Thursday, August 16, 2007

Preface to a Self-Interview

Well, I'm back again (again). I've been in vacation mode. I've been doing a lot of reading but not much writing at all, but school starts for real on Monday and I'm trying to work my way back into productivity mode. For me, the hard part about writing is not the writing itself, it's finding a regular time to write so that I can establish some sort of rhythm and continuity. So I began slowly, starting at the end of last week to do handwritten essays in my physical commonplace book, which had also been enjoying an extended period of benign neglect. After about a week of maintaining that rhythm, I was ready for the next step, so this morning I set up a template in Word to allow me to type my CPB entries. That way I can paste them into my physical commonplace book, but also port them over to Google docs and then post them to Throughlines. My original intention was to begin a self-interview, but I wound up going off on a tangent of sorts by way of providing context. So maybe I'll get to the interview tomorrow. What follows is what I wound up writing this morning:

I was reading a pretty feisty interview with Marjorie Greene, “the great grandmother of philosophy,” in a back issue (March ’05) of The Believer yesterday and the thought occurred to me that it might be fun to try a self-interview. So I’m going to attempt that soon, maybe tomorrow. But first, some introductory remarks.

There’s a sequence I go through with my students several times each year. Sometimes the interview topic will be a common assigned subject, a reading perhaps, or an issue that has come up in class discussion. It is also sometimes a good get-to-know you activity.

I first ask them to pair up assign one of them to be the interviewer and the other to be the interviewee. I tell them that it is the job of the interviewer to keep the other person talking for seven minutes by simply asking good questions. It’s the job of the interviewee to be accommodating and forthcoming and willing to wing it. After seven minutes, I have them switch roles and continue for another seven minutes.

The followup activity is usually to have the students, for homework, type a dialogue based loosely on the classroom experience. Some students stick pretty close to the their actual conversation and basically re-create on paper the key elements of the dialogue that actually took place. Others invent entirely new interlocutors and have them do something interesting based in some part on the conversation that the students actually had in class.

I’m always pleasantly surprised by the writing that results from this exercise. There’s something about the dialogue frame that seems to free students up. The writing is more natural, more fresh, more spontaneous, than what I often get in response to other directed assignments. Many of the students wind up attempting interesting experiments with voice and exploring conflicts in point of view that arise from differences in the character of the speaker. There are some samples of student dialogues here and here and here.

1 comment:

Kanani said...

What a wonderful blog.
Years ago, a teacher had us do self interviews. After this, we had to interview our protagonist --and what came out was pretty impressive.

Anyway, I'll check this blog out more often, will add you to my sidebar.

Literary Lotus recommended I swing by.