Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Your Turn: Do We Need a Writing Center?

Several of us in the Alaska writing community have been having this conversation over the years, and tomorrow, I'll be meeting with a few folks to discuss it in greater depth (more on that soon). So I thought I'd ask you: Do we need a writing center in Anchorage? Have you had any experiences with writing centers in other cities -- for example, 826 Valencia in San Francisco *(founded in 2002 by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari) or Boston's Grub Street (founded in 1997 by Eve Bridburg)?


And what is a writing center, anyway? Here's how Grub Street explains what they do:

Grub Street is a non-profit creative writing center dedicated to nurturing writers and connecting readers with the wealth of writing talent in the Boston area.

Our mission is to support creative writers at all stages of their development so that they can achieve their goals of publication, social and professional networking, gainful employment in the field, and/or personal enrichment.

We accomplish this by providing university-level instruction via multi-week courses, seminars and conferences; bringing the transformative power of creative writing to underserved populations – specifically teens and seniors – via innovative programs and community events; financially supporting and offering unique professional development opportunities to creative writing instructors, seminar leaders and administrative staff; elevating the literary profile of the city of Boston to increase its relevance among major publishing houses and prominent authors in all genres; and maintaining a vibrant, inspiring and accessible space where writers can find professional resources and connect with each other in a spirit of mutual support.

Grub Street builds on Boston's proud literary tradition by making the city more welcoming for writers, and more inspiring and culturally alive for all of us.


What could this mean for Anchorage? I think it could mean: a regular place for workshops that don't cost the university rate of $400-600. A place where top visiting writers could come and visit with us, now that we don't have the Writing Rendezvous. A drop-in center with fun writing classes for underserved young people; or a place from which to organize programs that we send out to prisons and other places that might benefit from the occasional workshop.

We already have some great organizations and programs, from Alaska Sisters in Crime, to the Writers Guild, to 49 writers -- and there are many more, with no shortage of talent and energy out there. But do we need a nonprofit that ties some of these services and populations together (hopefully, in a physical building)?

Share your ideas, connections, doubts, and opinions here, friends.


*P.S. The other cities that have 826 Valencia chapters are: Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Boston, and most recently, DC.

9 comments:

Eowyn said...

That sounds wonderful! When I first read "writing center" I was thinking of something less interactive, like an artist's retreat. Those are great for the writers who have the time and inclination, but they don't reach as many different kinds of writers. But this notion of a place where people not only write, but where they share their knowledge and experiences, has such potential. I think a lot of writers want to connect with other writers but don’t have a regular venue to do so. Even living north of Palmer, I could imagine driving into Anchorage to participate in workshops, readings etc.

Bruce F said...

i am truly excited that this discussion can expand now that your blogsite has taken it up. thanks, andromeda.

anchorage has grown up fast and in many ways over the past three decades. there have always been a disproportianate number of writers in anchorage and alaska as a whole. there has been a need for a community based writing center of some kind for a while and the prospects for putting it together at long last seem promising. a group of writers and writing advocates has been meeting for the past couple of months to talk about how it might get started. the group has grown from three to nine. a consensus has emerged around an organizing concept that seems practical and sustainable due to its relative simplicity. i would like an opportunity to write more about it here on your site in the near future. i am posting this note just to say thank you for raising the topic in this forum and to express my personal hope that 49 writers will be part of this emerging collaboration.

yours,
-bruce farnsworth

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Thanks Eowyn and fantastic, Bruce -- we want to hear more and we NEED to hear more! No need to reinvent the wheel if much is already being planned, but at the same time, let's indeed broaden this conversation and get the ideas and connections flowing.

Cinthia said...

Yes! We need a center. One of the ironies of writing conferences (such as the one offered in Homer) is that they come with a price, and struggling writers often don’t have the funds needed for travel, lodging and instructions. I often wonder if those who need the help/push/encouragement the most are those who get it the least.
That aside, writing is a lonely vocation, and a frightening one at that. Being inside your head for hours and days can become claustrophobic. Before long you find yourself talking to the dog or the radio or even the toaster.
But imagine having a center, a place where you could straggle in, bleary-eyed and badly dressed, and cozy up to similarly obsessed and doomed people! Imagine the comfort, the pure joy of being able to talk about your struggle with others who not only understand, but don’t suggest that you put aside the writing and get a life.
Imagine hosting readings where writers could share not only finished products but pieces of the struggles: Rough-drafts, wrong turns, characters that limped off and died of neglect. How wonderful it would be to have the time to share hints and observations and mistakes because, if truth be known, readings are nice but they don’t really teach much about the actual writing process.
Another thing people often overlook is that there are SO many levels of writing and writers. That grandmother attempting to pen her history is just as important as that writer with all the awards, and she has just as much to offer in terms of life experiences and perspectives. A center would bring all levels of writers together into a wonderful and messy heap.
It would be an awesome and glorious thing.
Cinthia

Deb Vanasse said...

Beautifully said, Cinthia.

Ann Dixon said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Where are you meeting and when? Would you consider posting your thoughts and ideas as you proceed? Have you identified specific goals and purposes?

I could see something like this being narrowly focused, i.e. on writing, or also quite broad, incorporating the talents of arts organizations, theater groups, storytellers, librarians, historians, scholars and others, all related to communicating information and story. It could focus on how-to and nurturing writers, or go more broadly into promoting literacy and all forms of creativity related to books and writing.

I suppose it's best to start small...but it doesn't hurt to have a big dream. I'd love to hear more about the ideas being bounced around.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Thanks to those who have commented, and I encourage all others to keep adding ideas, hopes, and what you'd like to know from those who have already been working on this.

We'll do our part to keep gathering information and to provide a forum where others who know much more than we do can share what's on the horizon. I didn't realize this was such a timely topic when I first blogposted about it. Stay tuned!

Bill Sherwonit said...

I add my "YES!" to the others given above (I especially like Cinthia's description of a center's value; "awesome and glorious" indeed). I love the idea of a center that increases the sense of community among local writers of all sorts: a place to attend readings, classes, and workshops, to engage in conversation with other writers, to work, to gain support, or to quietly enjoy the good company of other writers.

Helen said...

Okay, I did read that post, and I think the idea of a writing center
like was described is a marvelous idea and could do a lot to bring
the writing community in Alaska together and could potentially
provide many encouraging and empowering resources, programs, support, access to mentors, etc. I even thought about how I might contribute to such an effort.

I think it's always good when like-minded people come together to
build resources for themselves and for others. There's something
about the process that often breathes into such projects a life of their own, and wonderful serendipitous things happen when the timing, the people, the place, and other aspects are right. I'm not yet enough a part of the greater Alaskan writing community to know which of those pieces might be waiting in the wings, but I like the idea of a writing center, and even if I never got around to visiting or
utilizing it myself, I would be happy to do what I could to help make it a reality for others.

--
Helen
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Helen Hegener, Producer
Northern Light Media