Teaching-Writer Chris Martin joined Meghana Junnuru and her mother Indu Eati to talk and type about her journey into expression alongside her brother Chetan Junnuru. It was an amazing moment and none more transformative than what you see and hear in this video. Meghana was responding to the question: “What is the most important thing people should know about creating a space for non-speaking autistic expression?”
We were thrilled to be the official teaching-artists for the Walker Arts Center’s Sensory Friendly Sunday programming. In the above picture you can see Quill, who we dubbed the Poet Laureate of SFS, holding a poem she wrote at our synesthesia station. Quill strongly associates a particular color and hue with each letter of the alphabet and wrote a poem describing the chromatic experience of her name. Thank you to everyone that came out and made it a lively three hours of moon, cocoon, and color poems!
Please join us at the Edina Library on Saturday at 2pm for a singular event.
Just over two years ago, Unrestricted Interest teaching-writer Chris Martin gave a talk at the Edina Library about the surprising reciprocity between poetry and autism. Two master teachers (Sandi Shetka and Katie Bastiansen) from the South Education Center were there.
Zoom to the present moment and we have served hundreds of students and teachers at SEC while gradually building an unparalleled poetry and songwriting program. Please join us for an afternoon panel where we return to the beginning and explore how community offerings like Edina Reads lead to untold transformations for individuals and institutions. Meghana Junnuru, one of Chris's initial students at SEC, will share her remarkable poetry and her plans for a groundbreaking new autism center.
Saturday, March 2, 2019 (2:00PM – 3:30PM)
at Edina Library
5280 Grandview Square, Edina, MN 55436
Unrestricted Interest will receive $10,000 from the Minnesota Regional Arts Council in 2019 to fund three poetry and two songwriting residencies at the South Eduction Center in Richfield. Click here to see the other outstanding organizations who received funding!
On January 22, 2019 MRAC awarded $275,839 to 28 organizations/projects in the first round of its FY 2019 Arts Learning grant program. The Arts Learning projects chosen will provide high-quality, age-appropriate arts education for Minnesotans to develop knowledge, skills, and understanding through the arts for children, youth, and adults by engaging people in extended arts experiences and activities with clearly articulated learning objectives. The Arts Learning grant program is a direct result of the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Legacy Amendment. Geographic listings represent the county where the arts learning programming will take place; note that Minneapolis and Saint Paul are listed separately from the Suburban Hennepin and Suburban Ramsey counties.
Meghana and Chetan Junurru, authors of the Unrestricted Editions chapbook The Divine Maze, are working hard to open a leading-edge autism center called ASU, which stands for Autism Sibs Universe. Meghana and Chetan believe that those with autism are connected and can best determine their own life path, given the right kind of support and resources. The Mission of the ASU, in their own words, is to create:
An inclusive person-centered program empowered by the ideas of those on the spectrum - a place where they can be fully themselves and at ease. ASU will provide a wide range of recreational and therapeutic activities in partnership with a community of supporters that fully support their evolving dreams and goals.
Please help them bring this vision to life. Donate on their website and see how you can become involved!
Unrestricted Interest is thrilled to present Ralph James Savarese at the Rain Taxi Book Festival on Saturday, October 13th at 1:30pm. He will be reading from his brand new book, See it Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor. I absolutely love this book. Ralph's writing somehow manages to be gorgeous, entertaining, and razor sharp all at the same time. This book will change the way people perceive autism, dispelling scores of harmful myths in the process.
You may recognize Ralph from the film Deej, which we co-presented with Rain Taxi and AuSM last winter. The film, which chronicles Ralph's son (and Unrestricted Editions author) DJ Savarese, has since won a Peabody and is up for an Emmy!
In See it Feelingly, you can read more about DJ and several other autistics luminaries, including Tito Mukhopadhyay, Jaime Burke, Dora Raymaker, and Temple Grandin.
We will also have a table at the Book Festival, so send everyone you know down to hear Ralph and buy chapbooks!
Unrestricted Editions was overjoyed to present Tristin Golatt, Roy Guzmán, Lonnie Shaw, Chris Martin, Rachel Moritz, and Meghana Junnuru at Moon Palace Books for the public launch of four new chapbooks. The sizeable crowd, filled with poets of local and national renown, were knocked out by the poems and performances. It was truly an unforgettable night.
