Streetwrites; Seattle Times; Article; 12/26/97

Morgan Brown (morganbrown@hotmail.com)
Mon, 29 Dec 1997 11:03:30 PST


Below is a forward of an article from the Seattle Times which I thought 
may be of interest to you or others you may know.

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com                                                                     
--------Forwarded article-------                                      
This article (with photos) can be found at:


http://www.seattletimes.com/extra/browse.html97/writ_1222697.html                                   

Copyright  1997 The Seattle Times Company 

Friday, Dec. 26, 1997 


Creative-writing program helps those without means express themselves 

by Joe Heim 
Seattle Times staff reporter 

"The first rule of good writing is don't flinch," Anitra Freeman tells a 
small group gathered for a creative-writing workshop in Seattle's
trendy Belltown neighborhood. 

Outside, a blustery wind rattles street lights and pushes the rain 
sideways. Club- and restaurant-goers hurry by, trying not to get soaked. 
Inside the cluttered, street-level Second Avenue office, it is warm and 
dry and Freeman is discussing poetry. 

"Remember," she continues, "when you write something general or
universal, it doesn't really affect people. Try to be personal or 
specific. People feel that." 

Kindly, bespectacled 47-year-old teacher. Enthusiastic and thoughtful
students of all ages. Just another typical workshop for wannabe
writers? Well, not really. 

The participants are members of Streetwrites, an informal writing
workshop for people who are either homeless or poor. And Freeman,
one of the founders of Streetwrites, is formerly homeless herself. 

She started the Thursday night workshop 18 months ago because she
believed that organized support for creative expression should not be
limited to people of means. Writing had helped her to focus and
express herself. She wanted others to get the same benefit. 

"People come alive more when they're doing something creative,
whether they're homeless or they're millionaires," she says. "You need
to be creating something to really feel like yourself." 

Being homeless in Seattle, Freeman wanted people to know, wasn't a 
single story. It was the stories of the city's estimated 4,000-5,000
homeless people. And being "low-income" wasn't just one person's
story either. 

Two years ago, Freeman was an out-of-work computer programmer
living in a Seattle shelter when she heard about Real Change, Puget
Sound's homeless newspaper. She began writing for the publication
and eventually joined its editorial committee. In early 1996 she
approached Real Change director Timothy Harris, about starting a
creative-writing group for others who were homeless or low-income. 

Harris was supportive. "Our interest is in seeing homeless people have
a voice," he said. "That's something we're always trying to promote.
Giving people a chance to tell their story." 

With office space and supplies provided by Real Change and the
additional help of a few friends, Freeman got the free workshops
started. At first, just a handful of people showed up. "I just made sure 
I was there and the door was open in case people wanted to stop by," 
says Freeman. Eventually though, a core group of 25-30 was
established, with about 10 weekly participants. They are men and
women, all races, from a wide range of backgrounds. Some have
been homeless for years; others are new to the streets. 

The workshop has proved invaluable for Catharine, a 37-year-old
mother who lost custody of her three kids a few years ago when she
fell back into abusing drugs and alcohol. 

"The last three or four years have been unbelievably traumatic," says
Catharine, who asked that her last name not be used because she was
concerned about being typecast as homeless. "Basically my life blew
apart. It shattered." What hurts, she says, is the misunderstanding of
people who are homeless. "People only see the surface. They make
assumptions. They think everyone who's homeless is dangerous or
crazy." 

The workshop has given Catharine the confidence to help her get
back on her feet and heal the emotional wounds. "Having a place
where I could be jittery and quaking in my boots and still feel
comfortable was really important for me." 

The program also helps to create a sense of community, says Harris.
"Poor and homeless people are often very isolated and they have a
hard time getting back on their feet without a support network." 

Many of the participants write about their experiences as homeless
people, but they are just as likely to write about birds or love or an
oak tree shedding its leaves. In many cases the writing seethes with
anger and bitterness, but sparkling humor and wit are present as well.
Freeman doesn't tell people what to write, she only suggests ways to
make their writing better. 

Freeman has expanded Streetwrites to include public readings at
spaces like the Speakeasy Cafe, and she started a Web site where
participants can post their poems and stories
                   
http://www.earthonline.net/public/StreetWrites/index.htm 

There aren't many rules to the informal gatherings. Some nights turn
into lighthearted parties; on other nights, everyone knuckles down to
work. 

Freeman is flexible and "goes with the flow." With bushy
black-going-gray hair crowding her face and a quizzical smile that
never leaves her lips, the amiable teacher constantly advises, prods,
praises, and critiques. She makes sure to let those who attend know
that what they have to offer is valuable and important. She is also
quick to laugh and to let others know that what they have to say will
be heard and respected. 

It's a message her "students" rarely hear from anyone else. 

"I've seen people drag in here with that street dirt on their faces and 
they leave fully invigorated," she says. "They may be homeless, but they 
come and people hear them and respond and that's very
ego-building. It boosts them and gives them a self-confidence they
carry into other things." 

It's also been rewarding for Freeman. "People come in here and are
able to talk about intensely personal things, and I'm tickled pink that 
I've been able to develop an atmosphere where they can do that." 


Web site for Streetwrites:

http://www.earthonline.net/public/StreetWrites/index.htm

'We masses don't want tofu':

http://www.seattletimes/com/extra/browse/html97/poem_122697.html

-----------End of forwarded article------------

Morgan W. Brown <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Montpelier Vermont USA
Norsehorse's Home Turf: http://members.tripod.com/~Norsehorse/

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