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April 23, 2016
by: Tad Phippen Wente, Creative Writing Teacher

Swamplandia! community read reaches students

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Joining the recent Lakeland College Community Book Read featuring Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! gave me a chance to dabble with text and blackout poetry, which I brought back for students to try. Gina Covelli, Community Relations Manager, and Jodie Liedke, Assistant Professor of Composition, shared copies of pages from the novel. We read through, then circled words that stood out. Blacking out all the rest with heavy strokes of Sharpie produced a poem that maybe reinterpreted the pages or maybe spoke to the reader about some other observation. It reminded me of finding the carving within a great block of old wood: you carve away until the subject is revealed. One of my students, Jackson, remarked that using pages of fiction was a much more rewarding experience for blackout poetry, the word choices so much more beautiful than those of nonfiction articles.

IDEAS Academy students and staff also attended the panel discussion of Swamplandia! at Mead Public Library, where three Lakeland College professors spun their areas of research into the novel. What does the concept of Indian-ness mean to the American people, according to visual art and literature? What is the role of myth and legend? How does “magical thinking” shape a family? I enjoyed that ‘college feeling’ of having my mind bend in new ways while considering these perspectives in light of Swamplandia!

A group of students who are particularly interested in literature and writing also attended a Q&A event with Karen Russell at Lakeland College on April 12. The author shared a short reading from Vampires in the Lemon Grove and answered questions about her creative process and the role of personal experience and place—the Florida Everglades of her childhood—in the writing of her novel. Swamplandia! was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2012.

The opportunity to engage in community events is important in engaging student thinking at IDEAS Academy and all The Étude Group of Schools. We plan to join the Community Read again!


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