Break Out: Voices from the Inside, September 10, 2018

The Indiana Writers Center held “Breakout: Voices From the Inside” in partnership with PEN America on Monday, September 10, 2018 from 7-9 PM. Though the audience was small, all who attended, including the readers, agreed that they were moved by the presentation, which included work by PEN Prison Writing Contest winners, people incarcerated in the Indiana prison system, and Jeremy Richard, who is incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA. Poems by Indiana poet Etheridge Knight, as well as poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts, who made it out of prison and are an inspiration to all of us. The work was read without interruption, as a program gave biographical information about writers and readers.

The program was as follows:

“Cell Song” by Etheridge Knight
Read by JL Kato

“discovery after twenty years in prison” by Sean J. White
Second Place, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Karen Kovacik

“My Mind” by Dave
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“Five Haiku Plus Two” by Geneva J. Philips
Honorable Mention, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Devon Ginn

“This Poem” by Etheridge Knight
Read by Celeste Williams

An excerpt from the writing of Jeremy Richard
Read by Barbara Shoup

“Going Forward with Gus” by Sterling Cunio
Second Place, Essay, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Michael McColly

“Break Free” by Brandon
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“Fragment of a Dream” by Gary K. Farlow
Honorable Mention, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by JL Kato

“The Idea of Ancestry” by Etheridge Knight
Read by Angela Jackson Brown

“The Storm” by  Edward Ji
Honorable Mention, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Celeste Williams

“Remembrance” by Foosie
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“Grace Notes” by Matthew Mendoza
First Place, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by JL Kato

An excerpt from the writing of Jeremy Richard
Read by Barbara Shoup

“At a VA Hospital” by Etheridge Knight
Read by Devon Ginn

“Only Human” by Daniel
Read by Debra DesVignes

“Regret’s Tragic Romance” by Annmarie Harris-Romero
Honorable Mention, Nonfiction PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Angela Jackson Brown

“The Glitter Squirrel in Me” by Elizabeth Hawes
Third Place, Poetry, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Rachel Sahaidachny

“Dimensions” by Albert
Read by Debra Des Vignes

“The Swallow War” by St. James Harris Wood
First Place, Essay, PEN America Prison Writing Contest, 2018
Read by Michael McColly

“Ode to a Kite” by Reginald Dwayne Betts
Read by Karen Kovacik



Read an excerpt of "The Swallow War" by St. James Harris Wood

After fifteen years down, I assume that prison life can't get any more off-kilter or annoying; but then, some cruel functionary starts a war against the local swallows. Each early dawn and during the fading light of dusk I love to watch the hardy little birds hurtling in tandem by the hundreds, coasting and whipping around the sky, exercising or herding bugs maybe, or perhaps just flying for the joy of it. I enjoy it, watching their huge swarm, a thousand strong, wheeling around like drunken feathered acrobats, breathtaking and beautiful as they pursue and eradicate every bee, fly, mosquito, moth, and whatever else is in the air and smaller than the hungry little assassins. Watching the sparrows is better than tv or pinochle and has the distinct bouquet of freedom.

In the hills surrounding my home, the California Men's Colony, dwell macabre flying spiders who contrive to get to the top of our absurdly high (50 yards) light towers. The ambitious spiders lay thousands of eggs up there, and when the babies hatch, windy days are a signal for them to make web kites, and all at once the entire spider congregation takes off, mostly to be killed and eaten by the swallows, thank God; but last year the flying baby spiders launched themselves while the sparrows were off somewhere else, having heard of special mud for their nests in another county. The spiders spread across the sky, the yard, all over the buildings and grass, landing on our clothes and hair for an hour, until finally the sparrows returned home. It was a scene, or more properly an outburst of nature (a tantrum?) to see a thousand swallows dodging about en masse, performing maneuvers, eradicating the remaining spiders, still aloft. The baby spiders take it stoically as a countless number of their comrades had made it to the ground before the massacre. Like everyone, I can't help but wonder how the swallows manage to perform their complicated mass dance and aerial gyrations—spinning, swirling, churning, clouds of feathers and grace so unlike our clumsy human world—without ever crashing into each other and falling to the ground like Icarus, or me.

