Every spring, the Indiana Writers Center
has a booth at the Broad Ripple Art Fair, which is held on the grounds of the
Indianapolis Art Center. I love getting there to set up on the morning of the
first day, peppy music on the sound system, volunteers and staff zipping around
on golf carts, artists rolling back the front of their tents to reveal their
This year there was the smell of rain
from the night before and the smell of lilacs from the huge bushes behind our
booth. The smell of steak and onions and mushrooms sizzling on the grill wafted
over from the nearby steak tent and coffee, from the Hubbard and Cravens booth
next to it.
Closer to opening time, there was the
“Hey! Hey! HEY!” of sound checks. Artists roam around, checking out each others’
booths, chatting, sometimes taking notes. Volunteers go booth-to-booth,
bringing cold bottled water, checking to see if everything’s okay.
When the gates open, a steady stream of
people begins—eventually making its way to our booth in the east parking lot.
Most give us a glance and walk on by. Sometimes people hesitate and we call
out, “Are you interested in writing?” Some laugh and move on. Some politely
say, “No, thank you.” Some instinctively raise their hands, palms out, as if to
fend off the specter of their high school English teacher—and can’t get away
fast enough. Which always makes us laugh.
The fun part is when people say, “Yes.”
Sometimes they’re young people,
beginning life in the “real” world and finding it difficult, if not impossible,
to write as they did in high school or college. Some are middle-aged, with a
secret dream of writing, but clueless about how to start. Some are older and
want to leave a legacy of memories to their families.
Some say, “You can make me a writer?”
And we say, “If you let go of the idea
that it’s going to perfect the first time and are willing to rethink and revise
as many times as it takes to get a finished, polished piece of writing, yes, we
Occasionally, though, a person like this
girl, a recent graduate of a prestigious private school, comes by:
Me: Hi, are you interested in writing?
Girl: I am a writer. I’ve been published
I tell her about the Writers Center. Our
classes, our very excellent faculty, our Gathering of Writers.
Girl: I don’t believe you can teach
Me: Well, I have to disagree with you
there. I’ve been doing it for about forty years now,
and I guarantee that a good creative
writing teacher can help people become better writers.
Girl: I don’t think anyone should tell a
writer there’s something wrong with their writing.
Me: But that’s not what teaching
creative writing is about at all. Writing is a craft and you need to learn it,
just like painters. Have you heard of the painter, Paul Klee.
Me: Picasso then. The sketchbooks from
when he was young are full of beautifully drafted drawings. He learned the
“rules,” then broke them. But his understanding of the craft of writing
underpinned the great paintings he went on to make.
I explain my nifty idea about how what
you know in your head, feel in your heart and see in your mind’s eye are not
words, that you literally have to translate these things into words—which is
hard enough, but then you can’t read what you’ve written and get a fix on
what’s actually there because you can’t separate the words on the page from the
ideas in your head. Thus, the creative writing teacher (or any good reader) is
necessary to help you see what’s on the page and what’s still in your head.
Girl: Hostile stare.
Me: So. Where are you going to college
in the fall?
Me: Wow! Lucky you. They have a fabulous
creative program there.
Girl: (Sets down the brochure and
schedule of classes I’d given her, steam practically coming out of her ears.) I said, I don’t believe in telling people how to write.
And walks away.
All right, then, I thought. Good luck
with that writing career.
And remembered, as I often do, this
sustaining quote from Richard Bausch:
“Every book written anywhere is written
a little at a time, over time, in a lot of confusion and doubt. The doubt is
your talent. People with no talent usually don't have any doubt.”
The aspiring writers for whom this rings
true are the ones we love to work with, the ones who benefit from what the IWC
has to offer. If you’re one of them, check out what we have to offer!
Many thanks to those of you who donated to this project. We're thrilled to say that we reached our goal and will be able to pay $500 stipends to five our our fabulous interns.
One of the coolest things in the world is to stand in the middle of a classroom surrounded by children with their heads bent, writing furiously, no sound but the scratch of pencils on the page. A very cool thing is to listen to them read their stories aloud. It’s wonderful to see how proud—and often surprised—they are at having written so well. But the coolest thing of all is to put a book in the hands of a young writer and watch her face light up when she opens it to find her own story inside
Every summer, The Indiana Writers Center makes this happen every summer with "Building a Rainbow," a six-week creative writing program that takes a difficult academic skill—writing—and makes it fun, personal, and empowering. Working one-on-one, IWC instructors, college interns, and volunteers guide a diverse group of 130 at-risk young people, aged 6-14 through series of steps in which they remember moments in their own lives, write them down, and shape them into finished pieces of writing. Over the summer, they become better, more confident writers. They also learn that they have stories worth telling and voices that deserve to be heard. At the end of the program, students receive a paperback anthology of all of the stories written that summer—and they can hardly wait to look inside and find their own.
Gifted, committed college interns are crucial to the success of our program. In addition to giving young writers quality attention, they also produce the anthology of student stories and create a short video that is shown to students and their parents at the final celebration. And they learn, too!
