The Wittenberg Literary Society, a fledgling academic organization dedicated to the appreciation of the humanities, left for Japan on the morning of July 20 with the loftiest of expectations. Twelve members of the group, along with Assistant Professor of English D’Arcy Fallon and East Asian Studies Project Administrator/Admission Counselor Susan Welker, will spend 10 days in Japan taking part in what Fallon calls a “mobile writing workshop.”
“These are all writers of real promise,” Fallon said. “Some of them are on staff of the Wittenberg Review of Literature and Art, and at least four of them have won literary awards.”
This opportunity was made possible by a Wittenberg student group travel grant program funded by the Freeman Foundation, which is committed to increasing, strengthening and popularizing the teaching of Asia in college and university classrooms. Wittenberg’s East Asian Studies program received a $1.9 million grant from the foundation in January 2002 to ensure that all Wittenberg students, regardless of their course of study, have an encounter with Asia as part of their undergraduate experience.
It figures to be a most unusual and improbable experience — just the kind of student group trip the Freeman grant was meant to fund at Wittenberg. In collaboration with several professors, members of the Literary Society, an organization numbering more than 40, developed a proposal for the trip during the spring.
Literary Society President Melissa Barrett of Kent, Ohio, class of 2005, spearheaded the effort and has served as a student coordinator of the trip. She is intent on making the most of the trip.
“This trip will serve as an inspiration for writing,” said Barrett, who earned her degree in English and education and plans to spend a year in Inuvik, Canada, working as a volunteer in the poor Arctic circle community’s local high school. “The mission is to create a portfolio of pieces.
“Then we want to come back to campus and spread the culture.”
Most of the students on the trip and Fallon are making their first trip to Japan, and in some cases it is a maiden voyage off the United States mainland. The students hope to emulate Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and essayist Gary Snyder, who spent 10 years in Japan honing his craft before returning to California. His book, Riprap Cold Mountain Poem, is one of eight books members of the group have read and discussed in recent weeks in preparation for what Barrett calls “a spiritual journey.”
“These students are incredibly prepared,” said Fallon, who has been impressed by the commitment the students have shown in weekly online discussions on the content and themes of the selected books. “This isn’t just a case of students taking money to go on a trip. This is an academic and creative process in which these students have done a lot of research and mental preparation.”
The group will split time between the historic Japanese cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, embarking on walking tours, visiting Buddhist temples and local art museums, and experiencing a variety of cultural landmarks. Time will be built into each day for reflection, discussion groups and creative writing sessions. All of the students will maintain travel journals as the first part of this mobile writing workshop.
“We are doing a kind of immersion reportage,” Fallon said. “We hope to interview people and experience the culture as fully as possible in a short amount of time.
“This is also an opportunity to develop a sense of ‘otherness,’ learning what it feels like to be a foreigner. We are stepping outside of our comfort zones.”
Callon Holloway of Columbus, Ohio, class of 2006, and Joseph Hunter of Alpine, Ala., class of 2008, have taken classes in the Japanese language and will assist in interpreting on the trip. They will be joined by Sarah Leavens of Milroy, Ind., Liz Powers of Cleveland, Ohio, Torren Stanley of Toledo, Ohio, and Bill Childers of Lebanon, Ohio, all class of 2006; Aaron Vogt of Covington, Ky., Allison Helmuth of Orrville, Ohio, and Ted Trautman of Arden Hills, Minn., all class of 2007, Cassandra Dunn of Sunbury, Ohio, class of 2008, and Shelby Wyland of Springfield, Ohio, a student in the School of Community Education.
While the trip is scheduled to conclude on July 30, the students plan to bring their experiences back to campus. This fall, an East Asian Open Mic Nite, yet to be scheduled, will be an opportunity for them to present their creative work to the Wittenberg community. In addition, a colloquium emphasizing Japanese literature is in the works for the fall semester, and members of the Literary Society plan to meet with Wittenberg Seminar classes to share their experiences and promote the study of East Asian literature.
Finally, there are tentative plans for a spring poetry festival in which the Japanese custom of hanging work from trees on painted sheets of paper may be introduced on the Wittenberg campus.
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