The Writers Room® Program

Community-based Writing Coaches

Partnerships and Affiliations

Partnering with schools and universities

A Celebration of Life in the Writers' Room

by Marcia Holtzman

The seventh graders in Ms. Donohue's language arts classes have been writing poems. Many are suffused with sadness: bad dreams, betrayals, broken friendships, despair, thoughts of death.

Poems do not have to be sad, Ms. Donohue tells her students. Even serious poems don't have to be so sad.

Then what should we write about?

I know, says Ms. Donohue, let's write about Celebration of Life.

What? What does that mean?

Whatever you think. Danny, pass out the lined paper.

Oh, no!
Do we have to write it now?
Do we have to finish it?

Groans all around.

Stop groaning, please. Get back in your seats.

What should I write about?
I can't think of anything.
I have nothing to celebrate.

Think of something you love, says Ms. Donohue. What do you love?

The beach, says Brianna.
My dog, says Anthony.
Skate boarding
Video games
Ice cream!

Enough. Start writing! I'm going to collect these papers at the end of the period.

The next day the writing coaches are in the room, and students meet with us in discussion circles to share what they have written. In my group they celebrate the shore, birthday parties, dance performing, soccer games.

This is what Alexa reads in a shaky voice:

You walk outside in the cold early morning,
the sun has almost risen.
The world on your shoulders
Walking down the cracked path to the lonely bus stop
you trip on one of the many long
cracks in the cement and fall on your
face, wishing it was your soft warm
pillow instead of the cold cement.
As you lift your head because you
remember that you are in public, you notice
A spectacular red tulip, dew drops douse the petals.
They glisten in the newly risen
sun, bathing in the newborn rays of light.
You get up and think, how could it be
so fragile and yet still stand tall above
the fallen blades of grass.
It makes you think if it can endure
winter then you can endure school.
The brightest of inspirations come from
the smallest of beings.

Today Alexa is my Celebration of Life.

* * * *

This story is based on a lesson in Linda Donohue's classroom in Edgar Middle School, Metuchen. The dialog, names of students, and the sequence of events are partly fiction. The poem by Alexa Kolchmeyer is reproduced exactly as she wrote it, except for two spelling corrections.