"I’m blown away by the power of children,” a 2013 intern said. “I had no idea they had so much to say with such unique voices.
Most of our interns work several jobs to make ends meet. We'd like to be able to offer them a modest stipend for their significant contributions to our summer program.
The Poetry Salon started approximately thirty five years ago under
a different name and with a different
format. From the beginning The Writers’ Center of Indianapolis, (now The Indiana
Writers Center), had a core of people interested in writing poetry and so
founded various workshops in poetry, both reading and writing. All of these
were of the classic variety where people sat around a table while manuscripts
were passed in a circle to everyone in the class. There was usually a teacher
(the teacher sometimes knew just a little more than his
students) and he/she ran the class by making sure everyone got a chance to read
his or her poem(s) along with encouraging commentary and criticism from others in the
group. These criticisms were aimed at improving the style and quality of the
writing. Of course the quality of the criticism itself depended largely on the
sophistication and experience of the group as a whole. There was no attempt to
make moral judgments about the content of a poem or to make pronouncements
regarding form, rhyme, or lack thereof. What was encouraged was the making of
an effective metaphor and the right word choice and also the reading of poetry,
both classical and modern so that William Blake or A. E. Housman might be read in
one breathe and W. S. Merwin or Wallace Stevens, or Sylvia Plath might be read
in the next. If a person had nothing new of their own to contribute at some
particular meeting one might read one of his or her favorite poems by someone else and the group could
comment upon that.
The Poetry Workshop from which the Poetry
Salon derived was run by Kevin Corn and Richard Pflum from a previous program
which was started by Thomas Hastings. Under the Korn-Pflum régime it was
decided there would be no term limit and that the workshop should continue as
long as there was life left in it. Later Korn decided to go back to school to
earn his PhD in religious studies. This left Pflum running the show on his own
until Rohanna McCormack agreed to join him and help. Over the years Pflum began
to feel that a workshop in the old fashioned sense lacked a certain kind of
freedom. He thought of the kind of salon that Gertrude Stein had run in Paris
after the first World War. This salon was a kind of space where artists of
every variety met and enriched each others’ art by conversation and by the
exhibiting of their work. He thought that maybe the salon would still have to
be primarily about poetry but he might be able to encourage artists in other
fields to show up and talk about their work. Alas, this was not to be the case
for Pflum soon discovered, that like birds, American artists like to hang out
with their own kind. Pflum should have known better for most poets behave in
exactly the same way: street poets hang out with street poets, slam poets hang
out with slam poets, ethnics with ethnics, academics with academics, and so it
goes. What he was able to do with his original idea was to encourage
participants to speak more freely about their other interests. To talk
tangentially about such diverse subjects as baiting a hook for walleye or chaos
theory and Mandelbrot figures, to atonal music of the New Vienna School in the
1930’s, to “Delbert” or “Peanuts”, or even about the detritus in their own everyday
lives, when a lone strident voice might pipe up from the table, “ when are we
going to start talking about our own poetry?” There is a continuing pressure to
run the Salon more like a University Workshop where we must stick to the
subject and we all must have equal time to discuss our work. Pflum would like
to think that the Salon experience might be more of an aesthetic adventure
rather than a place where one merely seeks tools so that one writes better.
Writing well might be the bottom line but gaining an outlook so that language
becomes one of our principal passions along with those metaphoric procedures that
might be used by an author to make up both a singular and imaginative world; worlds
in which many questions might be asked. We must understand that complete answers
are timeless and unattainable and might only be answered in a provisional way
or in the production of more questions, depending on: where we are, when we are,
and who we are when we ask. It is the questions which are important and
profound. Off the top of his head Pflum has made a list of some example
questions which might serve as meager stepping stones an artist might use in
trying to make something of real value:
How should we live so that our life
maintains the best of what
it means to be human?
How may we walk in a fallow field
and see the green?
How shall we look in the night sky and
see a living day??
What shall we listen for, on a
How many times must we repeat our
mistakes before we know?
How may we let silence enrich our conversation
or our writing?
How shall we live in our favorite
season and make all seasons
How shall we know if we should make
a garden or a poem?
How may we attain the joy and
sadness of pure empathy?
How can we compete and win without
any desire for winning?
How shall we know when something within
ourselves or our writing is broken?
How may we take the broken parts of
ourselves or of our writing
and fuse them back into a whole
How can the ambiguity of language
itself enable us to discover
some kind of truth.
How shall we make our life into
metaphor and metaphor into our life?
How may we distill the profound out
of the merely adequate?
How can we become rich in insight,
if not within our own experience?
How may we retain our own
singularity and yet be part of the whole?
The Poetry Salon meets the 1st
and 3rd Tuesdays of the month at 8PM somewhere at the The Indiana
Writers Center in the Cultural Complex Bldg. behind (North of) the Indianapolis Arts Center. (Listen for raucous laughter and stressed
voices in order to find the room.) All are welcome.