These American Cliff Swallows have been coming to San Luis Obispo for a thousand years, flying up from Goya, Argentina (if we are to believe them), and once here they frantically, industriously search out little globs of mud and build nests that resemble tiny brown desert igloos. The prison is smack dab in the middle of the little birds' centuries old customary nesting grounds. Figuring that we've placed the prison here for their convenience, the swallows build their nests in the infrastructure of the steel girders—imagine a bridge built in a square with all the little caches, tiny lairs, and small dens that three stories of steel beams offer. This singular edifice sits in the center of the prison; it's open air and we call it the plaza. There are a couple of trees, some sickly grass, and a 100 yard circular sidewalk in the plaza connecting our four yards. All the cops, free staff, and convicts (around 3,000 people) march through it to work, to school, to the library, and everywhere else we are compelled to go during the day, from four in the morning until around ten at night. Right above the sidewalk is the metal structure with its niches, nooks, and crannies—about every four-five inches—where the swallows build their nests, and there are a couple thousand of these spaces in the plaza. It is a wonderfully odd and happenstance open air aviary—except of course for the barbed wire and incarceration. The swallows are free and the humans are trapped. As we walk back and forth beneath their nests to school and work, the swallows, who apparently aren't afraid of humans, stare grumpily at us, trespassing in their prison.

For nine years I've watched the whole process: birds arrive, build nests like tiny lunatic construction crews, at dawn and dusk they twirl and swirl through the sky (often feinting and mock fighting for obscure reasons), and conveniently patrol our little valley and eat countless bugs. Out here in the near wilderness there are bugs galore and I am grateful that the mosquitoes, midges, and spiders are dealt such a blow, the swallows keeping them from my flesh. They have to maintain their high pitched metabolisms, fuel up for all the precise turbulent aerial displays, and when the time comes, feed their fledglings. Eggs are laid and the mock fighting increases as they defend their nests from imaginary threats. Soon (two weeks), frighteningly tiny swallows are hatched, mindlessly cheeping for bugs and whatever else is on the menu.

A bit more info about the program and those involved in Nuvo, "Indiana Writers Center Highlights Prison Writing."

Presented by Indiana Writers Center in partnership with PEN America


Written by Rachel Sahaidachny — October 08, 2018

2018 Gathering of Writers-Yes, we are here at the Indiana State Library. Please join us!

Story, Poem, Essay:  Which Door Will You Choose

Whether you think of yourself as a poet, fiction writer, or essayist, sometimes you have an idea that just doesn’t seem to fit into the usual genre. Or maybe you’d like to take a break from the usual and try something new with an idea begging for words. Fiction writer and essayist Susan Neville will explore new ways to think about your ideas that will enrich your creative process and expand your understanding of what your material might become in her keynote address, “Poem, Story, or Essay: Which Door to Choose?”

Join us at the Indiana State Library when Indiana's best established and emerging writers will meet for a full day of classes on the writing craft.  Sessions in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction will be presented by nine accomplished Indiana writers, including Nancy Botkin, Jill Christman, Curtis Crisler, Angela Jackson-Brown, Sarah Layden, Sean Lovelace, Mark Neely, Kelcey Parker-Ervick and Barbara Shoup.  You’ll leave full of inspiration, armed with writing drafts ripe for experimentation—along with a hundred other writers who feel the same way. 

Gathering Location and Parking

Susan Neville is the author of four works of creative nonfiction: Indiana Winter, Fabrication: Essays on Making Things and making Meaning; Twilight in Arcadia; Iconography: A Writer’s Meditation and Sailing the Inland Sea. Her prize-winning collections of short fiction include In the House of Blue Lights, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize and Invention of Flight, winner of the Flanner O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and in other anthologies, including Extreme Fiction and The Story Behind the Story. Recent stories and essays have appeared or will appear in The Southwest Review, The Missouri Review, The Collagist, Diagram, and Image. She lives in Indianapolis and is the Demia Professor of English at Butler University.


