Playwright Elizabeth Wong challenges, directs students

Late last week, Asian-American playwright, director and journalist Elizabeth Wong visited Geneseo for an informal talk, dinner and playwriting workshop.

On Thursday, Sept. 20, Wong met with students, faculty and staff at the Walter Harding Lounge in Welles to speak about her life and work in theater, journalism and television. Wong spoke of her struggles as an Asian-American woman and how that had affected her role as a writer in Hollywood. That evening, she led another informal Q&A with members of Korean American Student Association and Geneseo Chinese Culture Club, which was followed by a potluck dinner.

On Friday, 12 students gathered in Brodie 210 for a playwriting workshop led by Wong. Wong, whose award-winning plays include Letters to a Student Revolutionary, China Doll and Kimchee & Chitlins, was brimming with contagious energy, and as the two-hour session progressed, so did the students' enthusiasm.

At the start of the program, Wong emphasized the importance of objects as prompts to many writers. "Many playwrights like to focus on an object," she explained, while instructing the group to sketch their favorite possessions, exchange these drawings with friends, and begin writing monologues about their friends' objects. "And while it's difficult to write about your own sacred object," Wong explained, "there is such a range of possibilities for writing about something that belongs to someone else."

By using a variety of other prompts and setting general guidelines, Wong helped the class write four more pieces during the remainder of the workshop. After each monologue was presented, she offered suggestions for developing the piece into a short play, and urged all writers to go back to the "gems" they were producing any time they needed inspiration.

While the first monologues were read nervously by reluctant students, Wong's positive, encouraging comments inspired all members of the group to share their work. After the initial discomfort, students animatedly acted out their writing, and were received by an enthusiastic audience which cheered and applauded each presentation. From a poignant tale about a neglected child to an outrageous rant through the eyes of an old man, Wong was able to coax impressive work out of students who had minimal experience.

After the class, Wong graciously met with the students and thanked all those who attended. When asked what advice she had for aspiring writers, she said with a knowing smile, "Write. Write, write, write, write, write. Fall in love with writing, and fall in love with rewriting - for that, especially, is important."

-Asst. News Editor Carmen Chan contributed to this report.