Frankenstein: Accessing the Text through Stitches and Stories

Daily we wear marks on our bodies that tell some piece of our story. How often do we take ownership of those stories and tell them in the way we want them to be known? Too often outsiders make assumptions, ask insensitive questions, pass judgement, or assign meaning to these memory markers. I wanted to encourage students to write their own versions of the stories behind their marks. Are these marks imperfections or embellishments? Marks of growing stronger or grappling to overcome loss? Full disclosure, I began thinking of scars because of the requirement for our 10th grade honors students to read Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. Former students claimed to be as scarred by stumbling through the difficult novel as Victor’s Creature was by his creator’s greed. Scars and our marks became the link between the classic to our present.

For us to better relate to the struggle between Victor and his Creature, we began by cataloguing our marksㄧbirthmarks, scars, moles, burns, streaks, frecklesㄧthrough journaling. From there, the amazing Amelia Gramling, poet and resident artist with PAGES, guided us as we brainstormed our most meaningful marks and the physical regions where we feel our strength lies. Using concrete metaphors, we brought description and insights to parts of the body. We pre-wrote communally, passing the page from writer to writer. Each first line began with a metaphor, the middle two lines showed action, and the final line included another metaphor. A student example for the hand was: “The hand is a feather/ Moving delicately across the page/ Flying free through the air/A hummingbird.”

We moved from prewriting to reflecting and shaping the stories we wanted to tell about our individual scars. Ared patch of skin on an ankle became a story about walking over a rocky shore into the ocean for the first time. An indention on the chin told a tale of walking the family dog down a little stretch of sidewalk before the dog bolted, taking the walker with him. Stretch marks on the back of legs acted as a reminder of outgrowing the title of smallest kid in the class.

In Frankenstein, the Creature’s physical scars carry no bearing on his self worth until he attempted to interact with another living being. The Creature’s realization about how others saw him led to the story behind his origin. Chased off because of his disfigurement and intimidating size, the Creature spirals into loneliness prompted by misunderstanding, fear, judgment, and rejection. I feel that, through our writing and sharing, we empathized with the Creature’s struggles and conquered some of our own. We tapped into our insecurities by bringing to the light these imperfections we were taught or encouraged to cover up.

Our next step was to map our discoveries symbolically on the outline of a body. Bringing our stories together, we took on the roles of both Victor and the Creature as we created a single life-sized body where we individually sketched our chosen marks. Our stories were stitched together on this body just as Victor pieced together his creation. But where the Creature never found his voice or acceptance in what he was and where he came from, we supported each other in sharing our vulnerability through storytelling. We declared what could be seen and what remained hidden within; we gave power to each other’s stories through acknowledgement and shared experience.

The outcome was commiseration for the Creature and each other. We gained a better understanding of the novel and developed a stronger understanding of ourselves and our class community. We aren’t the only ones who experience observers putting their spin on our stories. We all know the line, “It’s alive!” and probably think of Frankenstein, except this quotable exclamation wasn’t penned by Mary Shelley in her novel. Hollywood added this line to the 1931 film version. Students know the line, but now they know the truth behind it all. With a bit of coaxing, writing, and mapping, we uncovered that the Frankenstein of their Halloween memories is far from Victor’s Creature. He’s actually much closer to us than originally thought if we take some time to comprehend his story and open up about those marks that record our own.


The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

I don’t know if you have seen this book, The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, a Caldecott Winner that takes an iconoclastic look at traditional fairy tales. I am going to use this with my students as an exercise in writing fiction that starts with what everyone knows and expects and ends unexpectedly.


Guess what we have in store for PAGES next year?

Annie Leibovitz is one of our visual arts experiences for PAGES next year. You will have two choices for visual arts next year. You can only choose one visual arts experience for the year, but options are good!

Curious? Read more info on the Wexner website


Stay tuned, there is more to come… We will post the upcoming PAGES overview for next year soon, and begin posting resources for you to review and use to prepare for next year.

