Award winning Michigan author Anne-Marie Oomen visited Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) last week to teach students about literacy and writing.
Oomen is a dramatist, poet, memoirist, and teacher. She won A WP’s Sue William Silverman Award and a Michigan Notable Book award for her recent memoir “As Long As I Know You: The Mom Book.” Other titles she has authored include “Love, Sex, and 4-H” and “Lake Michigan Mermaid.”
Oomen visited several classes where she gave presentations tailored to the connection between the course content and writing.
In addition to this, she also led a workshop on ekphrastic writing–a technique that uses works of art as inspiration– on April 5 at the Marshall M. Fredericks Museum.
The event was open to the public. A mix of SVSU students and community members were present.
Lucy Jiang, a freshman Computer Science major, attended the workshop after Oomen gave a presentation to her English class.
“She’s a great teacher,” Jiang said when explaining why she took part in the workshop. “I was really drawn into her techniques. I wanted to learn more about how to experiment with writing.”
Oomen, who has been teaching writing workshops for 15 years, began the workshop with a lesson on ekphrasis. She explained to participants that, since art is a still form, an objective of ekphrastic writing is to give a “voice to the voiceless.”
Workshop participants then practiced the concept of “Entering,” which is the practice of immersing yourself into a piece of art. This is typically done by studying a piece of artwork in silence for several minutes.the practice of immersing yourself into a piece of art. This is typically done by studying a piece of artwork in silence for several minutes.
Oomen encouraged practice of this by showing two paintings by Claude Monet. After viewing the paintings in silence, Oomen then invited participants to share what they noticed about the paintings and how they felt after “Entering” it.
Oomen then read a poem by Lisel Mueller titled “Monet Refuses the Operation” as an example of ekphrastic writing inspired by Monet’s paintings. Participants were again invited to have a discussion and share their connections between the artwork and the writing.
Oomen also outlined several strategies for ekphrastic writing, such as Giving Voice–where the writer creates a voice for a character in the artwork–and Realization–where the writer expresses a newfound awareness after viewing the piece.
After the lesson, participants were led to the studio where Andrea Ondish, Curator of Education at the Marshall M. Fredericks Museum, described the process in which sculptures are made.
Oomen explained that, since the participants would be using sculptures as inspiration for their ekphrastic writing, understanding how sculptures are made may inform the development of their writing.
Participants were then given time to view the sculptures in the museum. They were encouraged to “Enter” the pieces and write in silence.
Jiang chose to write a piece inspired by one of Marshall Fredericks’ sculptures called “Ugly Duckling.” She took a Giving Voice approach where the duck questioned its own creation, such as its size and color, and emphasized its desire to change.
After this time, participants reconvened with Oomen where some individuals shared their pieces. Oomen and many participants expressed how taking the time to write could be very refreshing and calming.
For Jiang, her favorite part about the workshop was being in the moment with the art and her writing. Like many other participants, she also felt peaceful and less stressed after writing.
“I really liked how we did the writing session,” she said. “I felt very cleansed and calmed.”
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