I am What I am—An Imitative Writing Prompt Adapted from Crafting Authentic Voice (2004) This exercise effectively launches students’ voices and gets them digging into subject matter they care about I am What I am

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I Am What I Am—An Imitative Writing Prompt

*Adapted from Crafting Authentic Voice (2004)


This exercise effectively launches students’ voices and gets them digging into subject matter they care about.

I Am What I Am

I am what I am and I am U.S. American I haven’t wanted to say it because if I did you’d take away the Puerto Rican but now I say go to hell I am what I am and you can’t take it away with all the words and sneers at your command I am what I am I am Puerto Rican I am U.S. American I am New York Manhattan and the Bronx I am what I am I’m not hiding under no stoop behind no curtain I am what I am I am Boricua as Boricuas come from the isle of Manhattan and I croon sentimental tangos in my sleep and Afro-Cuban beats in my blood and Xavier Cugat’s lukewarm latin is so familiar and dear sneer dear but he’s familiar and dear but not Carmen Miranda who’s a joke because I never was a joke I was a bit of a sensation See! here’s a real true honest-to-god Puerto Rican girl and she’s in college Hey! Mary come here and look she’s from right here a South Bronx girl and she’s honest-to-god in college now Ain’t that something who woulda believed it Ain’t science wonderful or some such thing a wonder a wonder. And someone who did languages for a living stopped me in the subway because how I spoke was a linguist’s treat I mean there it was yiddish and spanish and fine refined college educated english and irish which I mainly keep in my prayers It’s dusty now I haven’t said my prayers in decades but try my Hail Marrrry full of grrrace with the nun’s burr with the nun’s disdain it’s all true and it’s all me do you know I got an English accent from the BBC For years in the mountains of Puerto Rico when I was twenty-two and twenty-four and twenty-six all those young years

I listened to the BBC and Radio Moscow’s English english announcers announce and denounce and then I read Dickens all the way through three or four times at least and then later I read Dickens aloud in voices and when I came back to the U.S. I spoke mockDickens and mockBritish especially when I want to be crisp efficient I know what Im doing and you can’t scare me tough that kind

I am what I am and I’m a bit of a snob too Shit! why am I calling myself names I really really dig the funny way the British speak and it’s real it’s true and I love too the singing of yiddish sentences that go with shrugs and hands and arms doing melancholy or lively dances I love the sound and look of yiddish in the air in the body in the streets in the English language nooo so what’s new so go by the grocer and buy some fruit oye vey gevalt gifelte fish raiseleh oh and those words hundreds of them dotting the english language like raisins in the bread shnook and slemiel zoftik tush shmata all those soft sweet sounds saying sharp sharp things I am what I am and I’m naturalized Jewish- American wasp is foreign and new but Jewish-American is old shoe familiar shmata familiar and it’s me dears it’s me bagels blintzes and all I am what I am Take it or leave me alone.

(Morales and Morales 1986, 138-39)

After reading this poetic declaration aloud, discuss the various identities that are depicted, the often paradoxical characteristics within individuals that make them who they are, the metaphorical language, the vocabulary, the unconventional spacing, the shape, the implicit punctuation.

Following this discussion, examine other examples to show what subsequent writers have done with the imitation. Immerse students in the structure by showing them another two to three pieces. Then turn them loose to create their own version of Morales’ “I Am What I Am.”
I am what I am. I am a mistake that was thought impossible, and I am loved, because sometimes the biggest mistakes are the ones you hold closest to your heart. I am what I am. I am a defining moment to a young girl almost a woman; a horror, a disbelief. I am a memory that holds no color, no substance. I am what I am. I am a life change, a 180. I am a dangerous projec-tion. I am unannounced and undecorated. I am what I am. I am

a casualty of heart’s warfare, a by-product of immaturity, a waste product. I am unwanted, a regret. I am what I am.

I am love, baby soft and peachy sweet. I am joy and I am sur- prise, I am a dream that plays over and over. I am what I am. I am a thousand castles, a thousand cracks. I am what I am. I am fragile and I am persistent. I am a life project and a tax write-

off. I am what I am. I am a daughter, a sister, a dependent, a burden, a bargain package, a done deal. I am what I am.

I am the collaborative effort of many hearts, love’s master- piece, the knowledge that some of life’s greatest gifts are the

ones we aren’t expecting. I am what I am.

Andrea Bailey, College Junior
This prompt often causes students to travel to the heart of their identity. The piece above demonstrates how the imitation often takes a turn to reveal a second side or complexity. Andrea may have been a 180 in her mother’s life, but she is also love’s masterpiece.

After initially drafting by modeling the original piece’s structure similar, encourage students to carefully consider structure in their pieces. Is it helping to reveal their identity to the reader? If not, students may want to revise to create a structure that will do so. For example, examine how the first draft below evolved into the final version that follows on the next page.

I am what I am. I am a mother and a wife and I’m fiercely independent. I need to be needed and I need my freedom. I need my independence to be understood. I am what I am. I am a daughter to many and a daughter to none. I came first and I come last. I was a surprise, a fumble, a pain on my father’s face and a lump in my mother’s throat and I saved them all. I surprise my family still. I am what I am. I’ve been an old soul since birth and I’m youthful at the blink of an eye. I touch the ground firmly as I daydream; I make big plans and ask for little. I am what I am. I am dependably unpredictable and you can count on me. My words shock, flatter, and entertain and I always tell the truth. I won’t ever desert friends, I promise; I expect people to let me down. I am an optimistic realist with a sarcastic tongue, see?! I am what I am. I am a teacher when I’m not busy being a student, I love to learn. I am on a quest for balance and equality, intolerant of intolerance. I am a lover not a fighter and I fight for love to the brutal, bitter end. I am what I am. I am a writer, a poet, a mirror to the inside. I am an observer, a lens, outside the circle. I am a reader, I love a story. I write to tell mine. I am what I am.

D1, 08/27/05

J. Haug

I am what I am.

i am a mother and a wife and i’m fiercely independent

i need to be needed and

i need my freedom

i need my independence to be understood I am what I am

i am a daughter to many and a daughter to none

i came first, and i come last

i was a surprise, a fumble

(a pain on my father’s face and

a lump in my mother’s throat) and

i saved them all


I am what I am i surprise my family still

i have been an old soul since birth

i’m youthful at the blink of an eye

i touch the ground firmly as i daydream i make big plans and ask for little



I am what I am

i am dependably unpredictable

you can count on me

i always tell the truth

my words shock, flatter, and entertain

i won’t ever desert friends, i promise

i expect people to let me down

i am an optimistic realist



I am what I am with a sarcastic tongue, see?!

i am a teacher when i’m not busy being a student

i love to learn

i am on a quest for balance and equality

intolerant of intolerance

i am a lover not a fighter and

i fight for love to the brutal, bitter end I am what I am

i am a writer, a poet

a mirror to the inside

i am an observer, a lens, outside

the circle

i am a reader

i love a story

i write to tell mine



I am what I am.
8/31/05

J. Haug


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