$80 Members / $150 Nonmembers

Full-time Students (with ID) are eligible for a discounted registration. They may be requested with a teacher recommendation. Email 

Lunch will be guaranteed for all attendees who pre-register by 03/21/2018.
(Please brown bag your lunch, if you decide to register after this date.  We will not be buying extra meals this year.)


Gathering of Writers Refund Policy


If you need more encouragement, read what attendees had to say about the 2017 Gathering of Writers.

Thank you to our 2018 Sponsors:




Written by Roxanna Santoro — February 28, 2018

Writers Center to Host Reporters Who Exposed USA Gymnastics Scandal

The Indiana Writers Center (IWC) will host a public discussion with the team of investigative journalists from The Indianapolis Star who uncovered decades of sexual abuse in a series, “Out of Balance” — reporting that ultimately led to the conviction Dr. Larry Nassar and the resignations of officials whose actions and inaction enabled the continued abuse of dozens of female athletes.

Funded by a grant from the PEN America’s Press Freedom Incentive Fund, and in partnership with the Arthur M. Glick JCC, “In the Balance: Press Freedom & the Public Good in the USA Gymnastics Investigation,” will take place 7-9 p.m., March 22 at the Arthur M. Glick JCC, Laikin Auditorium, 6701 Hoover Road, Indianapolis.

John Krull, chairman of Franklin College’s Journalism Department and host of the WFYI show, “No Limits,” will moderate the panel, featuring Mark Alesia, Tim Evans and Marisa Kwiatkowski, the Indianapolis Star journalists who investigated and wrote the stories about widespread sexual abuse in the USA Gymnastics organization.

Other panelists include Steve Berta, editor for the series, Robert Scheer, visual journalist, and Gerry Lanosga, professor of journalism at Indiana University.

The Star’s investigation began in 2016. It provided the first comprehensive look at the pervasiveness of the abuse in gymnastics, revealing that at least 368 gymnasts had alleged sexual abuse over the past 20 years. As a result of the team’s reporting, Nassar, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, will serve a minimum of 125 years in prison up to a maximum of 275 years, after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he sexually abused them over two decades.

The series was among the top award winners in the 2016 Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) contest, which recognizes the best watchdog journalism of the year. Reverberations from the scandal continue. The entire leadership of Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics resigned, and institutions such as Michigan State University and the United States Olympic Committee have been accused of mishandling complaints.

The series also resulted in proposed national legislation addressing the reporting of abuse.

Barbara Shoup, executive director of the IWC, said the PEN America Press Freedom Incentive Fund grant is designed to stimulate programs, projects, events and activities that will mobilize local communities around press freedom advocacy.

Panelists will discuss the origin of the series and how it developed, addressing such issues as First Amendment issues, obstacles encountered, ethical concerns, and the role of investigative journalism in an environment in which mainstream media is often attacked as “fake news.”

The national grant is a first for the IWC, a small Indianapolis non-profit organization dedicated to writers and writing. For more than 30 years, the organization has offered classes in poetry, fiction, nonfiction and playwriting. It also publishes anthologies of Indiana authors, and books highlighting the voices of individuals whose voices aren’t often heard.

Shoup said she hopes that the panel discussion will not only address the public policy and press issues, but will also highlight a goal of community outreach of the IWC. The organization not only advocates for freedom of expression, press freedom and the power of the written word, but advocates for those at the margins.

To that end, as part of the PEN grant, the IWC will develop writing classes during the weeks following the panel discussion that will explore some of the issues of abuse and trauma brought out in the IndyStar investigation. Writers will also be introduced to some of the “tools” of journalism useful to any writer.

