Eating Our Words: Writing about Family, Migration, and Grandma’s Black-eyed Peas

Deep Center recently hosted a delicious and enlightening event that goes to the heart of how we use creative writing and storytelling as a tool for youth learning, leadership, and community celebration.

Savannah’s young authors invited their family members and community chefs to Deep to write, eat, and talk about how their favorite foods reflect the ways their families came to Savannah.

Every family that walked into the room brought with them a dish they had cooked themselves from a beloved family recipe. Some of these recipes go back three and four generations. Because we’re Deep, we specifically requested folks bring dishes that carried a family story.

Watch "Deep Center Writes: Family Recipes" to get a taste of the event.

Youths, parents, grandparents, and other community members arrived hungry and ready to dig in to the conversation. On the serving tables the cooks carefully set their dishes and, next to those, their hand-written recipes. It was clear from the crowded, colorful table that the family chefs had made their dishes with love and purpose.

The room filled with the aromas of dishes that had made their way to this table across history and many borders:

Black-eyed peas (Gullah-Geechee)

Black-eyed peas (Gullah-Geechee)

Irish Soda Bread (Ireland)

Irish Soda Bread (Ireland)

Shoo fly pie (Pennsylvania Dutch)

Shoo fly pie (Pennsylvania Dutch)

Curry chicken (Jamaica)

Curry chicken (Jamaica)

Arroz con gandules (Puerto Rico)

Arroz con gandules (Puerto Rico)

We filled our plates and ate. And in between bites we shared the family stories baked into the dishes. Some tables had three generations of family members eating, talking, and writing together.

Families writing together: "What is your relationship with food and how is it connected to your culture"?

Families writing together: "What is your relationship with food and how is it connected to your culture"?

After filling ourselves full of food and conversation, we wrote and wrote about what we knew, what we learned, and what we realized we didn’t know about the journeys, past and present, that people’s families had undergone on their way to Savannah. Some came by choice. Others came in bondage. All had a family journey that defined them and could be traced in the food they eat.

 

Learning: Going to the Heart of the Matter

This day is part of a nine-month process in which the young writers, adult artists, and other community stakeholders of Deep’s Block by Block program are researching, documenting, and writing about the past and present stories of Savannah’s neighborhoods. These young writers are using creative writing, personal stories, and culture (like food) to bring together unlikely people across our city’s stubborn silos to have hard and rich conversations. The process is called “participatory action research.” And Deep Center is combining it with what we do best—assets-based creative writing—to develop a method that makes young people and their families front-line researchers and cultural leaders. As they write, document stories, and make art, they are simultaneously putting Savannah under a spotlight, celebrating what’s working, identifying what’s not, and envisioning change. Dr. Kevin Burke, expert researcher and literacy scholar from the University of Georgia Department of Education, is a close advisor.

At the end of the process, youth will present their findings and their model to the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority and make the case that their methods and data provide a unique opportunity for Savannah to get to the heart of the matter of who we are, what our challenges are, and what we might become when the conversation includes everyone.

 

Why Deep Writes: OUr Stories Matter

Deep Center helps young people connect their learning to their lives and their lives to their communities. Why? Because literacy is embedded in community. Because of this, Deep Center hosts multigenerational, intersectional spaces where youth, family members, community leaders, artists, and others meet heart-to-heart—or, in this instance, the belly-to-belly. They write courageously and share experiences about the past and present stories that make our city a beautiful and sometimes troubling place, but always a community worth fighting for. In the process they learn how their personal stories intersect with their community and the world, the importance of youth voice, the value of knowing what we don’t know, and how culture and creativity are essential tools for designing solutions for change.

 

Supporters

This day, which was part of our Block by Block program, was funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, the United Way of the Coastal Empire, and the City of Savannah’s Department of Cultural Affairs.