MHR: Hi, Valerie. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions about Writers Room. Briefly, what is Writers Room and what is your affiliation with it?
VF: Writers Room is an initiative at the Center for Neighborhood Partnerships in West Philadelphia, associated with Drexel University. It’s one of many initiatives there aimed at both connecting different community organizations and at helping individuals. Writers Room, specifically, offers a regular writing workshop, as well as side-by-side classes in which both Drexel students and others from the community take part. Topics have included War Stories, Memoir Writing, and Poetry Writing. We’re in our third full year of programming.
I’m a faculty writing fellow with Writers Room, as part of my job teaching at Drexel University, and I get to offer workshops, help out with programming, and support the other teachers and our directors in their workshops and special events.
Colleagues I work closely with are Rachel Wenrick, Kirsten Kaschock, and Carol Richardson McCullough. We have a motto: Together, we are creating a shared story.
MHR: What are some of the ways Writers Room meets the creative community’s needs in Philadelphia?
VF: Writers Room provides a space for writers to write and share work. A close-knit group attends monthly workshops, and special events are offered throughout the year, as well as one-on-one consultations.
A one-off workshop last year, for instance, was called Portraits through Time and combined writing and drawing. We’re planning one for winter focusing on recording oral histories.
MHR: Can you highlight events that Writers Room have marked you personally as transformative?
VF: I find that all my interactions at Writers Room are energizing. Carol has said about Writers Room: “that’s where the magic happens.” Writers come here and find a place where they are inspired to share their stories.
We also see the delight in the writers’ faces when they see their work in the anthologies and chapbooks we make together. Writers appreciate the challenging classes, the feedback from fellow writers, and the wonderful diversity and energy of this place. Seeing the positive impact of the younger (“traditional”) college students and community writers working together never gets old.
Seeing the seriousness and growth within our group reminds me why I write, too—to express myself, but also to reach and be read by an audience, to connect with others.
Our recent festival focused on Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was incredibly gratifying and touched the lives of many hundreds of people. It was part of the NEA Big Read program; more information on that here [http://www.neabigread.org/communities/?community_id=2250].
Our workshop members took part in numerous discussions and workshops. Additionally, we took the festival into many branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia, sharing Hurston’s work with both adult reading groups and kids. For the kids, we were able to share the picture book, about Hurston’s early life. The festival also included panels, a dance performance, a zine-making workshop, and more.
MHR: Can you talk a bit about relationships that develop through the interactions in Writers Room?
VF: These and other events are a catalyst for collaboration amongst teachers and students, as well as groups and departments associated with Drexel. For instance, I’d been working on some collaborations with artist Jacklynn Niemiec (who also teaches at DU), and doing workshops with her at Writers Room has led to further collaborations and an energizing of my teaching practice overall.
MHR: How can someone become involved?
VF: Our website lists events, and anyone from our area is welcome! For special events, like the Letter Press workshop last month, space may be limited, so it is important to reply or fill out a form as requested to ensure there is a spot for you for in cases like this. If you are interested in getting involved, please to our website and sign up for announcements, or drop us a line!
Valerie Fox‘s books include The Rorschach Factory, The Glass Book, and Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (co-written with Lynn Levin). Much interested in collaboration, she has published many poems and stories with Arlene Ang. She is also part of group of Philadelphia artists combining dance, word, and visual arts in projects known as “Variable Space.” She has published in Juked, West Branch, Hanging Loose, Painted Bride Quarterly, Apiary, Sentence, Mead, and other magazines.