For more information about “In the Balance,” call 317-255-0710 or email

Free Tickets available through Eventbrite:

Written by Roxanna Santoro — February 26, 2018

"The Write Life: making the cut in Indiana publishing"

"I write from my heart, for myself-the only way I know how to write. Writing novels is a way of looking "sideways" at the joys, sorrows, fears, regrets, and unanswerable questions of my own life. It's a way of living more than one life: imagining the inside of my head, I see a circle of doors, each one with the whole life of a novel behind it. Mine." 

Barb Shoup Signature

If you go here, you can read the feature article in Nuvo "The Write Life: making the cut in Indiana publishing" online.

Written by Roxanna Santoro — June 04, 2016

Being an Emerging Playwright by Andrew Black

Being an emerging playwright is hard.  Very Hard.

If you are an emerging musician, you can write a new piece of music at your piano and then invite friends over to your house and play it for them.

If you are a visual artist, you can go into your garage, put paint on a canvas and then show it to people and see what they think.

If you are a new playwright, and you write a 30-minute one act with five characters, you have to know five reasonably talented actors who are all available at the same time, have a place that is big enough to accommodate a cast of five and at least five of your friends if you want to experience your own work in a very minimalistic setting.

If you want to see a real production of your 30-minute play, good luck!  You have to find a theater company which is willing to invest in new work and has a space, and some design professionals (costume, director, set design) in order to experience your creation.  And you find that very few theaters (which work on shoestring budgets anyway) are willing to work with you on your project.

That is why the Indiana Writers Center (IWC) in its partnership with Indy Fringe is so important for emerging playwrights.  The Indiana Writers Center provides a setting where playwrights can take a playwriting class.  In these classes, professional actors come and read new work at no charge. The playwrights can re-write based on what they learn.  Professional theater companies partner with the IWC to help develop work through low-cost staged readings (rehearsals and blocking, but no sets, costumes or props).

Finally, Indy Fringe offers festivals where playwrights can see and experience fully realized workshop productions of their own plays, complete with stage, basic set pieces, and an audience.

This year (2016), DIVAFEST features workshop productions of plays by eight emerging playwrights who have come up through this IWC/Indy Fringe connection.  (April 1-April 10)

The next week (April 15-16), The Short, Sharp and Twisted play festival features work by six additional emerging playwrights, four of whom are having their first-ever production of a play.

When you come to DIVAFEST or Short, Sharp and Twisted, you are supporting a process which is making life easier for the emerging playwright in Central Indiana.  Much Easier.

Andrew Black has an MFA from Ohio University’s School of Theatre, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Trisolini Fellowship. His first full-length play Porn Yesterday (co-written with Patricia Milton) has been produced across the country. Since that play reached the stage, it has been a non-stop, full-on adventure! Many productions of short plays and full-lengths followed. Now in Indianapolis, Indiana, Andrew has developed a full playwriting curriculum for the Indiana Writers Center, and is on the teaching staff of the Indiana Repertory Theater and the Young Actors Theater. He is currently developing a one act play, Iceberg, and has a short play in the upcoming Phoenix Theater Holiday Show. Strange Bedfellows (co-written with Patricia Milton) will be produced in Indianapolis in 2016 by Khaos Company Theater.


Written by Barbara Shoup — April 04, 2016

Help the IWC Celebrate Our New Poet Laureate!

We hope you can join us!
Go here to get your facebook invitation and reply. Thanks for your RSVP!

Parking Info for the Event

The Indiana State Library is located at 315 W. Ohio Street. Parking is available for $5 at the state employees parking garage, just across street. (Enter from New York Street, one block north.) Metered street parking is also available.         
 Click here for a map

In order to get the $5 parking rate in the State Employees Parking Garage, you will need to click here and print the voucher for this discounted rate.  (If you are unable to do this, just let the parking cashier know that you are attending the reception for the new Poet Laureate and they will honor the special rate when you check out of the garage.)

Written by Roxanna Santoro — March 02, 2016

Women Veterans’ Memoirs: A Writing Workshop

Women veterans of all ages are invited to join this free memoir-writing workshop designed to help them craft their military stories through prose or poetry. Led by Shari Wagner, a published writer and instructor for the Indiana Writers Center, each two-hour session will include prompts and models, in-class writing activities, discussion, and feedback. Women at all levels of writing experience are welcome. It’s only necessary that they have the desire to develop their writing skills and share their stories. Workshops will be held twice a month at The Kurt Vonnegut Library (340 N. Senate Ave., Indianapolis) and will run from October through March. The best work from each veteran will be published in a book by the Indiana Writers Center and celebrated at a public reading in May.  Contact Shari Wagner at for more details and to register. Shari’s faculty bio is available here.


This 12-session class, running from October 2015 until March 2016, will meet the first and third Tuesdays of each month, from 1:30-3:30 p.m., at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, 340 N. Senate Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

Dates: October 6 & 20; November 3 & 17; December 1 & 15; January 5 & 19; February 2 & 16; March 1 & 15

The Indiana Writers Center (IWC) educates, inspires, connects, and supports Indiana writers working at all levels and in all genres.  It recognizes the power of stories and advocates for writing and literature as essential to a community that values clarity of communication, honors diversity, and fosters tolerance and compassion.

Sponsored by: Indiana Writers Center in partnership with Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Veterans Antiquities, and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

Written by Roxanna Santoro — August 14, 2015

Readin', Writin', and Retreatin'


Myra Ann Rutledge

Don’t you just hate that daily life and routine always seem to get in the way of the things you’d really love to do, like writing? How many times have you said to yourself, “If only I could get away for a few days and do nothing except work on my novel (or poetry or memoir or blog or play or essay)! No cooking, no laundry, no dirty dishes, no yard work. Just writing. That’s it!” And with a heavy sigh, you add, “It would be heavenly!”

Me, too. I’ve said those things many times, so when the notice went up late last year announcing a Winter Writers Retreat in early January, I was ready. I was even more psyched to see that it was happening in the next county up from my home in New Castle, near the part of Delaware County where I grew up. Of course, then it became an issue of “Will the weather cooperate? It’s the first weekend in January for chrissake! Those back roads are going to be a bear if it snows.”   This thought was quickly followed by an “Oooooh! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get snowed in for an extra day or two of even more writing?!?” So I signed up.

The weather was cold and the country roads were indeed snow-packed, but there were no problems getting to and from the Oakwood Retreat Center near Selma. The weekend was simply amazing!   I was so taken by the experience that when the Spring Writers Retreat was announced for the first weekend in May at the same venue, I was one of the first to sign up.

What a treat to spend 48 hours in the company of fellow writers of every genre! I live in what I call the hinterlands, away from the city and without easy access to the IWC and the camaraderie that can be found there, so, for me, that was the most satisfying aspects of the weekend. The creativity was so contagious, and hearing works in various states of progress allowed each of us to understand that we all face the same issues and monsters when we write. Beyond the fellowship, there were large blocks of time and plenty of quiet places in our housing, in the main building, and around the farm itself for writing and for inspiration. Needless to say, we were able to enjoy the outdoor areas much more in warm, sunny May than we did in zero-degree January. Andy Black and Alicia Rasley, the IWC facilitators, were available for private consultation, and there were a few scheduled events; even at these, attendance was not mandatory. We were strongly encouraged to attend the Saturday night post-dinner reading and sharing of samples of our work, and every one of us did.   In so many ways, this was one of the most valuable times of the weekend. Listening to poetry, memoirs, fiction, and plays in various stages of development allowed us to offer and to receive constructive suggestions and to see what works and what doesn’t. This is the sort of reinvigoration and inspiration that every writer craves.

