USC’s English department held a two-day open forum writing workshop titled, “From Anguish to Art” before Thanksgiving break in Taper Hall. According to a flyer for the event, the workshop was meant to provide students an outlet to “access their emotions to inform their creativity.”
Leading the workshop series were professors Molly Bendall, Susan Segal and Christopher Freeman for the Wednesday session, and Dana Johnson, Aimee Bender and Brighde Mullins for the Friday session.
“From Anguish to Art” arrived in the wake of an unprecedented number of student deaths this semester that have shaken the USC community.
“The way that it started was that one of our student advisors, Jose Perez-Guerrero, talked to our department chair because he was concerned that some of our students were struggling with the deaths that occurred,” Johnson said.
The workshop began with each professor reading a selection of poems related to mourning and coping with grief. The pieces included Ann Lauterbach’s “Hum,” Brenda Hillman’s “Till It Finishes What it Does” and Heath Ledger’s “Poem Ending With a Sentence.”
Each recitation of a poem was followed by a brief discussion of its content. During these discussions, students were encouraged to use the techniques present in the pieces to inform their own writing, especially during difficult times.
“The whole idea is providing this space for students to come together, talk about their feelings, process their thoughts, and write about either people they have lost...or how they’re thinking and processing all of this,” Johnson said.
For Professor Christopher Freeman, such exercises are important because “writing is an important way to work through emotions.”
Following the poetry recitation was an open-forum discussion on the overall wellbeing of both the students and professors present. Some professors voiced their concerns for their current students who are coping with these tragedies, while some students discussed the proper way to translate their feelings on the recent deaths into writing.
For Christy Moon, a junior narrative studies major, the workshop allowed her to “learn practical ways to cope with death,” and gave her a “chance to pause and remember” the recent events.
The students in attendance also shared their experiences with seeking mental health treatment and counseling on campus. They were very open in expressing their grievances with the procedures involved with getting help, which facilitated an open dialogue on improvements that can be made within USC’s mental health counseling structures.
While they may have been brought together by tragedy, “From Anguish to Art” allowed both students and professors to heal through the power of the written word, and find a creative outlet for their emotions.
“The most rewarding part of completing the workshop for me was that I got to meet fellow writers and listen to their beautifully crafted and extremely powerful poetry and prose. I felt safe sharing my own work, as well, which is typically a generator of anxiety for me,” creative writing major Melina Costello said.