Writing Outside the Fence Seeks Volunteer Instructors for Fall & Winter Workshops!

Writing Outside the Fence seeks qualified, committed volunteer teachers for Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 workshops. The program offers creative writing workshops for ex-offenders and the extended community through the Reentry Center in Baltimore. We launched in May 2006 and were the cover story in the June 6, 2007 issue of City Paper. In addition, the winners of our Inmate/Ex-Offender Writing Contest were featured in the March 2009 issue of Urbanite. In June 2009 two of our writers were featured on WYPR in Tom Hall’s segment of Maryland Morning. We’ve held readings at  the Enoch Pratt Library the last several summers. A podcast of our 2012 reading is available on the library website.

The program is currently looking for volunteers to commit to a month of weekly meetings — four consecutive meetings total per teacher — for late summer into fall of 2014. The workshop meets Tuesdays, 5-7 PM at the Reentry Center at 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. on the upper level of the Mondawmin Mall in Northwest Baltimore.

Past instructors have been poets and journalists, playwrights and screenwriters, fiction and creative nonfiction writers. They have included instructors from BCCC, Coppin State, Goucher, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, MICA, the University of Baltimore, and elsewhere. No two have run their workshops quite the same way; all have found it rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering for this worthwhile effort, contact WritingOutside [at] aol [dot] com.

Join Me on Tuesdays for Writing Outside the Fence

I know it’s been a while since I’ve last posted, but life happens.

Today, I started another volunteer teaching stint at the Writing Outside the Fence workshop at the Re-Entry Center in Mondawmin Mall. I’ll be there for the next three Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m., leading workshops on writing dialogue, free writing, among other things. The workshop is free and open to the public.

To learn more about the program and its community of fabulous and amazing writers, check out this feature article that ran on Examiner.com or this podcast from the Enoch Pratt Free Library:

Writing Outside the Fence Reading at the Pratt

If you are a writer in the Baltimore area, and are interested in sharing your love of writing, we’d love to have you join our dynamic team of volunteer instructors. Hit me up in the Comments section below.

Freewriting: A #LoveLetter

Every Tuesday during the month of February, I’ve been leading a community writing workshop at the Mondawmin Mall’s Re-Entry Center in Northwest Baltimore. It’s something I’ve been doing for the past five years simply because I love sharing and inspiring others to find and develop their voice through writing.

Considering it was Valentine’s Day, I thought it quite apropos that we wrote about love yesterday. Not that sappy kind of love we wrote about in grade school, or that Hallmark kind of love, but love. Pure, deep, all-encompassing love. I asked everyone to write about who, what or why they love, and let them take the theme wherever their hearts, minds and pens desired. What came out were eloquent, insightful and brilliantly unique pieces that explored the breadth and the depth of love. Here’s what I wrote:

Oh writing? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love writing. I love words. I love how they ebb and flow, swirl and swing on the page. I love how words strung together can form beautiful poetry, unbreakable narrative chains, passionate arguments. I love how words have the power to make us act, feel, think, dream, relate.

I love No. 2 pencils for they make me feel smart and determined. I love how pencil sound against paper. I love notebooks and journals and college-ruled paper. I love how felt-tipped pens give my words flair and finesse. I love handwriting. I love my handwriting, and all the loops and curls. I love typing words on a fresh screen. I love Helvetica and Arial and all the other fonts that make my words look gorgeous and perfect. I love how I can share my deepest dreams and craziest ideas with my pens, pencils, papers, (or my Macbook) and how they, like no other, can keep a secret.

I love giving birth to ideas on the page and the screen. I love creating characters, giving them breath, movement and purpose. I love taking my characters where they lead me, and leaving them better or different than when I first met them. I love creating landscapes for my characters to explore. I love painting pictures with words so readers can see. I love the musicality of words that can make even the most mundane moments of our lives sound beautiful and extraordinary.

I love sharing my writing. I love reading my writing — silently or aloud — giving my words power and depth, giving my life purpose. I even love it when someone gets what I’m trying to say, especially when they have to swim through a sea of jumbled words to get to the meaning. I love that I have the chance to create, revise, improve and flourish every day.