I simply must sing the praises here of the Oakwood Retreat Center. Located on 35 acres just north of Prairie Creek Reservoir near Muncie, it is quiet and relaxing and decidedly rural. The staff (most of whom live on site) are accommodating, and the facilities are very well-kept and lovely. Housing for the weekend was most comfortable and pleasant, and the food was absolutely delicious. They have committed to using locally-produced food grown in a sustainable environment as much as is feasible, and they provide organic produce from their own garden in season. We’re talking very tasty food; there are vegetarian and vegan options, but the kitchen staff is happy to please the carnivores among us as well. . They are, likewise, not adverse to those who wish to imbibe moderately in fermented beverages, and thus a nice glass of wine or beer or a wee nip of Scotch could be enjoyed before dinner or as a nightcap with no disapproval.

Am I ready for the next Writers Retreat? You bet! When is it and how soon can I sign up? Anyone who is still wondering if this is for them should consider this: imagine a day of nothing but writing followed by a delightful dinner and glass of wine followed by a give-and-take sharing of awesome work followed by a quiet stroll down a farm lane under a starlit sky where you can actually see the stars far from the lights of the city followed by a restful sleep populated only be sweet dreams. Sound good? It is!


 Watch the IWC website for the Fall Retreat Dates

To Be Announced ASAP


Written by Indiana Writers Center — May 18, 2015



Hi everyone, we’re Katie Morris and Teal Cracraft – the kindred-spirit team behind SpeakYourStory. We started this project to create a website dedicated to telling the unfiltered stories of all women. We deeply believe that every woman has a story to tell, and that the story-telling process is cathartic, brave, and redemptive.

 Too often, our most life-changing, beautiful, messy and sometimes ugly truths are hidden from those we love out of fear, shame and judgment. We know, because we’ve done it too. What we’ve come to realize is that we don’t have to let these experiences isolate and alienate us. Instead, we’ll use our stories to empower and connect. Our goal is to form a strong community that embraces the stories of women with love and compassion.

 Our story sharing platform is designed to be safe and inclusive. We don’t edit the stories and we publish everything we receive. Every woman has a unique voice and we encourage all forms of self-expression. Your story may be a song, a poem, an audio recording, video, a painting, written words, or a photograph. Literally, anything that speaks to your true self has a home at

 We hope that you consider joining our community and sharing your stories with us. Stories can be submitted on our website at or through email at 

Written by Indiana Writers Center — May 07, 2015

Call for Volunteers Summer 2015- Building a Rainbow



This summer we are excited to partner with St. Florian Center, LaPlaza, and Concord Neighborhood Center to present “Building a Rainbow,” a creative writing memoir program for disadvantaged youth. The summer program runs from June 22 through July 31, 2015.

We are seeking volunteer teachers, writers, and community members to help us work with our students. As a volunteer, you will be working directly with student writers ages 6 to 16, the Indiana Writers Center’s instructors, the Education Outreach Director, the Executive Director, and other volunteers. With your team, you will be responsible for helping to facilitate and teach students narrative writing techniques.  

St. Florian will meet every Monday and Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at IPS #27 (545 East 19th Street) from June 22- July 31. LaPlaza will meet every Monday and Wednesday from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. from June 22 through July 24 at Gambold Preparatory High School at 3725 Kiehl Avenue in Indianapolis. Concord Neighborhood Center will meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at Concord (1310 South Meridian Street). (Dates for Concord TBA).

 We will host a voluntary training session Thursday, June 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m at the Indiana Writers Center. We can train you on site as well.  

If you are interested in volunteering, please email either Education Outreach Director, Dr. Darolyn “Lyn” Jones, at or Executive Director, Barbara Shoup at If you are interested in attending the training session, please email Lyn at

The Indiana Writers Center (IWC) educates, inspires, connects, and supports Indiana writers working at all levels and in all genres. It recognizes the power of stories and advocates for writing and literature as essential to a community that values clarity of communication, honors diversity, and fosters tolerance and compassion.

Written by Indiana Writers Center — April 28, 2015

© Indiana Writers Center 2012