Welcome to Meet the Teaching Artists, a new series where you'll get to know some of the wonderful writers who work with our K-12 education programs. First up is longtime Writing the Community teaching artist Saraiya Kanning!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Saraiya, and I love creating, painting, drawing, writing, and generally making! Through my business, Raebird Creations, I teach and sell art, including vibrant silk paintings, some of which are wearable. I’m also keenly interested in collaboration and community, and what it means to be a collaborative, community-minded artist. I have no concrete answers yet, just exploration. Sometimes there is this idea that artists and writers work primarily in solitude. While it’s no doubt that quiet moments of personal work and reflection are key to creating, I think it’s equally integral that artists are part of a community: sharing ideas, creating together, and in touch with the reality of where they live and the wider world. Human relationships beget art.
On a less philosophical note, I love mochi, all animals but especially my snuggly dog Lily, and exploring new places, whether it’s a long road trip, international excursion, or simply discovering for myself a new nook in Tucson.
When did you first come to know the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Writing the Community program? How long have you worked as a teaching artist?
I first came to know the UA Poetry Center as an MFA graduate student in fiction (2015-2017). I interned at the Poetry Center for a year, working in shelving, the archives, with the VOCA online database, and with some of the youth education programming. In this year, I became familiar with Writing the Community and taught my first residency at Mission View Elementary. I have worked as a teaching artist for six years.
What do you enjoy most about Writing the Community?
Spending time listening to the voices of K-12 creative thinkers. That’s also why I love writing and reading fiction: it’s all about the attempt to get outside oneself and see through another’s eyes. It’s never possible to know completely how someone else views the world, but through creative writing we get insights into the life of others, we imagine life beyond our own brain and gain fresh perspective. We are connected at a point. K-12 voices continually delight, humor, inspire, and deepen me. I think they also remind me of my own childhood, and how art was such a release of tension and fountain of joy for me. The arts, from music to writing to painting, sustained my enthusiasm for learning. It’s easy to forget those feelings of curiosity and wonderment as an adult and get pulled down by the limits we subconsciously invent for ourselves, how we think things “should” be.
What is a favorite lesson or poem you’ve taught as part of a Writing the Community residency?
There are many, but one that I remember particularly enjoying is Kazim Ali’s "Rain," which I use in a lesson plan where elementary students write out their feelings and sensations about rain. Any lesson about rain is wonderful because in Tucson, rain is pure magic. It’s rare and yearned for here in the Sonoran Desert. It brings flowers and toads out from hiding. Everyone has memories of rain to call upon when they write. My favorite line in Kazim Ali’s poem "Rain" is, “The night collapses into your skin. I am the rain.” In that line, there is oneness. For a moment, a barrier between you and the environment disappears. Standing in heavy rainfall feels like that, and I/we are invigorated.
What advice do you have for young writers and poets?
Practice. Seems like cliché advice but it’s the truth. All things in life grow through practice. It does no good to think either, "I’m not talented at all," or, "I’m so talented." It’s all built on practice. Paint more, write more, read more, live more. Enjoy that process, dig into it. That is how your craft will grow, little by little, day by day.
Is there a writer, artist, or project that’s inspiring you right now?
I recently started reading The Art of Is by musician Steven Nachmanovitch, which is about the art of musical improvisation and how it applies to the art of living. I’m only in the second chapter but am so drawn in by some of the concepts, as someone who loves improvisation myself, whether in visual art or music or any field really. When we improvise, we tap into something organic and we communicate with others fluidly, sometimes even without words. This book is part of my ongoing personal investigation into how to collaborate as an artist and a human generally, how to find not just individual flow in my life, but collective flow. Collective flow being a sort of oneness, moving in sync, building upon each other’s work, generating new creativity that could never have been born of a single mind.
Here are two quotes I like from early in the book:
“Artistic creativity won’t heal the horrors of the world; it won’t save anyone or anything. But it is practice – and through practice we change the self, and the relationship of the self with all things.”
“Art is the act of balancing: knowing what to prepare, what to leave to the moment, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Tell us about your teaching or artistic practice. Where can we find your work?
For me, teaching and making art come as a package deal. Teaching keeps my own work alive, again because it keeps me from getting too wrapped up in myself and my own spiraling thoughts. It’s important to connect with others in order to stay creative in a way relevant to the rest of the world. In addition to Writing the Community, I teach art through various programs and through my private studio, Raebird Creations Art. Sometimes I fuse writing and visual art together.
You can view my art and learn about my adventures in silk painting at RaebirdCreations.com. Facebookers can follow my page @RaebirdArtCreations. I’ve also set out on a journey to hone my craft as an illustrator and writer specifically for children, and you can follow that work-in-development at SaraiyaKanning.com.
The photo pictures Saraiya Kanning holding one of her handpainted silk scarves.