Wendy Willis led a writing workshop with Jennifer Swander’s sophomore class at Seward High School on March 4.  Willis introduced a specially-crafted essay written by Jesmyn Ward, which opened up new perspectives and techniques with writing. 

She created a prompt inspired by the structure of Ward’s essay, and guided students through the activity, while encouraging them to expand their writing horizons. Willis values “giving people the opportunity to explore their deep interests,” allowing them the chance to complement and expand on what is taught in schools. 

Her charismatic personality kept the audience engaged throughout the writing process. She exposed students to unique approaches in writing by demonstrating essayist Jesmyn Ward’s persuasive essay style. 

Student Belladonna Proietti said, “liked that method a lot and thinks that it is something [she] will probably start using.” She realized that a persuasive essay doesn't have to be “straight facts but a story embedded.”

Proietti’s classmate, Grant Hinders, found the presentation “very informative” and enjoyed how her topic was tied to, “what we’re doing in school.”

These students experienced exactly what Willis is passionate about. “I love the idea of people making sense of themselves through writing.” 

After decades of writing poems, Wendy Willis was inspired to publish her first collection in 2012, “Blood Sisters of the Republic.” Since then, she has published many other poems and essays, her most recent being the collection of essays, “These are Strange Times, My Dear.”

Willis was invited by the Alaska Humanities Forum and 49Writers to come from Portland, Oregon, to lead community events in Wasilla, Anchorage and Seward. Willis also presented a program to the public during her visit.

Shelby is a sophomore in Journalism class at Seward High School. To view more student work, visit SHSToday.org.