Students ‘express writerly voices’ for National Day on Writing

       The University of Rhode Island campus was abuzz this past week when on Friday, Oct. 20, the school celebrated the National Day on Writing for the first time in its history. Hosted by Write Across URI in coordination with the URI Department of Writing and Rhetoric, First-Year Writing and the URI Writing Center.

       The day brought together students, professors, advisors and writing enthusiasts to participate in a series of fun and challenging events spread across campus meant to entertain and educate while demonstrating the role of writing in our everyday lives and give people the chance to express their writerly voices.

        Participants were given ‘passports,’ which outlined the various events and could be brought to each of the events to be stamped. Participants who secured three stamps earned a wristband bearing the online hashtags #writeforyourlife and #whyiwrite, which people across campus, as well as the nation, used to post their own National Day on Writing experiences on social media. Those who earned five stamps were entered into a raffle for gift cards to the campus store.

        The most expansive of these events was the campus-wide virtually guided tour of locations about the URI campus featured in Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2013 novel “The Lowlands,” in which the University plays a critical role. Using the Geotourist app, participants view key points of the campus as they were in the early 1970’s, including the memorial union, the library, and the former site of the married students dormitories, where Hillside Hall now stands, all through the eyes of Guari, a young pregnant woman from Calcutta, who comes to URI as a student along with her new husband, Subhash, the brother of Udayan, her widow and father to her child. Through narrated descriptions of the locations, participants learned of the hardships Guari was posed with and gained significant knowledge about the literary legacy of URI.

        Set up in front of the Memorial Union was the graffiti wall, on which anybody could stop to write a quote with some type of literary significance. These ranged from the words of prolific authors to more lighthearted phrases and messages.

        “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so free that your very existence is an act of rebellion,” wrote one student, quoting French philosopher Albert Camus. “Watch more Spongebob” another entry read, simply.

        Around the other side of the Memorial Union, the “Write Here! Write Now!” event held a number of hourly writing events in Union Square. For the “Caption This! Team Competition”, students were broken into small groups and given a picture from pop culture or the internet, to which they would give their own fun and creative captions. Next was the 25,000 Writing Sprint, a free-form writing competition which gave participants a time frame to write anything they wanted, as well as “Wild Animal Encounter Stories”, wherein event organizers and writing students shared their harrowing or comedic tales of encounters with wild animals, and encouraged others to step up to do the same.

        Throughout the day, writing students, professors, and amateur writers stepped onto the podium in front of the Robert L. Carothers Library to read their own material at the “Listen Up! Speak Up!” open mic event. Among the participants were writing graduate student Gina Atanasoff, who read excerpts from her short story “Jesus Christ, is this America?”, which saw the biblical Jesus placed in a contemporary America, to hilarious and thought-provoking effect, Kellie Pendergast, who read her non-fiction account of an ill-fated night out entitled “Friday Night with The Trash King,” and Nate Vaccaro, who recited some of his poems, including the gentle “Sleep Sparrows” and the cosmic and surreal “Maintenance Man Traverses The Galaxy”.

        Those participating in the festivities were invited to the URI Writing Center in room 009 of Roosevelt Hall to decompress and relax over pizza, coffee, and origami.

        “[The National Day on Writing] is a great way to get students excited about writing and engage students in writing outside of the classroom, in a broad, supportive, national community of writers of all kinds and to get them to connect more deeply with the things we teach them in the classroom,” said Stephanie West-Puckett, Ph.D, the Director of First Year Writing who helped to bring the National Day on Writing to URI.

        West-Puckett is herself a graduate of East Carolina University, a school which, like many schools across the nation, has held celebrations in commemoration of the National Day on Writing since the holiday was founded by the National Council of Teachers of English in 2008. When she came to URI, she was quite surprised to see that the school had yet to recognize the holiday, and reached out to Nedra Reynolds, the director of Write Across URI, as well as other university officials to bring the holiday to campus.

        “The National Day on Writing encourages students to think of writing as much more than something they have to do for class, to think broadly about what counts as writing and to recognize the ways that writing is threaded through their personal, professional, political, and academic lives,” added West-Puckett “We are all writers.”

        Many involved with the festivities were extremely happy with the turnout and hope that this is the first of many annual celebrations.