In my literature class this semester, I had a theme relating to “The Danger of a Single Story”. This was inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, in which she discusses the nature of literature and cultural misconceptions. Why do we feel we know a culture, when all we know is a single story, a single stereotype, a single format within which we lump everyone?
And what if we don’t even have a single story? What if we know nothing about another country, another culture? This was the question I posed in my literature class. I asked my students: Is there any country or area you wish you knew more about? They all wrote down their answers, mentioning places in Asia, Africa, and Australia and Antarctica.
Students later picked these out randomly and were asked to quickly get facts and information about each area. Their next, and more difficult task, was to write a poem or a short story set in these locations or inspired by them. Judging from the results, these poems do depict one perspective of each location, which is quite natural. We are influenced by the stories we’ve gathered…but the way I see it: one story is better than none.In the hope that there will be more where this came from!
I’m sharing some of my students’ writings below (I got their permission of course… and let me quote one of them: “Yeeeey, I’m now a published poet!”).
Would I do this again? Most Definitely! These works (in my biased opinion as proud teacher) were gems of social and cultural awareness. Even though these students are basing their writing on one event or a few facts, they had to leave their current milieu to inhabit another world and stand in different shoes even for a little while, and that’s worth reliving, over and over again.
Are we really that different
When the thing we export most is our freshly-graduates, able-bodied youth?
A diaspora in over forty countries and we still can’t see that the blame is with our
From Daniel Ganama’s “Are We Really That Different”. Read full poem here.
A land of twenty-something soils – natural and man-made masterpieces;
India’s Teardrop dressed in green,
The Hermit Kingdom with all its flashing screens,
And The Red Dragon which falls in between.
From Mazen Sleiman’s “Asia”. Read full poem here.
Picking you by chance
You, eastern land
You, hosting 49 countries
You, divided into 6 cultures
You, curry, spice, sushi, hummus, vodka, and rice
From Michele Matta’s “Asia”. Read full poem here.
I read about magic,
in glittering eyes.
in a sanctuary of light.
I read about forgotten wars and unsung heroes.
From Mia Melki’s “Chinese Lantern Festival”. Read full poem here.
Far East Asia is viewed to be exotic
To the rest of the world that is
Some stereotypes are quite moronic
To those who know that is
I shall pour me some tonic
And elaborate, list some facts that is
From Mira Sheaib’s “Far East Asia”. Read full poem here.
Those looking for serenity and magic often find Nepal as a refuge for their quest. The 15-year-old knows this; he plans to mediate for a long time.
From Nour Zouya’s “Nepal”. Read full freewriting piece here.
I see worker ants scurrying about the colony roads,
Poor, dirty, and full,
Carrying tea leaves, bamboo shoot trunks, and hickory nuts to be processed for the glory of the State.
From Jade Doumani’s “Revolutions”. Read full poem here.
Thousands of people
From Natasha Tabet’s “Russia”. Read full poem here.