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Canary, Sexual Violence and a Culture of Athlete Adoration (a guest post by author Rachele Alpine)

Today we are honored to have a guest post by debut author Rachele Alpine. She will be participating in the #SVYALit Project Google Hangout on Air tomorrow, March 26th at Noon Eastern. 

My main character Kate’s story in Canary started in 1999 when I was in college.  I was taking an education class where my teacher had us write a multi-genre paper.   It was essentially a research paper, but instead of presenting our information in the tradition way, the information was shared through poems, artwork, prose, and other creative methods.  I chose to focus on sexual harassment in high school because I was educated at an all-girl’s school, so this was something that I really didn’t experience.  However, as a pre-service teacher and college student, the action of objectifying women was all around me, and I was shocked at home much people got away with.
I explored the issue of sexual harassment specifically among teenagers and out of my research came a story about a girl named Kate.  In the paper, Kate was a student who hooked up with an athlete at her school.  The athlete began rumors about what happened between the two of them and these rumors grew and grew until Kate was ostracized for things she didn’t even do.  The students turned on her and were able to victimize her because they were popular students and no one wanted to speak up or help out of fear that they would be the next target.

Kate’s story stayed with me for over eight years before I understood that I needed to tell it.   I was teaching high school English in public school and it seemed as if there was suddenly scandal after scandal focusing on college and professional athletes in the media.  My students were bombarded with the stories of people they looked up to, such as Kobe Byrant, or teams from colleges they rooted for, like the Duke lacrosse team.  The public’s reactions to these stories and the victim blaming of the survivors shocked me.  These athletes seemed to be able to do no wrong, and I began to wonder how our culture of athlete exaltation and idolatry contributed to this.  I thought a lot about how this was affecting children and their view on what is acceptable and what isn’t.  I began to think about where this treatment of athletes started and what our high schools were doing to contribute to it.  I created a list of questions that I set out to answer:  What were we teaching our athletes?  What were we teaching their classmates?  How do we stop this cycle of athlete worship?
Canary was first written as a traditional narrative, but I found that when I got to sections where Kate was dealing with her assault and other difficult topics, I wasn’t doing it justice.  The words didn’t sound true to me.  As a writer, I knew what she was feeling, but I couldn’t put it into words.  Everything I wrote sounded too trivial; it felt like it was impossible to do her justice and tell her story.  As a way to help, I would go back over and over again to the poem that I wrote in my multi-genre paper about the after-math of assault.  It was my touchstone to her stories, a place where I felt her words were true.  I took one of the scenes I was having trouble with and tried writing it as a poem.  Suddenly, the words that didn’t seem to come out right in my narrative made sense.  It was as if when I cut down the words all around my narrative, I got down to the rawest form and Kate’s words were pure and honest. 
This is how my mixed-genre book was created.  Kate’s story became a mix of narrative and prose.  She turned to a blog where she posted her most private words to.  She would write her “Daily Truths” and reveal everything she couldn’t say out loud.  The switch to poetry helped me tell my story, and I think reiterates how important it is to try to get your truths out.
Canary demonstrates the skewed sense of right and wrong for our teenagers that the media and our athlete culture has created.  It addresses important topics in terms of sexual assault, the athlete culture, and consent. It is essential that we bring attention to these topics and start conversations about them with today’s teens. Similar to the multi-genre paper I wrote in college, we can approach these issues in a variety of ways, but we must speak out and talk about it and that discussion needs to happen right now.
Additional Author Information:
Read more about Rachele Alpine and Canary on her blog:  www.rachelealpine.com
Read about Kate’s truths on her blog that corresponds with the poetry in the book Canary:  www.allmytruths.com

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