone and appreciate him or her for it. Relationships that are based on looks become as shallow as the reason for starting it. On the other hand, relationships based on love and appreciation of the other person tend to give the most pleasure to both parties involved. This is similar to the relationship between white and black people in the South. Because they were not working together, the people of the South did not reach their full potential. Instead, there was always fighting and people dying senselessly.

The woman in the poem finds someone who gets to know her and love her for who she is despite her weight, skin, and hair, or maybe even because of them. She thinks maybe one day other women will see how great she is, but she will not need them as friends. She realizes she has never needed anyone who is shallow. She knows that their shallowness prevents them from reaching full happiness and she laughs at them for it.

Like Langston Hughes considered himself an important and overlooked part of America, the woman in the poem is not appreciated because of her looks. Both poems recognize the potential of the oppressed and how great things could be if people saw them for who they are.


LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007

Published with permission