The following is a testimonial from Wren Awry, Education Programs Assistant at the University of Arizona Poetry Center:
“Chris Martin of Unrestricted Interest did an amazing job with the Poetry and Autism Professional Development Session and Weekend Workshop for Students with ASD and their Families here at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Chris’ theories and methods not only offered the professional development attendees ideas on how to work with students with ASD, but offered us techniques we could bring in to any classroom or learning situation. During the weekend workshop, Chris collaborated with students to develop poem forms based on their interests, including one shaped like a Ferris wheel and another like the Rodeo Parade route. In addition to his teaching, Chris runs Unrestricted Editions, which publishes the work of writers on the spectrum—an important contribution to the world of poetry.”
Today we celebrate the release of four new Unrestricted Editions chapbooks written by students at the South Education Center. Each chapbook is the product of a groundbreaking mentorship program where students worked with teaching-writer Chris Martin every week for the entire school year. The results are staggering. Ranging from 13 to 20 years old, these young poets developed clear, compelling, and incomparable voices that will change the way you think about poetry and dis/ability. Extra thanks to Mary Austin Speaker, who gave them the design they deserved.
With our fall residency complete (more news on that soon), we now shift into a dedicated mentorship role at SEC, working weekly with seven specially chosen students. These students range in age and ability, but all of them bring a profound thirst for expression and creativity. At year's end, each student will have a professionally designed chapbook of their poems in her hands, a culminating product that honors and emboldens each student's journey. Here is a recent poem by 13-year-old standout Tristin, utilizing the abecedarian form and bursting with Tristin's trademark humor:
The insomniac wants actual sleep
The insomniac wants basic dreams
The insomniac wants continuity
The insomniac wants denim
The insomniac wants eternal heaven
The insomniac wants a facade
The insomniac wants gratitude
The insomniac doesn’t want your help
The insomniac wants investment
The insomniac wants the board game Jumanji
so he can burn it in the bathtub
The insomniac wants kindness in its purest form
The insomniac wants love
The insomniac wants mastery
The insomniac needs to escape his inner Yandere
The insomniac wants honesty to lose its silent H
The insomniac wants the perception to know
what kind of perception he wants
The insomniac wants questions with answers
The insomniac wants revival
The insomniac wants sanity
The insomniac wants trust
The insomniac wants usefulness
The insomniac wants your credit card verification code
The insomniac wants
The insomniac wants no more x’s
The insomniac knows why
The insomniac wants some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s
We've added a page of testimonials to our website. It is an honor to do the work that we do and these responses are at once humbling and galvanizing. Please join us in making sure more students and more schools can benefit from the work of Unrestricted Interest! Here's an especially touching tribute from one of our very favorite student writers:
I have severe non-verbal autism. In my days of extreme loneliness, I met Chris. I never thought meeting Chris would help open my inner feelings immediately. I noticed that his calm demeanor was pleasing. I also noticed that he was very understanding of my limitations, while he was very exploratory of my talents. He was not only supporting me, I saw him supporting so many others at our school.
He made an immense impact on my life. I sincerely wish I met him sooner. I improved my sad moods thinking about poetry after meeting Chris. I hoped he would see me more often.
Life without expression was difficult until poetry gave me a voice. Meaningful literature has deep impacts on me. Poetry has even deeper impact. Poetry is a love song to my heart. It resonates at levels that regular words cannot reach.
My writing does not sound autistic, but unfortunately, I cannot function in life without assistance. I need something to lift up my spirits and poetry with Chris does that for me. Treating my limitations with respect and helping me learn to express myself, is Chris’s strength.
Meghana Junnuru, poetry lover and non-verbal autist from South Education Center.
The newest Unrestricted Editions chapbook, brought to you from the master of all things spooky, student-writer Wells Denison. As Wells says: read at your own risk. Scroll down for an excerpt.
Thirteen Ways to Look Like a Ghost
Apply gray, black, and white makeup.
Dress up in a ghost costume.
Find a piece of clothing
that looks old and tattered.
Then distress it more.
Then put on all the accessories
you like: gloves, hat, masks, etc.
You could even put on black shoes.
Black as night.
A ghost can possess you.
