Glen Ridge HS Writing Club inspires students to create

Photo Courtesy of Smita Ganatra
Glen Ridge High School Writing Club adviser Smita Ganatra stands in front of a bronze bust of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in Sorrento, Italy.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Meeting twice a month with adviser Smita Ganatra, the Glen Ridge High School Writing Club is a student-directed activity with club members determining how to facilitate the process of writing. 

Ganatra, who teaches eighth- and ninth-grade English, and is also the middle school yearbook adviser, acknowledged in a recent telephone interview that, with competition from the school newspaper and literary magazine, the club, which began in 2020, has attracted only about 10 students. Also, she said, students are generally more concerned with a “high school trajectory” that will land them in college, and a writing club is not part of the plan. Nonetheless, the club continues to offer ways to explore writing in a collaborative setting and this year allowed eighth-graders to join.

One excursion into writing began by viewing a clip from the popular 1999 movie, “Election,” which is about a high school election pitting a candidate, played by Reese Witherspoon, against a history instructor, played by Matthew Broderick. Club members then rewrote the script for the clip. Ganatra said one lesson her young writers learn is that writing does not provide instant gratification; instead, it requires thoughtful editing. But she understands student writers need to be rewarded, and submissions to sponsored competitions, apart from the school, are encouraged.

“Students find this exciting,” Ganatra said.

Fan fiction, which is the reinterpretation of an existing text, is also employed, and for this, James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” was used. The story is about a man who escapes reality by daydreaming excessively. 

“We did it differently,” Ganatra said. “Maladaptive daydreaming was Mitty’s diagnosis. The students wrote a script between Mitty and his psychiatrist.” 

Poetry, short stories and journal entries are also frequently written. To help the process, the classroom lights are dimmed.

Ganatra said there are certain requirements for the club to be effective: mentor texts, which provide writing lessons; time, because good writing takes time; writing contests, which spur some students to greater heights; and camaraderie with club members. 

Club members will sometimes pass around a sheet of paper and write a story by each adding a sentence or two.

“I think I’m more of a reader than a writer,” Ganatra said. “I’m more of an editor. But during the writing club, I always write when they’re writing. It’s not busy work, it’s camaraderie.”

For an adviser, success is measured by the smiles she sees and the relationships being formed, Ganatra said.

“No one is forced to share their writing,” she said. “The club is a safe space. A student can just sit there and observe.”

Ganatra has been employed by the district for six years. She recently went to a talk given by Laurie Lico Albanese, Montclair resident and author of “Hester: A Novel,” which is an example of fan fiction with its use of “The Scarlet Letter,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ganatra said it is exciting to learn about writers “in the real world” and how they plan their work. But the GRHS Writing Club does not have a goal, she said. It is whatever the students want it to be.