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.

Inspirational Quote…

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and I could say “I used everything you gave me.”

Erma Bombeck

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?

Finding Inspiration

As a person who thrives on creative energy, I’m always intrigued by what inspires people to create art. I’ve been inspired to write poems by just a single word. There have been buildings, names and experiences that inspired my writing (including the novel I’m currently working on). There is just something invigorating and phenomenal about the fact that a tiny seed — a thought, an idea, a vision — can spur someone to create art that amazes, entertains and inspires.

Just like 96.99997% of people out there, I am a fan of Beyoncé‘s music. By no means am I one of her crazed stans, but I do enjoy her music…well most of her music. There are some songs of Beyoncé’s that I just don’t like. (Sorry, people.) Some songs of hers seem to come off as manufactured, formulaic, uninspired fluff. Beyoncé and her creative team of collaborators undoubtedly have their fingers on the pulse of whatever’s hot at the moment. Now that’s not a bad thing. But I have a greater appreciation for art that is organic, and not borne out of a trend or some commercial objective. There’s a distinct difference between “art for art’s sake” and art fueled by profit. I know I’m probably going to incite the wrath of a few stans, but Beyoncé’s proven that she’s a master of manufacturing wildly successful commercial radio-friendly hits. New York Magazine’s Amos Barshad seems somewhat disappointed that this time around she wasn’t trying to go the hit-making route. I am glad she didn’t. When I read about the what inspired her to create her latest album, 4, something clicked with me.

In a recent interview in Essence magazine, Beyoncé said she took a year off from music to live her life and be inspired by the world around her. She said that by working with the musicians from Fela!, the Tony-award winning Broadway musical her hubby Jay-Z produced, that she allowed herself to get lost in the music. “What I learned most from Fela,” she said, “was artistic freedom.”

I loved the fact that she stepped away from the commercial music machine to “have life experiences” to inspire her new project.  “Having time to grow as a human being was really inspiring, and gave me a lot to pull from,” she told Essence.

(If I may digress here, I do believe that Beyoncé severing professional ties with her father, the Machiavellian Mathew Knowles, was the best thing she’s ever done for her career. I’d like to think that with her father no longer ruining managing her has contributed to the artistic freedom that was the guiding force on her new project. And now back to our regularly scheduled program…)

Listening to 4, I can feel Beyoncé’s newfound artistic freedom. The fact alone that she wanted her project to have “vibrata, live instrumentation and classic songwriting” (as told to Complex mag) was enough to make impress me. Yeah, I know she doesn’t singlehandedly write her own music, but she contributes to the making of her music, and she served as executive producer for this project. There’s something beautifully raw and honest about 4. To me, it doesn’t come off as a bunch of gimmicky, pre-fabbed hits. It sounds like it’s just music for music’s sake. And I like that.

And speaking of inspiration, Beyoncé’s “Love OnTop”, an infectious up-tempo song with a distinct old school vibe, inspired Heather Traska (@heathertraska on Twitter) to do a mind-blowing a cappella version of the song. Check it out here: