Award-winning educator Felicia Chavez has long been an advocate for disruption of the status quo in the creative classroom, namely, changing the traditionalist, white-centered default that stifles student creativity and further marginalizes who already struggle to be heard and seen in every other facet of their lives. Her new book, The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom, is both a primer for the process and a moving, poignant memoir of her personal experience within the system she is trying to change. Chavez recently spoke with the Indy to share more about her book. Some answers have been edited for length or clarity.
Indy: What is your book about? Why should readers pick it up?
Chavez: The book is a memoir of my educational journey. It’s an invitation to students, writers and educators across the age spectrum to engage in an anti-racist pedagogy that models deep listening, kindred community, mindfulness and generosity. It’s a deeply human approach to teaching. An invitation to a conversation. How might we do better?
Do you think there is value in and other writers reading this book in addition to educators? If so, why?
Absolutely. Every one of us benefits from a shift in perspective. The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop is both powerful validation and fuel for us to self-advocate.
What would you like to accomplish with your book?
I want the book to serve as a reference for tangible anti-racist action across the education spectrum, which is to say, I want the book to document my journey of failures and successes to encourage others to engage in risk-taking. This is 13 years of educational practice at play. I didn’t get it right the first time. Many of us won’t. It’ll feel uncomfortable and there will be resistance, either from your or your own intuition, which will fight against change. But I advocate that you stick with it. Surrender to an alternative model that might feel less safe to you and safer to every single student of color under your mentorship for the remainder of your teaching career. Risk is the precursor to innovation. And it’s time for change.
Have you faced any personal or professional challenges in publishing this work?
Decentering authority and decentering whiteness are the twin goals of the anti-racist workshop.
The book just came out, but in that brief time I’ve had pushback from white teachers who engage in denial and dismissiveness: “I’ve never experienced a bad writing workshop. I highly doubt they’re common.” Or, “I’ve never experienced racism, it’s not real.”
These educators position themselves at the center of the conversation. But dialogue necessitates listening. Are they willing to decenter themselves and discover what’s beyond their biased perspective?
Was it difficult to share your own personal experience with racism?
The writing was incredibly difficult and demanded great courage. I’d hand my husband a chapter to read and my stomach would be in knots because I was exposing something about myself that I’d never really shared with anyone before. Sometimes the anecdotes were ugly atrocities, others mere moments, the kind that splintered under my skin and stayed with me, became part of my narrative. The book is an effort to reclaim that narrative.
Why did you choose to incorporate creative nonfiction into this book? What benefits does it provide the reader?
I wanted readers to have context to why this work is essential and urgent, not just a nuanced approach or a passing experiment in pedagogy. It’s everything. It’s my life, it’s my heart, it’s my past and my future. Can they see it through my eyes? Can they exercise the imaginative empathy it requires to see things anew?