Spike Lee To Kids: Hone Writing Skills, Put Down Video Games

Filmmaker Spike Lee provided advice, inspiration, and some laughs to a room full of middle and high school students from the Bloomington area.

Spike Lee

Photo: Wexner Center (flickr)

Spike Lee, pictured here in 2008. This was his second visit to Bloomington and Indiana University.

Filmmaker and director Spike Lee made the first of his two appearances in Bloomington, Indiana this afternoon at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center where he spoke to a room of middle and high school students. He is the featured speaker for ArtsWeek 2011: ArtsTeach. Mr. Lee has been outspoken of recent about encouraging more black men to become teachers.

During the 90-minute event, Mr. Lee took questions from the audience that ranged from how he chooses topics for his films, to gun control, to the state of college athletics, to his favorite rappers.

Like Father Like Son

Being the son of the famous jazz bassist Bill Lee, he joked about not pursuing a career in music as a way of rebelling against his father.

His son, however, recently told him that he would like to one day follow in his footsteps by running his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. “Usually sons ruin their father’s businesses,” he teased, “but I don’t think he’s going to do that.”

Skills For The Future

Creative writing was one of the few courses he enjoyed while he was in school. Writing is still an important part of his life as he spends three hours everyday putting pen to paper. He challenged the audience to do the same thing by keeping a journal. “No matter what field you choose,” he said, “if you can write, you’ll be ahead of everyone else.”

He also preached the about the virtues of reading books over spending hours in front of video games and reality television. Calling the youth of America the most underestimated group in the country, Mr. Lee beseeched them to be more discerning, ask more questions, and find the courage to be different.

Letting Her Voice Be Heard

Erin Carter, a poet and 16-year-old junior from Bloomington High School North, was one of the many students who asked for advice about how to be successful in the arts. It’s hard being a young African American woman in a small Midwestern town, she said, adding that she feels ignored. Mr. Lee rotated in his chair to face Ms. Carter, crossed his legs and asked, “Where do you think it would be easy?” He advised her to study hard, take the appropriate tests, and do whatever it takes it get into a college outside of the area.

As the crowd gathered on the sidewalk to catch a glimpse of the filmmaker after the talk, Carter and her friend, fellow Bloomington High School North junior Ardi Shawells, were surprised to find that Mr. Lee was forthcoming with even more encouragement and advice – and a hug.

After the personalized encounter, Carter beamed and thanked Shawells for prodding her into asking her question. “I knew I would feel bad if I didn’t ask it,” Carter said.

Carter will be visiting Chicago over spring break and, as per Mr. Lee’s advice, she will be researching colleges to visit during her trip as well.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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