That’s what I love.

Who, what or why do you love?

poem: the strongest of bodies

the strongest of bodies

i am a river

always moving

ever changing

my waters flow

through dry lands

spawning new growth

Iin desolate places

i am a river

pushing onward

in my own direction

finding another part

of me in each new place

you may try to catch me,

block me, stop me

even capture just

a handful of me


you will never

be able to take

all of me

©  Kimberly Williams Shorter, 1996.

Poets & Writers: Rank & File

Poets & Writers MFA NationThose of you plugged into the MFA world – whether it be as a current or prospective student or faculty member of a graduate writing program – you’re well aware of the annual MFA program rankings by the fine folks over at Poets & Writers. I tend not to read too much into the rankings mainly because they are highly subjective in nature.

The 2012 MFA and PhD program rankings created a firestorm in the MFA and graduate creative writing community. (If you ask me, it’s about time…but I digress.) P&W’s editors drew fire from almost 200 faculty from various writing programs across the country. Those faculty members issued an open letter to the publication criticizing the process, the criteria and the results. A press release issued on behalf of the 190 creative writing faculty members, called Poets & Writers‘ ranking system “specious” and “disingenuous”.

At issue is how P&W came up with the criteria for ranking schools, and the small sample of participants (readers of the Creative Writing MFA Blog) polled for the survey. The faculty members take umbrage at the notion that P&W did not factor in “faculty or writing reputations” in determining their rankings. Mary Gannon, P&W’s editorial director countered in a lengthy response that, “faculty quality is too complex to assess.”

I view this “war of words” between P&W and the faculty with particular interest. I recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University, a school with not one, but two graduate writing programs. There is the M.A. in Writing Program, a rigorous, part-time program (from which I graduated this past spring). Then there are the Writing Seminars, a prestigious, full-time, two-year MFA program – which ranks 17th on this year’s list. I aspired to get into the Writing Seminars, but the program is full-time and highly competitive, so I went for the next best thing. Ultimately I want to teach writing, and in order to do so, I need at least an MFA to be taken seriously. But many MFA programs are full-time, and that won’t work for a working girl like me. So I’ve been looking at part-time MFA programs in the region, and have found a couple that I’m considering seriously and applying to now.

Did I look at P&W’s past MFA rankings in my search for an MFA program? Sure. (I should note here that P&W also ranks part-time and low-residency programs, too.) Did the rankings influence my decision to consider or avoid certain programs? Not really. I had my own criteria (location, diversity of faculty and students, good restaurants near campus – hey, a girl’s gotta eat) to factor into my decision. I simply used P&W’s rankings as a springboard in my own decision-making process.

While both P&W and the faculty members at odds with the publication make valid points, I find myself siding with the faculty. Using such an exclusive pool of individuals (readers of a particular blog) as the basis for this survey hardly presents an opportunity to get objective, wide-ranging data. Why didn’t P&W post a survey on its website or print it in its publication? Surely people like me would have seen in and responded. I’ve visited the Creative Writing MFA Blog on a number of occasions as well as P&W’s Speakeasy Forum. I’ve read the opinions and advice from other MFA applicants, current and former students. And to be quite honest, most of what I read was – in large part – questions, opinions and criticisms of programs in P&W’s past top rankings. So rather than reading comments about the same 15-20 schools that everyone was interested in, I decided to take the list and do my own research on a few. In the end, the schools that I am considering now for my MFA aren’t even on P&W’s top 50 for 2012. But I know based on what I’ve read about these programs, and recommendations from some faculty at JHU, these are excellent programs with great faculty and reputations.

Judging by the flurry of activity on P&W’s Comments page, MFA-gate isn’t going away anytime soon. I’ll have more thoughts on this in the coming days, that’s for sure. But in the meantime, I’ve got writing samples to gather and a statement of purpose that just won’t finish writing itself.  And right now, that ranks #1 on my priority list.