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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Compose your self : expression and identity in the unsanctioned writing of adolescent and young adult poets and songwriters Lauscher, Helen Novak


The purpose of this research was to explore the experiences of young people as "creative writers" penning their own personal texts in the social, political, and cultural contexts of their lives. The research problem was: From the perspective of the young adult writer, what is the experience of engaging in expression through independent poetry- and song-writing? A qualitative approach was employed to understand contextual and individual factors in exploring the roles that writing may have in the lives of young people who engage in unsanctioned writing practice, or writing practices that are independent from school-supported activities or curriculum. The theoretical framework guiding the analysis focused on understanding the young writers' experiences and uses of writing practice as a site for identity construction. I worked with a group often writers, six female and four male, from age 17 to 30, who actively engaged in writing practices such as poetry, spoken word, and zines. The primary data source was in-depth interviews, which took place where the participants wrote, performed their writing, or hung out. For the participants, writing was: a context for identity construction, self-reflection, and documentation of identity; an emotional outlet arid "safe place;" a way to "be heard" and recognized; a means of connecting with and understanding others; and a context for exploring ideas, expressing beliefs, and making an impact through social action/activism. They described their school experiences in relation to their writing practice and provided recommendations for making schools engaging for young people. An important recommendation was for teachers to care, encourage, and challenge their students in their writing practice. Participants recognized that teachers faced challenges in having to adhere to a rigid curriculum, and suggested that the school system must be more flexible to permit them to bring their own life experiences, and those of their students, into the classroom. This study is one step toward understanding young people's experiences of being writers, how they make meaning and ground themselves and their identities through writing practice. The findings may inform and challenge educators, researchers, and those who work with young people in a variety of contexts.

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