Meet our 2010-2011 artists-in-residence

The following teaching artists will work with Pages students and teachers this year:

Chiquita Mullins Lee
Chiquita Mullins Lee, writer
Chiquita Mullins Lee is the project coordinator for Ohio’s Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest. She serves as a teaching artist for the Ohio Arts Council’s Artist-in Residence program and has taught creative writing in schools throughout Ohio and at the Thurber House. She won individual artist fellowships from the Greater Columbus Arts Council in fiction and playwriting and from the Ohio Arts Council in fiction and non-fiction. Chiquita co-wrote 12, a three-woman show about girls on the threshold of womanhood, and Myrlie, Coretta and Betty: the Mothers of the Civil Rights Movement, in which she plays Coretta Scott King. She was the 2007 Ohio Arts Council summer writer-in-residence at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Massachusetts. She wrote scripts for TechKNOWKids, which received an Emmy nomination. Her non-fiction work has been published in Fifth Wednesday Journal and her poetry published in the anthology Red Thread/Gold Thread. Her plays have been presented as part of Contemporary American Theatre Company’s Shorts Festival 2000 and 2004. Her critically-acclaimed one-man play, Pierce to the Soul, received its world premier at CATCO in 2010. Formerly of Atlanta, she worked as a producer/director at WDCN-TV in Nashville. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, a Master of Arts degree from Ohio University, and a second master’s degree from the Ohio State University.

Mark Lomax
Mark Lomax, musician

Mark Lomax, II is a drummer, composer, and musical scholar. As a drummer, Lomax has been featured as a member of the Marlon Jordan Quintet, the Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet, The Ellis Marsalis Quintet, and the Azar Lawrence/Edwin Bayard Quintet among others. Mark has penned over 200 compositions for many genres including jazz, gospel, and “classical.” His orchestral arrangements of gospel songs have been played by the Nashville Symphony, the National Symphony, and the Akron Symphony. His jazz pieces, which run the gamut from ‘head’ arrangements to extended compositions, have been performed, and recorded by his premier performing ensembles: The Mark Lomax Quartet, The Mark Lomax Trio, and his Afro-chamber Ensemble. In addition to performing and composing, Mark has taught college preparatory theory classes in the Columbus Public School system. He has developed general music and music history curricula for the Martin Luther King Jr. Summer Camp program and the Directions for Youth and Families program that targets ‘at risk’ youth and teens. Lomax holds Bachelor and Master’s degrees in composition and is completing a Doctor of Music Arts degree at The Ohio State University.

Kelli Trinoskey
Kelli Trinoskey
Kelli C. Trinoskey is an award-winning television and documentary writer and producer, having worked for ten years in Atlanta, Georgia for CNN, Turner Classic Movies and Connect with Kids Network, Inc. She currently teaches creative writing classes in the Columbus area for young writers, ages 12-20. Her written works have appeared in The Columbus Dispatch, Literary Mama, and in a recently published anthology entitled: When One Door Closes – Reflections from Women on Life’s Turning Points. Look for her article on Bexley’s historic Jeffrey Mansion in the October issue of CMH Magazine. Finding her way back into the world of television, she is writing a one-hour documentary on the historic Columbus University District neighborhood for WOSU Television’s Columbus Neighborhoods Project.

Wexner Center for the Arts
Dionne Custer, writer
Dionne Custer is an arts educator serving K-12 students and teachers at The Wexner Center for the Arts, where she pioneered several innovative K-12 school programs including two high school programs: Pages, a multi-visit writing-based arts program and WorldView: Cultural Intersections in Contemporary Art. She holds a Bachelors degree in English from The Ohio State University, and is currently completing a Masters degree with a dual concentration in Arts Education and Creative Writing at Antioch University. For 12 years, she has served in Central Ohio communities as an artist, educator, and advocate, focused on arts integration in K-12 education, creative writing, the teaching artist as a practice, performance art, and developing arts-integrated programs that build interdisciplinary experiences for youths and teens. In 2006, she received a Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Nonprofit from the Academy of Leadership and Governance at the Jefferson Center for the Arts. Community-based partnerships and projects in the arts and education are commitments she integrates in her work. She serves on committees and works in partnership with several local organizations including Ohio Arts Council, and the Greater Columbus Arts Council. For her work and leadership in the arts, she was recently awarded a leadership fellowship with Americans for the Arts.