The first semester at Artists and Agitators staggered to the finish line today. I’d had the idea that my plucky memoirists, who’ve written some of the most arresting work I’ve seen in my (short) teaching career, would march in with fresh copies of their final drafts, stapled and ready to share in a sort of “reading gallery.” I told them I’d copy and bind the memoirs into a book, along with their thoughtful written comments.


Nilda rubbed her eyes and squinted at me.

“My what?” she asked.

“Your final draft. Hello? The project we’ve been working on since September? Your MEMOIR?”

“I’m seriously confused right now,” she said, and put her head down next to her bookbag, which belched crumpled sheets of paper. I whirled around and surveyed my students’ faces.

“Who has their final draft today?”

“What’s a draft? You mean, like, the chapters?” asks Ebony, who, like Nilda, has “lost” her glasses and squints like an old lady.

“What’s…?” I sputter. “Wha– Hello? Guys? YOUR MEMOIR? For your MEMOIR CLASS? That I’ve been teaching lo these five months? To you?”

“Don’t even go there, Claire,” says Rayelle, shaking her head. She is about to print her own final draft, nine pages of cutting, merciless brilliance. She is 13, cocky and difficult, miles ahead of everyone.

I deflate for a second, searching for the will to carry on. They’ve been furiously typing their 15-page memoirs–gorgeous stuff–for two weeks, marathon sessions before school, after school, during lunch, pleading with me to let them finish. Last night, nine of them read excerpts in front of an audience at our exhibition, scared, proud, exhilarated. Who were these bewildered urchins before me, their hair sticking out in every direction, drowning in puffy coats, crusty-eyed and sniffly?


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