Sunday, 1 April 2012

Trinity Access Programme

“I never knew you could just walk in here, like.” A man said to me as we crossed the cobblestones of Trinity on the way to the Long Library where his son was launching his book. “I grew up in the flats on Pearse St. And I’ve never been in here.” He was looking around in amazement. There is something startling about Trinity College. Most local people just walk around the walls but if you slip inside you are in an alternative universe. Cherry trees in blossom, young men in whites playing cricket on the wide green lawns, students lolling about under trees engrossed in animated, passionate conversations, mad old math professors scurrying along the cobblestones who probably haven’t been out of the gates to the other side in decades. It always reminds me of those Persian walled gardens. The gates to a hidden part of paradise right in the city center. The dad actually hesitated on the steps of the Library that housed the Book Of Kells. In contrast, his 12 year old son exhibited no such awe, and ran right in, and hared up the stairs to the Long Library, where we were launching an exhibition of 85 books written over a six week period in three disadvantaged national schools. 
Hannah Maguire, is a visual artist, and I am a writer and artist; we were funded last year by Trinity Access Program, in conjunction with the Pollard Collection, to develop a unique creative project that explores the mystery of books. Starting with a rigorous story analysis of classic and popular fiction, we get the child to write their own story using imaginative meditation, mind mapping, structured writing exercises, descriptive language elevation, final editing, and incorporation of illustration. Each child gets to write, illustrate, bind, cover and keep forever their own individual work of art.
We have taken the project to many schools in the meantime.
This is our second year doing the project for Trinity, the three schools are: Assumption in Walkingstown; O’Connell’s beside Croke Park; and St Lawrence’s in Sherriff St. 
One of the aims of the Trinity Access Program is to bring nontraditional students into Trinity. This project is part of our outreach program in national schools. The kids are brought in on the first day to view the Pollard Collection, The Book of Kells, and take a creative writing class, illustration class, and most importantly have lunch at the Buttery. Hopefully, it demystifies college for them and makes them feel a part of the place. 
Often there is a push in these schools for literacy, and many of them have done book projects before. But all the teachers say this particular one we have developed is different. Whereas some projects get the class as a whole to write a book, they are at first amazed and daunted that we expect each child to produce their own separate book for themselves. For an adult to write and illustrate a book in six weeks would be an extraordinary feat. Inevitably, there is a wide range of abilities in every class room, but the outcome is quite stunning. From the beginning, once we hand out the books, and talk to them about the good Italian paper we are using, there is a level of care, pride and competition that has surprised even Hannah and I. The one thing that strikes us is that we have never had a child lose interest yet. And that’s saying something. 
Many of the kids tell us that they hadn’t realized how hard it was to write and illustrate a book. Though we adhere to a strict classical story telling structure, that is necessary in the creation of a coherent narrative, the kids are allowed to write about anything they choose. We have dragons, licorice monsters in candy land, zombies, mermaids, three headed dogs and chain-saw bats. 
Hannah guides them through a sophisticated range of illustration techniques, using close-ups, battle scenes, cartoon strips, lift up flaps, and self portraits to make the books as visually arresting and varied as the writing. The key to the success of this project is that by getting each student to create their own work this opens a door to a deeper understanding of the magical world of books. 
At the end of the six weeks we bind and hard cover the books. Each book looks as beautiful as the next. Though the Long Library has asked the kids to donate their books to the collection, not one of them has ever done it. 
The long Library is one of those sacred places, and the first things the kids always ask is, “Are there Ghosts here?” Yes I tell them. 
I also tell them that when they finally get to Trinity in 6 years time they will be able to walk by the Long Library and tell their friends that they once had a book on display with the Book of Kells. 
They kids look at me, shrug, and then demand, “When do we get our books back?”

The books were launched on Tuesday 27th of March in the Long Library at Trinity College at 6.30pm. They will be on view for two weeks.

Originally published on the Creativity and Literacy Blog here

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