November 05, 2021
The workshop, which marked World Teachers’ Day, was at the David Hellen Peta Secondary School in Pretoria and focused on sharpening teachers’ creative writing skills. Retief told The Pretoria News that his mission in South Africa “is to help address problems in the education system, particularly with pupils’ writing skills.”
Retief said his goal was to show teachers how they can be more effective in assisting their pupils to improve their writing skills. The workshop involved giving teachers a writing prompt, and then having them conduct a peer critique of each other’s writing, using discussion questions Retief developed for his creative writing classes at Susquehanna.
English teacher Mandisa Ndaba said she would love to see children from local schools improve their writing skills because even university/scholarship applications required writing.
“If English teachers are equipped, then learners and the whole nation will be equipped as well,” Ndaba said.
Principal Tlhabana Nkwe said the workshop would boost the confidence of teachers when they returned to classrooms, thus benefiting the pupils. After the workshop, teachers told Retief that they usually just corrected their pupils’ grammar on writing assignments, and that being able to respond in a more holistic and thoughtful way would almost certainly increase learner motivation and success.
Retief was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award in 2020 to help develop the writing component of a college bridging program in Mamelodi, South Africa. Offered by the University of Pretoria, the program aims to leverage creative writing to build self-confidence and reading/study habits among educationally disadvantaged adults. As part of this prestigious award, Retief will publish research on how creative writing teaching can more generally serve educational development.
Retief grew up in a South African game park during the apartheid era but emigrated to the U.S. in 1994. His memoir, The Jack Bank (SMP, 2011), won a Lambda Literary Award and was selected as a Book of 2011 by the Africa Book Club.
Retief earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cape Town, a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Miami and a doctorate from Florida State University. From 2014 to 2019 he directed Susquehanna University’s nationally recognized creative writing program.