Exploring UT: Write Here, Write Now

Buttons from 2017’s Explore UT event!

Image taken by author, Pax Gutierrez-Neal

Last year, the University Writing Center here at the University of Texas at Austin joined forces with the Perry-Castaneda Library to host our own Explore UT event, “Write Your Own Book.” The activity, as the name suggests, was crafting one’s very own storybook; consultants were on hand to help with word-drafting, and librarians were ready to help with the book-crafting. That day, visitors joined a small community of storymakers, ranging from a family of three to a 5th-grade class to a handful of high schoolers. Some guests created fantastical tales while others chose to catalogue their day of Exploring UT, scrawling out the words in crayon or drawing marker-sketched illustrations. The covers always took the most time--the old adage may be true, but visitors couldn’t resist creating a detailed cover for their masterpieces.

This year, the UWC kept a similar thread and hosted “Write Here, Write Now.” The event boasted two activities: the Typewriter Rodeo and Poetry-Buttons. For the former, UWC guests could collaboratively write a story or a poem on a 1940s Royal Typewriter. Visitors were consistently very excited about the typewriter, especially the younger crowd. Some attempted to create a collaborative piece, as the activity indicated, while most were fascinated by the device as a remnant of unfamiliar--possibly even ancient--technology. They told stories and poems in snippets and bursts, everything from quick notes between writers (“i love ut      i love ut too”) to short tales (the wizards from Harry Potter save Malala, and everyone lives happily ever after as fluffy bunnies).

For the second activity, we had consultants on hand to help guests draft their very own haikus, small poems, or short messages on 2-inch buttons. Our volunteers even offered their language skills, writing visitors’ names in non-Latinate alphabets. The button-making was our more popular offering, just barely beating out the sheer novelty of the typewriter. We had to limit visitors to two buttons per person to manage time and demand (one third-grader, however, insisted that her dog back home also needed his own name-buttons--but only two, of course, because that was the limit per person).

A handful of visitors tried their hands at poems (a few ‘roses are red’ rhymes appeared), though some preferred instead to draw a symbol (like the Bat Signal) or a note to their parents (“I love my mom - [name redacted]”). However, the vast majority of our guests kept our volunteers busy writing their names in Sanskrit, Arabic, or Japanese katakana. Some visitors chose one rendering over another, but many opted to fit it as many on one button as possible (e.g.: their name in the middle with Japanese katakana above and Arabic script below).

While we had hoped, rather optimistically, to start a dialogue about or expose students to writing across languages, our guests were mostly just enamored with the unfamiliar lettering. Although, one fifth-grader asked why our volunteer had re-spelled his name, and he learned that Japanese did not have that particular sound in its phonology, requiring the consultant to find a close equivalent--a kernel of knowledge he can take home with his button, perhaps.

At the end of the event, we all had stories of our own to take home, some printed on the old Royal, some worn on our shirts in glossy pins, some instilled only in memory; we had all once more joined our own community of storymakers.