Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Community Service/Social Justice: Presentation Samples


From Passion to Politics: Rachel Carson as “The Gentle Subversive”

Barbara Hurd

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Meticulously researched, the book exposed the damaging effects of DDT and other pesticides and brought down on its author a savage (and now recurring) dismissal of Carson as just a “hysterical woman.” 

Carson was first and always not a crusader, but a writer. In this seminar for both poets and prose writers, we’ll look at how and why she turned her gift of celebratory lyricism into an investigation that launched the modern environmental movement. Specifically, we will 1) compare and contrast Carson’s lyrical writing with her more scientific writing, 2) analyze her strategies for turning research into highly readable prose for the lay audience, and 3) trace the development of her craft and the rhythms of her career. 

Writing the Truth: Persuading through Prose

Jane Cleland

This class will include discussions about the nature of truth and perception surrounding issues of racism and civil rights; religious freedom and assimilation; sex and promiscuity; and mainstreaming children with disabilities; among others. We’ll discuss how to persuade people that the truth you see as evident is correct without coming across as pedantic, patronizing, or mawkish. How can concrete language and detail increase the depth of readers’ moral responses to your writing? Which underlying structure will best support your rhetorical position:  bookends, progressive logic, a pyramid, an inverse pyramid, or a straight-out narrative challenge? How can you reveal emotion and attitude through incident? How can you disclose and/or argue unpopular or irreverent positions without lecturing or talking down to your readers? What’s the proper balance between information and passionate pleas for justice? In this class, we’ll analyze how three authors writing in three different modes (a letter, an essay, and a middle school mystery) approached the challenge. From this analysis, you’ll discover strategies you can use in your work, specific tactics to help hone your unique writer’s voice.

Creating Communities: “Of Farms and Fables” and Community-Based Theater

Jennie Hahn and Cory Tamler

Of Farms and Fables is a community-based theater collaboration with three Southern Maine farms that engages artists in farm work and farmers in storytelling and performance.

In the past fifty years, a growing number of American theater practitioners have embraced the burgeoning field of community-based art.  While approaches vary dramatically, community-based theater is by definition created by, with, and for a specific audience.  It is theatre that works with a specific community of people to help that community identify its own needs, desires, and challenges, and/or to give that community a way to express itself -- a voice.  This presentation takes as its focus the question, "How can community-based theatre help a community find its voice?" It takes a look at the history, theory and praxis of community-based theatre work with a focus on the role of the playwright and the process of shaping a dramatic piece out of research, interviews and work within a community.

Writing Through the Wounds: Teaching Creative Writing in the Trenches

Carolina De Robertis

You’ve thought about teaching workshops in your community. You’re passionate about making a positive impact on the world, not only through your words, but as a teacher of creative writing. You know that art has the power to transcend barriers, transform pain, and give expression to what is silenced, and you want to bring these tools to populations that all too often lack them: incarcerated folks, at-risk youth, a support group for rape survivors, or war veterans, to name a few possibilities. In this class, we’ll explore tools for creating a safe, supportive space in which participants can delve into charged, painful, or even traumatic territories and emerge with something tangible and potent: their own written work. 

Required Reading:
Frank Barron, Alfonso Montuori, and Anthea Barron(edited), Creators on Creating

Playwriting and Social Justice

Carolyn Gage

Playwriting offers a unique vehicle for challenging the dominant narrative because the writer creates an alternative world in real time and real space. Will the audience have a transformative encounter or an antagonizing collision of values? We will be exploring various dramaturgical strategies that playwrights have employed, and how these have been tailored for particular genres (musicals, dramas, farce), socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds of intended audiences (Lower East Side vs. Broadway, Peoria vs. New York) and the particular social issue being addressed (colonialism, ableism, homophobia). How do alternative narratives disrupt the tropes and conventions, the dramaturgical “shorthand,” of mainstream theatre, and how can social change playwrights exploit this disruption? Finally, are there limits of tolerance for an audience and what are the penalties for crossing those?

Art at Work:  the Radically Ordinary Use of Art as a Tool in Public Service

Marty Pottenger

A growing field of artists are addressing critical social challenges by making art. This presentation explores the ways that art, especially writing, can be used to transform society. As models, we will use several of the presenter's projects, including a theater work written from interviews, civic dialogues and poetry workshops with multi-millionaires and minimum wage workers asking “What is enough?,” a play about a city since 9/11 performed by community members including a Mayor and a homeless writer; and a calendar of poetry by police officers and poets which reached over 1 million readers.  Discussion will include, How do you get started on a project that will work in your community? What are the skills needed to make it work?  What is the special power of art to transform society?

Writing on Both Sides of the Wall

Shaun Griffin, Richard Hoffman (moderator), Felicity Stone

Writing can be profoundly rehabilitative for many prisoners, offering them the chance to reflect and make meaning, to articulate experience, and to discuss matters otherwise unspoken. Teaching in prisons, however, is also a “freedom to write” issue, a free speech issue, as prisoners, once they disappear inside the ever growing prison system (and often lose their right to vote for their entire lives) lose any sort of public voice. This panel will include participants who have experience teaching inmates and will focus on how interested parties may get involved, either through existing organizations or, in the absence of programming, by starting an initiative of their own.