Brown, RISD students explore their identities, Jewish and otherwise


Brown University alum Allie Wollner ’10 returned to campus the week of Nov. 28 to lead students in a series of creative writing workshops centered on a Jewish theme.

This was the second consecutive year that Wollner, a writer and educator, has led workshops on College Hill. This year, the specific theme was exploring how Jewish identity interacts with all of the many other identities held by Jewish students at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Wollner, who majored in English at Brown and went on to earn an MFA from the Ohio State University in creative nonfiction, has led creative writing workshops at many diverse venues, including San Quentin state prison, the Ohio State University and Moishe House East Bay. She lives in Oakland, California, where she is currently working on a collection of essays on gender, language and power.

Her week on campus began with a community lunch held at Brown RISD Hillel, where about 70 students gathered to hear Wollner perform one of her new works, a spoken word piece about identity in the wake of the 2016 election.   

Throughout the week, Wollner led creative writing workshops hosted by Hillel student groups such as JMI (Jews of Mixed Identity) and JewQ (Jewish LGBT students), and also facilitated a Rosh Hodesh gathering. 

During all of the workshops, Wollner encouraged students to think through the identities they hold and then led them in writing exercises based on those identities.  She also led students in an “erasure poetry” writing exercise, combining words taken from holy Jewish texts and secular texts to create new poems of their own.

Claire Fishman ’19, a leader of JMI, was among the many students who found the workshops productive.

“In particular,” she said, “I felt that writing erasure poems combining secular and Jewish sources was a really incredible metaphor for the ways in which the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of our identities are always mixed together.”

Wollner also hosted office hours for students to further explore writing about identities.

The week ended with a “Spoken Sabbath” celebration at Hillel, where Wollner addressed students one more time and several students performed pieces they had worked on throughout the week.

EMMA AXELROD, a junior at Brown University, is from Montclair, New Jersey.

Brown RISD Hillel,