National Day on Writing makes the words count

Story by Theresa Smith
Photos by Travis Neely and Theresa Smith
GCU News Bureau

In between classes on Monday morning, Justin Alexander heard the music, spied the banner and observed the written word – in Sharpie on sticky notes, in chalk on the sidewalk, in marker on butcher block paper. He was symbolic of the hundreds of students organizers envisioned when they set up their favorite celebration: the National Day on Writing.

Alexander is a microcosm of the writer inside all members of the Grand Canyon University community. The freshman from Stockton, Calif., is immersed in pulse assessment, suture removal and wound drainage among dozens of other skill acquisitions. Writing is an outlet to his challenging, often stressful nursing program.  He composed a six-word biography on a Post-It note and shared his views on the indispensable nature of writing.

Justin Alexander pens his six-word autobiography.

“Writing tells everyone’s story that can’t actually be told by talking,’’ he said. “Writing helps everyone out, whether you are a young student, an older person, an infant growing up. It tells a story by your words.’’

Writers are influenced by what they read and they create readers – those who read their work.

Alexander’s parents read to him from infancy. As a toddler, “Into the Wild” was his favorites.

When time permits him to put aside his nursing texts, fiction is a release.

“I read just to read; it clears my mind,’’ he said. “And it makes me open my mind to other possibilities.’’

Those possibilities often lead to writing and the reading-writing-reading-writing cycle continues, a cycle evident at the fifth-year National Day on Writing (NDW) event at GCU. Faculty and students, including the campus chapter of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Friends of the Pen and the Professional Writing Workshop sponsored the event in which participants wrote six-word autobiographies on sticky notes, took turns adding twists to a short story and used chalk on the pavement to explain why they write.

The array of answers demonstrated the need for the question:

“To relieve my stress and reconnect with myself."

“To show others that they are not alone.’’

"Because I am never lonely with a pen in my hand.’’

“To show others what I believe in.’’

“To cope.’’

“To give others hope too.’’

“To express how I feel without showing my face.’’

The poignant messages warmed the heart of third-year organizer Kimbel Westerson, an assistant professor teaching English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She added that feature to NDW this year, and she encourages emotional release from her English 105 students.

“I tell them, ‘Talk to the page, talk to the page.’ Sometimes that’s the only person you’ve got to talk to.’’

NCTE formalized the importance of writing by establishing an official celebration day  “to draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in, and to help writers from all walks of life recognize how important writing is to their lives. … The National Day on Writing points to the importance of writing instruction and practice at every grade level, for every student and in every subject area from preschool through university, emphasizes the lifelong process of learning to write and composing for different audiences, purposes and occasions, and encourages Americans to write and enjoy and learn from the writing of others.‘’

Westerson takes those goals to heart when she assigns each student to make a list of the five books that should be required reading for the entire world – they must support their list with reasoning. There are similar answers, including the Bible, “To Kill a Mockingbird," “Catcher in the Rye” and “Fahrenheit 451."

“They like to read and they like to write, but it changes when they have assignments,’’ she said. “That’s why it is really important to do things like this. It’s fun, you're not getting graded on this, you might get participation points, but you can write whatever you want and you can write short. There is no word count.’’

Inspired by Westerson, Honors College senior Ally Richmond joined the Professional Writing Workshop last year and volunteered to man a table at NDW. 

“It has been really fun, and it is growing,’’ she said. “It is bigger this year than last year.”

The four-hour event drew students and faculty.

A professional writing major from Phoenix’ Desert Vista High School, Richmond plans to launch a career in journalism. She gained a head start by interning last summer with Times Media group, writing for their college magazine and a few of their local newspapers. She is still freelancing for the magazine in Tempe and meeting monthly with Westerson and fellow workshop students to talk about different types of writing and listen to guest speakers from the industry.

Friends of the Pen (FOTP), another GCU writing club, helped out with NDW by conducting a cupcake walk of literary classic novels.

“We tried to incorporate different ethnicity groups, also female and male, and a wide variety, not just typical 18th-century novels,’’ said FOTP Vice President Cymelle Edwards.

The favorite novel of the senior from Casa Grande is “The Metamorphosis’’ by Franz Kafka. Another favorite is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland." Edwards reads the Lewis Carroll novel three times a year.

“There is so much magnificent detail and underlying meaning,’’ she said. “It is an easy read but also very deep.’’

 A professional writing major favoring the poetry genre, Edwards has completed two internships. After graduation in December, she plans to enroll in a master’s of fine arts program.

She views NDW as a golden opportunity to bring together all of GCU’s writing groups.

Cymelle Edwards and Nathan Alberts of Friends of the Pen lead the cupcake walk.

“We commune together at times like these to let people know, ‘Hey, we’re here, we love to write, we want to help you love to write,'" she said.

Since publicity is one writing goal, Edwards did not hesitate to point out that the Lopes writing community is thriving. Students and faculty are increasingly published writers, including two members of the English faculty, Dr. Diane Goodman and Dr. Andrea Alden.

“We want students to be aware of that in case they do have that passion they can work toward it and build on it because we have what they need,’’ she said. Students can attend FOTP meetings at 8 p.m. Thursdays in the Commuter Lounge.

Nathan Alberts, a FOTP member who took part in numerous cupcake walks, is also graduating in December. Following an internship last summer, he plans to apply his writing skills to digital marketing.  “I’m looking to get into copy writing for marketing and advertising, writing for different clientele and organizations,’’ he said.

In FOTP he has found a home.

“They are all in a creative mindset,’’ he said. “They want to share their perspective on stories and poetry. It is a great way to connect with similar minds who get in that vibe. These are the people I want to be around and learn more from.’’

Kaitlynn Deville, the president of FOTP, spoke for anyone who has ever picked up a pen or sat down at a keyboard:

“Sometimes in meetings, I’ll write something and think, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that to come out at that moment.’ And there are times it is nonsense, and I think, ‘OK, I am going to throw that away.'"

The cupcake walk on literary titles was a popular event.

The junior from Los Angeles is carrying a heavy load: majoring in English with an Emphasis in Professional Writing and carrying two minors, one in film and one in marketing.  Her goal is to work in film production back home in Hollywood.

“I love movies and storytelling in general,’’ she said. “I would like to be part of the process -- the magic that makes a Disney movie a Disney movie or the magic that makes a Universal movie a Universal movie.’’

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

(Job declared,) "Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." (Job 7:11)

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