Writing and Voice: Week in Review





Friday Dialogue from  

Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to assess their innermost feelings about helping students develop voice. 

1.  Who is your favorite author based on their voice?  
Emily:  I love Garrison Keillor’s voice.  His ability to integrate sarcasm and biting commentary without alienating his audience.  So tricky.  I was also glad to see you reference Maureen Dowd this week. She is another journalist that I find so much voice and opinion in her writing.  One of my favorite Dowd article’s appeared in the New York Times several years ago.  She was describing John McCain and characterized him as being a cat without whiskers…someone who struggles to stay balanced.  It was such a great comparison.
Aubrey: I remember that article because one of my students brought it in and they were beside themselves with her tone/voice.  Also, can I say David Sedaris again?   I really love that everything is so funny at the beginning and incredibly bittersweet at the end.   What is undeniably good?  His reading broadcast on This American Life called Jesus Shaves.  Clearly this isn’t something I share with the students.  But sometimes on a bad day I put it on repeat.  
Emily:  I was first introduced to David Sedaris through an appearance on David Letterman in 2006.  While I love his writing, there is something so great about hearing him read his pieces aloud.  I was won over.  However, my students don’t “get” his humor.  I’ve downloaded a copy of him reading Me Talk Pretty One Day and played several school appropriate chapters for my kids.  But it never fails:  the only ones laughing are me and the kid who others look at as weird but will eventually rule the world.  

2.  If having “voice” is like playing a character, who are you in the movie Oceans 11?  
Emily:  Child, please.  I have seen Oceans 11 at least 23,634 times and have studied it fully on imdb.  I own Oceans 11.  And when I say I “own” Oceans 11, I don’t mean I physically own it (even though I do actually own Oceans 11, 12, and 13).  I mean I OWN it.  I would like to say I was Virgil or Turk but am probably more like Linus (Matt Damon)….a little naive but ends up being awesome by Oceans 13.  I’m still waiting for the “Oceans 13”  of my life!
Aubrey: This is a bothersome response for many reasons. First, you can’t own Ocean’s 11. I used to watch it at the end of a very quarter as gift for being such an excellent teacher.  Second, in this relationship you are Turk and I’m Virgil.  Independently I’m Basher all the way.  Without the British accent and the explosive skill.  Third, don’t call me child.  I will end you.  
Emily:  You are so Basher.  That is such a great comparison.  And I take your “watch it every quarter” and raise you a “several times a week.”  I definitely went through a phase that it was watched in its entirety multiple times a week.  Also, “child, please” is a saying from my favorite NFL player Ocho Cinco.  When I see you at the annual College Board Forum next week remind me to tell you what “child, please” really means.  It’s my go-to saying now.  

3.   Why do you think it’s so difficult to teach students voice?  
Emily:  It’s so difficult because students are still developing identities when we teach them.  They don’t have an idea about who they are…how can we ask them to embed themselves in their writing?  Plus, like you addressed, there is no clear checklist on how to embed voice.  It is just natural and innate,which makes it so hard to teach it and hard for them to learn.
Aubrey: I think too that they really want a checklist.  They don’t feel comfortable with who they are on a daily basis and so asking them to take a risk in their writing is absolutely out of the question.  Instead they try to write down what they think I want to hear.  Which is never the right answer.  

4.  Describe a piece of writing, authored by you, that created incredible voice.  
Emily: I pour for hours over the directions I write for my students…the directions that they don’t even read, let alone recognize the wit exhibited. My best work was with directions on the purpose of a podcast assignment they were given.  In the past I have descibed how participating in podcasts about books are lifesavers for English teachers.  Specifically, I addressed how book talks allow for a negation of the spinster moniker of a woman who lives with hundreds of cats.  Yet, this year, because of my recent sponsorship of Cat Club in my high school, I have had to delete that portion of the directions!  I’m sick of getting teased by the students!
Aubrey: Wait.  There’s a Cat Club?  
Emily: I didn’t tell you?  Not only am I sponsoring Anime Club, I’m also the sponsor of Cat Club.  Yes, Virgina, it does exist.  
Aubrey: Anyway, I do enjoy writing directions too.  But nothing is better than a poem that I wrote about Christmas in early elementary school.  It was all about snow and family but primarily about getting candy and dolls.  Lots of candy.  Lots of dolls.  The tone seemed fairly direct and the voice incredibly informative.  I’m not sure my audience felt the same way.  
Emily:  I have an amazing coworker/dear friend named Jen who writes haikus somedays.  They always make me smile, especially on Haiku Fridays.  
I love to read books
They feel warm and comforting
Like snacks from Arby’s.

See?  You’re smiling, right?


  1. Kelsay Parker says:

    I’ve really enjoyed the posts about voice. I wish my preaching professors would have worked more on that. I think developing voice is hugely important in my growth as a preacher. I’ve spent many a weekend learning from Garrison Keillor. Alongside his sarcasm is a true love of the ordinary person; the beauty of a simple life.

    As much as I love David Sedaris, I should probably steer clear of “Sedaris-esque” sermons! Thank you so much for your great blog…Fridays are my favorite.

  2. Susan richardson says:

    Child Please Emily, I have a piece of your writing when you were 15 years old with very strong voice and passion. I cry every time I read it. I love Friday’s too! Your personalities shine!

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