If I was a ghost
I would make everything
Ghosts never fart.
Ghosts sleep in their dead bodies
in their coffins all day long.
I guess a ghost could haunt
a person who is faint of heart.
A ghost scares people
instead of being bored
by living forever.
The creepiest thing
about a haunted scarecrow
is that he has no eyes.
When a ghost hides
inside a vase
and dumps the water out
on your head
it makes you jump
and run away.
The ghost of Llewellyn Dennison
comes out of its dead body
in Lexington, Massachusetts
and parties from 11am
until one o’clock.
We are excited to announce a new interview with co-founder Chris Martin in Wordgathering, an excellent journal of disability poetry and literature. Here's a snippet from the larger exchange:
Poetry is patterned language. Autism is characterized by patterned thought. All the so-called deficits of autism turn out to be strengths in the realm of poetry, which is inherently perseverative. Shaping my approach to poetry so as to ideally foster expression in students and adults on the spectrum has allowed me to rediscover how necessary, fundamental, and ethical the practice of poetry can be. And writers with autism constantly illuminate corners of language (and structures of language) that I'd never been able to see before. It's deeply reciprocal.
Unrestricted Interest teaching-writer Chris Martin is back at SEC, embarking on a yearlong set of programs that include two residencies, a mentorship track, and several inservice pedagogy workshops open to all teachers and administrators in District 287.
The Fall residency is underway and Martin is visiting five different classrooms every Wednesday and Friday. He has also started work with five specially chosen mentorship student-writers, who he will work with every Monday for the whole year! We will keep you updated on all the amazing work that bursts forth.
Congratulations to Unrestricted Interest student-writer Meghana Junnuru, whose soulful poem "May" was published on The Art of Autism as part of their "Poems and Art for Peace" series! Her poem demonstrates not only the potential for literary talent among non-speaking writers, but ways in which autism opens the world up to untold dimensions of experience. You can click the link here to read it!
Join Unrestricted Interest and the Center for Engaging Autism at the Open Book's Target Performance Hall to celebrate the launch of a new chapbook: Unlocking Potential. The poems and songs in this chapbook were all composed during our summer workshop and student-writers will be joined on stage by Coffee House Press: In the Stacks poets Steve Healey and Sagirah Shahid. This event is sponsored in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board and facilitated by Milkweed Books. RSVP here!
The week of August 7-11, Unrestricted Interest will be teaming with the Center for Engaging Autism and Coffee House Press to present a poetry and autism camp for both educators and students at the Arete Academy of Exceptional Education. Registration fees for both educators and students are incredibly affordable, thanks to a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
Educators will gather for pedagogy workshops from 1:30-3:30pm each day. These workshops will offer insights into the surprising reciprocity between autism and poetry while giving educators practical tools to harness the power of poetry and song in their classrooms. We will show you how poetic forms can be crafted to respond directly to a student's passions and perseverations. There will be an opportunity for educators to get hands-on experience afterwards with student-writers. Learn more and register here.
Students will gather for poetry presentations and writing workshops from 3:00-5:00pm each day. At the beginning of each session a brilliant local poet, sponsored by Coffee House Press, will briefly present her work. The workshops that follow will be specifically tailored for writers on the spectrum, engaging them with poetic forms that fit their unique interests to facilitate expression. They will also engage in songwriting, the most pleasurable and perseverative poem form of all! Learn more and register here.
Please spread the word far and wide! This is truly a one-of-a-kind offering.
Our pilot program at the South Education Center is complete and we have the poems to prove it! SEC generously produced a bound anthology, The Line: From the Poets of South Education Center, to help us memorialize and celebrate this amazing experience. Below are a few examples from the anthology, which we launched last Friday at an event marked by nearly a dozen student readings. We couldn't be more proud of this publication or more grateful for all the help we received from SEC educators and administration, especially Literacy Specialist Cathy Pinkosky.
Our May-long pilot program continues at the South Education Center, where we were proud to showcase two poems from students in the first-annual talent show! The first poem is called "AWED" and was written by a non-verbal student named Meghana, who has been utilizing the rapid prompting method to find her expressive potential. She joined Unrestricted Interest teaching-writer Chris Martin on stage for the big event. The second poem is by Tristin, who claimed to be no good at writing before reeling off this cosmic gem.