For the past year, First Story has been working in partnership with Unislam, the National Slam Poetry Festival, to place its artists as ‘shadow writers’ in First Story schools. Jess Tickell caught up with one, Sophie Horton, who spent 2019-20 shadowing First Story’s Writer-in-Residence at Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham .
Founded by the poet Toby Campion and inspired by high-profile slam poetry tournaments in the US, Unislam has fast become one of the most exciting events in the UK performance poetry calendar. What is less known is that Unislam also delivers a year-round development programme for Slam artists, at all stages of their education and career, to complement the annual festival—and that’s where First Story has come in!
We have been delighted to offer a small number of Unislam artists shadow placements at our schools in the East Midlands, to give them first-hand experience of teaching creative writing in the classroom with the support of our expert Writers-in-Residence.
We guarantee that our principle Writers-in-Residence will have at least three years’ experience teaching creative writing. So, shadow placements can therefore be an important opportunity for emerging writers looking to develop their teaching practice.
Shadow writers attend weekly workshops, support small group work, share their love of the power and pleasure of creative writing, and perform their own work during the programme. They provide important support to our principle Writers-in-Residence, and have become empowering role models for our students, having shared their own creative writing journeys with them.
Sophie Horton, our shadow writer at Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham, recently talked to me about her experience of working with First Story.
What you have enjoyed most about being a shadow writer?
I’ve enjoyed working alongside the students and watching their writing progress over the sessions. Seeing them go from thinking they aren’t good at writing creatively to then being proud of something they’ve written is great to see.
How has the placement strengthened your own skills and experience?
The placement has given me so much confidence and shown me how valuable being a role model can be. I’ve been able to share some of my poetry with the students and seeing them look up to me as a writer is great. It’s also given me invaluable experience working in a school environment and helped me realise that teaching is definitely something I’d love to do more in the future.
What was it like working with your principle Writer-in-Residence? Has seeing them in action influenced your own practice? What have you learnt from them?
Working with Paula Rawsthorne has given me a really helpful insight into teaching, and I really look up to the way she works alongside the students. She’s incredibly passionate about what she does and that definitely helps the students become more interested in writing. I’ve learnt a lot from working with her, including how even the little details can help make you a better teacher/role model, she always greets each student individually and asks how they are – just showing the students that you remember their names and are interested in how they are can go a long way.
keep writing – even if [you] don’t think it’s very good or [you] don’t ever share it with anyone. Just continuing to write, and using your creativity for something, has so many benefits.
Has there been a time that a First Story student has surprised you, or moved you, or made you laugh with their writing or ideas?
The students are constantly making me laugh with their ideas and how they can think of something so imaginative just from the simplest writing exercises. I was particularly moved when I came to a session after missing a week and one of the students was so excited to share with me a piece of work they had written. That was the first time I really realised the impact you can have as a shadow writer.
If you could send a message to your First Story students, what would you tell them?
I would tell them to keep writing – even if they don’t think it’s very good or they don’t ever share it with anyone. Just continuing to write, and using your creativity for something, has so many benefits. I think it’s important to not compare yourself with others and what they’re doing, just focus on yourself and your own goals.