The above statements are pulled from a recent conversation with teacher and poet Grace Morizawa at her home in Berkeley.
With a bachelor’s degree in English from Pacific University and a master’s with emphasis in Poetry from San Francisco State, she became a teacher, and has taught in the Oakland Unified School District for 20 years.
Why? She laughed. “I wanted to work in a variety of spaces. I disliked the idea of sitting in the same spot all the time. In a classroom you get to move around.
“The truth is, I wanted to be a part of children’s learning. There’s a richness of life.”
“The people of Oakland remind me of Los Angeles when I was a child”
Morizawa was born in L.A. and lived there until her father’s death when she was 7. Her mother took her to live with her grandparents in eastern Oregon, where Japanese had established a community outside the Western Exclusion Zone for people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
“I didn’t go to the camps but my parents had gone so we heard a lot about them. There were several of them not far from where we lived. People talked.”
Her mother was raised near Yakima, Wash., where she witnessed the terror directed by whites against Filipinos in the 1930s. They had been brought in to work on the farms and in the apple orchards.
“Our family hid one of the men. Only men were allowed to come. There were some Japanese as dark as the Filipinos.” Descendants of farm workers are running some of the towns up there now, she added.
Morizawa so loved growing up in the high desert that she now writes many poems about her life there.
“People think there’s nothing in the desert, but when you look at it closely, it is vibrant, all this life is present. There is the valley sagebrush, tumbleweed. The growth along the ditch banks (irrigation canals) before people began to weed them. The dramatic weather, thunderstorms. The high desert air frames everything so you can see it clearly. The moon is so big.”
Morizawa has established herself as an outstanding teacher. One measure of this is her selection as a 1988 Summer Invited Fellow in the Bay Area Writing Project. BAWP was founded more than 25 years ago at UC Berkeley by writing teachers of writing, on the premise that they knew more than scholars or administrators about teaching writing. BAWP has now expanded to sites in every state.
Its Invited Summer Fellows are successful teachers recommended by their peers. As a Fellow BAWPer (1978, 1994), I was interested in her BAWP experience.
“Yes, like with you, it was a defining experience for me. BAWP, where writing is an integral part of teaching, helped me integrate my teaching and writing communities. Before BAWP my teaching and writing communities were separate.
“In BAWP I found a community of teachers who were also writers.
“As a teacher, you can never know enough – you’re studying how people learn, how they think – that’s interesting. I feel privileged. Kids share precious moments with you. I see how much their parents care for them.
“Writing is power. Literacy. I want my student writers to connect with this power as
early as possible. Young children work so hard. If they’re on to something in a story they’re writing, they’ll take it out during recess to work on."
And your own writing? "I feel myself less a poet than a teacher, but I’ve
worked at it(becoming a poet) for a long time."
Though she may be reluctant to claim herself a poet, she has had some
of her poems published. "A friend sent out some of my work for me, and it got published. I
do have a lot of work. My best time to write is 3 a. m. And I am planning a collection."
On loan to the National Center on Education and the Economy, Morizawa has
for the last two years been working on curriculum development. She is currently writing a curriculum for teaching memoir writing to 3rd graders.
The memoir? "I want them to reflect on the important moments in their lives."
Her last school in Oakland was Melrose Elementary. She’ll return to the District next year.
In closing, I asked her again about her own writing.
"My father was a composer. I can barely carry a tune so I write poetry in his
Adam David Miller
November 5, 2001
Please find a place for the Oakland poem, as a good sample of her work. You should also have photos. If not, or those you have are inadequate, she has some others.
Hope you are surviving the madness.
It’s what you choose to see.
It’s the corner of International Blvd.
The sun slants at 4 p.m. spreading glazed
light magnifying stillness
topping the storefront churches.
No artist’s palette can capture
how Hallelujah echoes,
how the waves of light pour from the bay across the streets,
even to the lemon
It’s a light that pierces
so softly you never have to blink.
You focus recognizing
every store name, check cashing sign
sale poster, every black-tipped sparrow,
wild mustard plant, or daffodil,
every person you pass even the homeless
you want not to know
It makes you remember
how it feels to look at your lover’s face.
how the space between you
is a light
that spans without a bridge.