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Writing About Tragedy

The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai reminded me of how fragile life is. Stories of everyday people who were visiting and working in Mumbai, such as the Brooklyn couple who were held hostage and later killed, affected me in a way I didn’t think I was ready to write about.

Tragic events are exceedingly difficult to write about. How does one make sense of the killing of innocent people or of children who are orphaned because of the intolerance and brutality of others? It’s really hard. But, kids do it all of the time…

Two days ago my copy of Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001 arrived at school. I opened it up and left it on my conference, next to my plan book, since I planned to take it home to read. One of my students stopped by my conference table at the end of the day, picked up the book and began perusing it.

“May I borrow this?” she asked, holding up the book.
Worried that it would upset her, I asked her, “Would you mind waiting until I read it. It might upset you.”
“It won’t upset me,” she replied.
“C’mon. It’ll probably upset me. Let me read it first,” I said.

I thought she’d forget about Messages to Ground Zero, but she didn’t. In fact, yesterday she asked me if I read it yet. I hadn’t, and promised her I’d read it over the weekend.

However, the book was laying on the floor, next to my desk, in a pile of things to do. I picked it up this morning and began reading it. The poems and missives, written by NYC Public School Children, are gripping. Shelley Harwayne surely picked some amazing work when she compiled this collection of works about heroes, hope, reaching out, and everything in-between. Two of my favorite pieces from this book are “I’ve learned — that your life can be changed in a matter of minutes, by people who don’t even know you” and “Past Goes Through the Debris.” The former was written by a nine year-old and the latter by a high school student. The tone of each is reflective and painstakingly honest. It is these poems, in this book, that made me realize that I should be writing about my reflections and thoughts about the recent attacks in Mumbai.

Most likely I’ll write a poem about it, mentoring myself after one of the many amazing pieces of poetry in Messages to Ground Zero. Perhaps I’ll post it tomorrow for Poetry Friday…

And, in case you’re wondering if I’m going to lend my student the book, the answer is yes.
Note to SG

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

2 thoughts on “Writing About Tragedy Leave a comment

  1. I agree with Amy that it’s so important to have students write about difficult things. Even working with adult students this is an issue. Sometimes I really want to take an easier road, but dealing with things in the classroom gives students a safe place to explore what they think and feel, and I hope that makes it easier for them to navigate their emotions outside the classroom, too.


  2. I think that while it is difficult to have our students read and write about real-life things, it is so important and effective for them to see that writing can have real life applications. I posted about something similar today (not tragedy, just making writing real). I’ve been teaching Anne Frank, something tough for my 8th graders to digest. I think you were right on to request that your student read it in the classroom to discuss any possible upsets he/she may have.


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