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To Light a Fire

20 Years with the Insideout Literary Arts Project

edited by Terry Blackhawk and Peter Markus

Award Winner

Creative Nonfiction, Education, Poetry, Detroit

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: August 2015
ISBN: 9780814341179
Pages: 232 Size: 6 x 9
Published: August 2015
ISBN: 9780814341186
Pages: 232 Size: EPUB

These truthful, celebratory, inspiring essays show us how the writers and teachers of InsideOut have been creating sparks and lighting fires for young people in Detroit for two decades. The pieces, like the kids themselves, have grit, spirit, resilience, the breath of life.

— Edward Hirsch

The InsideOut Literary Arts Project (iO) began in 1995 in five Detroit high schools, with weekly classroom visits by a writer-in-residence, the publication of a literary journal for each school, and the mission of encouraging students to use poetry to "think broadly, create bravely, and share their voices with the wider world." Twenty years later, the program serves some five thousand K–12 students per year, has received national exposure and accolades (including a recent visit to the White House), and has seen numerous student writers recognized for their creativity and performance. In To Light a Fire: 20 Years with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, founding director Terry Blackhawk and senior writer Peter Markus collect the experiences of writers who have participated in InsideOut over the years to give readers an inside look at the urban classroom and the creative spark of Detroit's students.

In short and insightful essays, contributors discuss how iO's creative magic happened during the course of their work in Detroit schools. Poets such as Jamaal May, John Rybicki, Robert Fanning, and francine j. harris describe the many ways that poetry can be used as a tool to reach others, and how poetic work shaped them as teachers in return. Contributors describe nurturing a love of language, guiding excursions into imagination, and helping students find their own voices. They also describe the difficulties of getting through to kids, the challenges of oversized classrooms, and of working with children who seem to have been forgotten. Despite their own frequent angst and personal uncertainties about doing the right thing, they describe the joys and rewards that come from believing in students and supporting the risks that they take as writers.

To Light a Fire captures the story—one poet, poem, and poetic moment at a time—of helping students to discover they can imagine, dream, and speak in a way that will make people listen. Fellow educators, poets, and creative writers will be moved and inspired by this collection.

Terry Blackhawk is the founding director of InsideOut Literary Arts Project and a widely awarded educator as well as a poet. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks and four full-length collections of poetry including Escape Artist, winner of the John Ciardi Prize, and The Light Between (Wayne State University Press, 2012). She was named a Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellow in Literary Arts in 2013.Peter Markus is the senior writer with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. He is the author of the novel Bob, or Man on Boat, as well as five other books of fiction, the most recent of which is The Fish and the Not Fish. He was named a Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellow in Literary Arts in 2012.

Contributors Include:
Alise Alousi, Terry Blackhawk, Norene Cashen, Anna Clark, Nandi Comer, Robert Fanning, Aricka Foreman, Cindy Frenkel, Peter Markus, Jamaal May, Stacy Parker Le Melle, Isaac Miller, Chace Morris, Gloria Nixon-John, Matthew Olzmann, Kristin Palm, Thomas Park, Julia Putnam, John Rybicki, Suzanne Scarfone, Anita Schmaltz, Kristine Uyeda, francine j. harris

These truthful, celebratory, inspiring essays show us how the writers and teachers of InsideOut have been creating sparks and lighting fires for young people in Detroit for two decades. The pieces, like the kids themselves, have grit, spirit, resilience, the breath of life.

– Edward Hirsch, president, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

As impressive as the project it documents, To Light a Fire: 20 Years with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project is part of the outstanding Wayne State University Press 'Made in Michigan Writers Series' and an exceptionally well organized and presented compendium of twenty-two erudite and informative article essays that provide exceptional insight and an occasional inspiration for the reader. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Literary Arts Education reference collections arid supplemental studies curriculums.

– Margaret Lane, The Midwest Book Review

This luminous book speaks to the transformative power of poetry. Its brilliant, brave writing is poignant, generous, and deeply observant. Essays by talented InsideOut teachers with poems by their students will engage readers interested in literary arts, urban youth, learning communities, teaching and justice, and Detroit’s vitality.

– Susan Opotow, professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Educators nationwide are desperate for an antidote to student apathy and disengagement. InsideOut has the solution—give students compelling texts and invite them to respond to compelling tasks. The work described here goes beyond college and career readiness. These teachers are preparing students for life!

– Carol Jago, longtime English teacher and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English

In her introduction to the anthology To Light a Fire, InsideOut Literary Arts Project founder Terry Blackhawk says, ‘It’s always an honor when students open up their lives for their teachers.’ Blackhawk and her colleagues honor their readers by opening up their Detroit classrooms and telling their stories—stories of creating a safe space for creative expression by students, and stories of how those students inspired the authors’ own poetry. The teaching methods vary, but the passion and compassion of the remarkable artists who have taught with InsideOut come through on every page of this collection, which illuminates a path for other writers who want to engage young people with the written word.

– Amy Swauger, director, Teachers & Writers Collaborative

Terry Blackhawk’s discovery of how art matters can’t help but excite and inspire. Stories she shares of her experimental, ever-evolving InsideOut project remind us how and why a wrong-headed attitude toward the arts can sink a whole nation’s boat. Through the poetry, storytelling, playwriting, and performances that she and other caring, recognized Detroit artists practice and profess, Blackhawk’s high school and other institutional students broke past barriers that border the heart. In Jack London’s enduring short story "To Build a Fire," the narrator says, ‘He worked slowly and carefully, keenly aware of his danger.’ To Light a Fire reignites that very same spark and flame. How much longer can we go on killing off, torturing, or warehousing our pitifully needed long-distance runners? Terry Blackhawk knows. This powerful anthology delivers.

– Al Young, former poet laureate of California

To Light a Fire is an inspiration, a blessing, and a necessity. The various essays included serve as a guide, a success report, and a challenge to those who read it to initiate a project like InsideOut in schools throughout the country that have never offered their students the wonderful opportunity of transforming their experiences, imaginary and real, into literary art. This collection wisely begins with a chronology of events that led to the creation, development, and expansion of the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. But years before she founded this project in 1994, Dr. Terry Blackhawk was already incorporating some of its features by encouraging her students to write and perfect their poems. She also invited professional poets to her classes to share some of their own work and involve her students in discussions of what makes a poem a poem. I am happy for the publication of To Light a Fire and all the helpful information it contains. It is my hope that it will serve as an incentive to expand the program locally and nationally so that thousands of uninvolved students on all grade levels will discover how to bring to the surface the hidden poet in all of us.

– Naomi Long Madgett, poet laureate for the City of Detroit and author of Pilgrim Journey

Throughout To Light a Fire, adult and student writers reverberate as interchangeable mentors and mentees with emotional connections, heartfelt expressions, and emotional and provocative messages. Dr. Terry Blackhawk’s vision for InsideOut and City Wide Poets, along with Peter Markus, writers-in-residence, teachers, and administrators, willingly nurture students’ minds, hearts, and souls.

– Toni S. Walters, PhD, professor emerita of reading and language arts, Oakland University

  • 2015 Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards - Result: Finalist in the Writing category