Stonecoast has added new focus to the core curriculum: Writing for Social Change.
The goal of the Writing for Social Change project is to create opportunities for the Stonecoast community to use their passion and skills in writing and reading to create social change locally and globally by:
- Collecting and sharing our stories about empowering the vulnerable members of our communities
- Sharing resources for getting involved with writing-related social change activism
- Deepening the commitment to writing for social change in the MFA curriculum by offering ongoing residency seminars, workshops, and readings, facilitating third semester projects and internships for social change, and preparing writers for careers with underserved communities
Stonecoast and members of the Stonecoast Community are already making an impact on the world around them.
Stonecoast has partnered with organizations and coordinated events in support of social change issues:
-In partnership with The Maine Freedom Trails, Stonecoast helped to present Weaving History and Literature: The African American Oral and Written Tradition, the opening event of the 1st Anniversary of the Portland Freedom Trail.
-With the local chapter of the NAACP and USM’s Gender studies program, Stonecoast co-organized a Women’s History Month program that was held for female inmates at the Maine Correctional Center. The program included poetry readings by a Stonecoast alum and inmates from the Center.
Stonecoast Community members are also participating in initiatives to affect social change:
Linda Kobert, student: I share my love of scribbling words on paper with homeless people in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a volunteer with PACEM (People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry), a seasonal emergency homeless shelter, I strive to help less fortunate individuals find their voice and tell their stories. This is a one-woman grassroots effort. I set up shop in the dining room of the local day shelter every Thursday morning, bringing notebooks, pens, and a box of writing prompts, and invite whoever happens to be there to sit and write with me. It’s never a consistent group—homeless people are, by definition, transient. But after showing up every week for more than a year and a half, people have come to know what I’m about, and some have started to look forward to writing. I do this because I think it matters. It makes a difference when people can express themselves, when they have the chance to tell the world their story. I think this is especially true for homeless people, and I want to give these folks that chance.
Ellen Meeropol, alum: For the past decade, I’ve been leading writing workshops for children, adolescent and adult beneficiaries of the Rosenberg Fund for Children at their summer Gatherings. The RFC is a non-profit foundation that makes grants to aid children in the U.S. whose parents are targeted progressive activists, and to youth who themselves have been targeted as a result of their progressive activities. (RFC beneficiaries’ activism includes struggles to preserve civil liberties, wage peace, safeguard the environment, combat racism and homophobia, and organize on behalf of workers, prisoners, immigrants and others whose human rights are under threat.) Held over 4-day periods in Western Massachusetts, the Gatherings offer children, teens and adults an array of cultural workshops, such as art, dance, drumming, and creative writing. These activities facilitate the formation of bonds between Gathering participants who have experienced similar targeting, combat the isolation that can isolate activist families, and offer a voice for expression and empowerment.
Alexs Pate (faculty) serves as a National Advisor to The Givens Foundation, an organization dedicated to celebrating black literature and writers. Alexs also curates the foundation’s NOMMO series, a collection of literary events in the Twin Cities, MN, that showcase African American Literature and authors. NOMMO, the Dogon word meaning “the magic power of the word” perfectly encapsulates the spirited dialogue that is characteristic of these literary events, as they provide a setting for the community to come together in “exploration and understanding of African American Literature.”
Elizabeth Searle, faculty: For over a decade, I have been involved with a Book-Building project that helps kids tell their own stories and make their own books. It began at the PEN/New England Book Fair at Boston Medical Center in inner-city Boston, where PEN/NE and Reach Out and Read gave new books to kids. We helped them make their own: kids dictated to PEN volunteers on typewriters and then illustrated their stories. The Book-Building project has continued helping children put together books or magazines of their creative writing and artwork. Most recently, the program has focused on the MissionSAFE program for ‘at risk’ kids run by PEN volunteer and author Nikki Flionis. PEN has also done Book-Building with the Somerville Family Center's Girls2Women group, in a 'special needs' class at a Dorchester school, with the large Boston shelter Families in Transition, the Lowell Shelter House of Hope, as well as at other family shelters in Lynn and Roxbury. An offshoot of this project continues at the Burke School in Dorchester, where PEN and BookBuilding volunteers help students launch their own ongoing Literary Magazine, SPLASH! Recently, students who worked on SPLASH! entered their creative works in the Naked Truth High School Writing Contest co-sponsored by PEN and the New England Institute of Art. For the past several years, winning students have read their works aloud at the reading at the Institute of Arts in Brookline. Kids have great stories to tell and I'm happy to have heard and transcribed many of them over the years via Book-Building.
For a complete listing of Stonecoast Community members participating in the Writing for Social Change Project, and more information in general, visit the Stonecoast website www.usm.maine.edu/stonecoast and click on Writing for Social Change under the Quicklinks.