Behind the Scenes of Literature

by Rachel Wicks

We know that literature, as the CLTL acronym states, changes lives. We know that reading a book has the power to transform the reader’s thought process, to strengthen empathy through traversing the minds of different characters, and to allow for readers to wholeheartedly and unabashedly relate to the stories on the pages they hold.

However, none of this would be possible were it not for the processes that produce literature in the first place.

Recently, I have been afforded the exciting opportunity to partner up with a writer who is currently working on a novel that is set to be published some time in 2017. The book details the experience of growing up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and deals with themes of family, betrayal, loss, and all the other positives and negatives that build up to the grand, overall moment in time that we call a singular lifetime.

However, this book is considered to be a fictional memoir, since the writer is embellishing the story of her own life to make it more suitable and dramatic for reading. One of the main differences between actual life and life recorded down onto paper is that writing can be edited. Writing can skip the boring parts of a person’s day and go straight to the fun stuff, highlighting and often times liberally adding to the moments people would want to read about. So, despite the undeniable fact that literature changes lives, capturing lives through literature is often a far less factual process.

At its current stage, this book still has no binding, no jacket, and no cover. Instead, it is merely a large stack of 230 sheets of printer paper that take up an awful lot of space in my backpack.

Still, it’s strange to think that this is where literature starts. At one point in time, the greatest book you’ve ever read has been nothing more than a stack of paper in an intern’s bag, the corners of the pages crinkled and bent while the words themselves are scrawled over with red pen. In this particular instance, I just happen to be that very intern, and the markings in red belong to one of the many editors I am working with.

Reviewing the process of creating literature is honestly a sobering glimpse into how everything that has ever been considered “great” has to have come from humble beginnings. The writer who is determined to chronicle her experiences in New Bedford once had a mere inkling of an idea, but now she has over 200 pages and a secured publishing deal.

The smallest of concepts always have the potential to blossom into something more, but these ideas can only grow if given the proper care. The entirety of the literary canon that stands to this day, from a stack of papers in 2016 to Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji (the first novel ever written) in the 11th century, was once only a thought in a writer’s head, but now these stories have leaped from thought to paper to literature, where we as readers can experience these messages for ourselves.


To make a contribution to this blog, please contact me either through my UMass email or through my Twitter. Hope to hear from you!

Changing Lives, Changing Minds Feature Article

new bedford standard times


DARTMOUTH — Changing Lives Through Literature has gained acclaim as an alternative sentencing program and now it has expanded to include a new blog: “Changing Lives, Changing Minds.”

    The blog — which features biweekly posts on topics at the intersections of literature and criminal justice — counts among its authors and readers a score of judges, probation officers, professors, graduate students and many others from the United States and abroad.

    Jenni Baker, marketing and media adviser of the program and a second-year graduate student at UMass Dartmouth, initiated the blog late last year and has seen it spark insightful posts on literature and criminal justice.

    Massachusetts professionals have been some of many who have posted and commented on the blog, including UMass Dartmouth Education Professor Maureen Hall and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Supreme Court Ronald P. Corbett Jr.

    While Hall’s posting, “The Benefits of Deep Reading: Neuroplasticity in Action,” investigates how deep reading can alter the structure of the brain, Corbett’s “Buber in Brookline” uses the insight of philosopher Martin Buber to advocate for mutually receptive and respectful relationships between judges and criminal offenders.

    Dr. Robert Waxler, a UMass Dartmouth professor of English and one of the founders of the Changing Lives Through Literature Program, said he is pleased with the blog’s success thus far.

    “We have had an excellent response to the … blog from people interested in criminal justice and from those who enjoy thinking about literature,” he said. “The power of a blog is that it can be read by people around the world, and so this blog is particularly helpful for the ongoing expansion of the CLTL program.”

    Waxler said Baker is “doing a great job. We’re really lucky to have her talent and ability.”

    Baker admitted she was a bit skeptical of Changing Lives Through Literature at first, but said it has truly been effective. After attending the first few sessions, she said she saw a real difference in the offenders.

    “The characters and stories mirror what happens in their lives, and they see how these characters are affected for better or worse,” she said. “It shows them that they’re not destined to be in a dark pit, and that they can make changes in their lives and go back to school — as some have. It’s really a new start for them.”

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