Creative intelligence


A hot and rainy Thursday evening did little to hamper turnout at the fifth annual student reading of creative writing at Hyde Park’s 57th Street Books. Part of the University of Chicago Graham School’s Insight summer programs for high-school students, the session concluded a three-week course on fiction writing and the creative process. About 20 friends and family members attended the hour-long event, where students read short stories they had developed during the course.

In open-mic style, high schoolers from Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, and California read pieces both serious and satirical, with themes that included death, insomnia, anorexia, and adolescent angst. “My mother always said silence was a killer,” began 17-year-old Jesse Glaze’s fictional story about a brother’s death and the family’s grief. “But silence was easier than confrontation.” “The boss had impeccable aim, so as to only hit the face and nothing else,” read senior Briana Finegan, whose dark comedy portrayed a ruthless young boss heaving coffee at her intern’s face. “The second-degree burns didn’t matter to her, but getting stains on a shirt was too low a blow.”

“This class was jam-packed with ridiculously talented kids,” said course lecturer Achy Obejas, a novelist and Chicago Tribune culture writer. “What they don’t have at the beginning of the class are specific craft tools like critical vocabulary to make a story really good, but that’s what we work on, day-in and day-out, over these three weeks.”

During the course Obejas gave the students an insider field trip to her Tribune stomping grounds, emphasizing the hands-on approach of the writing process. “In learning to write, you can’t just say, ‘You need to add conflict to this part of the story,’” she said. “It’s about explaining exactly what conflict is. And that’s not what you get in high school.”

Hassan S. Ali, ’07

Photos: Budding writers read their original fiction at 57th Street Books.

July 28, 2006