Click here to read article by IWC member Kathy Higgs-Coulthard in Women on Writing
This is the first of a series of blog posts by IWC members on their writing lives.
I was long and lanky. Such a cruel trick my body played on
my mother; I was no longer her doll to dress and display. I was growing up and growing away from my
1950s upbringing. That is where my
I was born under a tower of men, that is, I had a strong
father and two strong older brothers.
Although I was a “girlie” girl, I thought their lives more fulfilling
than my mother’s and mine. Not only were
they being raised to make history (while I was being raised to make beds) they
played sports every afternoon while I strolled my baby sister like a “little
My father did recognize the reader in me and took me to the
library once a week on Saturdays. I
turned to books to live out my real life, a life where I was still a girl, but
moreover, I was a person, with dreams and abilities. When I ran out of children’s books, I found a
book that was going to change the direction of my life. I didn’t know it then,
but I was going to be a writer. The
book was To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Although it was to be years later that I began to seriously write, Scout
and Jem and Atticus were always with me.
Even at the age of ten, I seemed to realize the enormous impact wielded
by a writer.
I had written stories as a child, but back then, no one in
my family understood (including me) that writing is a craft that must be
taught. As I entered the vestibule
between childhood and adulthood, I found myself reading more and more, but not writing.
There were no creative writing classes or writing units in school in the
Entering my teenage years, I must admit I read every issue
of Seventeen Magazine, but I also read
all the classics we were assigned in English class, read all the Shakespeare
plays the summer before my senior year (my summer of Shakespeare as I like to
call it) and when I entered university, prepared to be an English major, I
found myself in love and married two years later.
Somewhere along the way, I lost the writer whispering inside
of me. It wasn’t until three children
later, that the whispering writer, hollered.
“Go back to school.” I did. I completed my remaining two years of
undergrad in 2010 and I am currently a Masters of Fine Arts candidate at Butler
University here in Indianapolis.
Along the way, I enrolled in Writers Center classes and
continue to do so. One of the reasons, I
was motivated to apply for acceptance into Butler’s MFA program was because of
the tutoring of the Writers Center here in Indianapolis. The teachers, classes and workshops gave me
opportunities to be part of a writing community and to hone my writing. It prepared me to write in undergrad and
graduate school. I continue to take
classes at the Writers Center, even though I am in graduate school, because of
the quality of the programs. I am a
member of the Writers Center. I always
will be. I am now a professional writer. I always was a writer, I just needed a place
like the Writers Center to bring me back to Scout and Jem and Atticus.
If you're a member of the IWC, please consider submitting a short essay (up to 1,000) words about your writing life. Submissions should be e-mailed to email@example.com
Visit www.marianallen.com to read a guest blog post by IWC faculty member S.M. Harding. She is the author of twenty-four published short stories, photographer, and editor of Writing
Murder, a collection of essays by Midwest crime and mystery authors. The
handy primer on the art of crime fiction is based on a successful lecture
program held at Jim Huang’s The Mystery Company.
Last fall, I received an e-mail from Andrew Black, a playwright, to let me know that he’d just moved to town and was interested in teaching for the Writers Center. We met. We talked. I figured out pretty quickly how lucky we were to be able to add him to our faculty.
So lucky, in fact, that three students in the very first class he taught—Tina Nehrling, Jan White, and Gari Williams—had plays accepted for this year’s DivaFest.
Here's what Andy Black had to say about the experience.
DivaFest 2013: Or Three Indianapolis Playwrights Get Their First Production…Who Knew?
I had never taught playwriting for an organization like The Writers Center before last fall, so I was unsure what to expect. What materialized was a five-session course called “The Fundamentals of Playwriting” and three women who were interested in writing plays. The focus of “Fundamentals” is learning seven basic structural components of effective narrative structure, then utilizing all of them in the creation of a ten-minute play. Yes, telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end in ten minutes.
The three female playwrights were game for the task, and I assigned a “theme” for the short plays to inspire their creativity. There are many ten-minute playwriting contests around the country, so I selected one which had a theme: “The Package, the Parcel or the Present” that I thought would be fairly easy to write to. I also realized that if the women in my class wrote to this theme, then they would have a product they could submit to a playwriting contest. So the “exercise” of writing a short play would turn into the “exercise” of submitting it as well, and then maybe even having it produced.
I did not realize that every spring in Indianapolis, there is a playwright’s festival for female playwrights called DivaFest, sponsored by Indy Fringe. Over the course of the five weeks, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the writing of my students. All three of their plays turned out to be production worthy. By the fifth week of the class, I had learned about DivaFest—a short festival of plays (no longer than an hour each) celebrating female playwrights. I suggested to the group that we submit their plays as a “package”—three ten minute plays written around a common theme. The protagonist of one was a teenager, the second was man at mid-life, and the third featured a senior. The three plays would look at concerns of different life stages, and be held together by the arrival of a “package.” Since the plays were themselves short, we could call the combined piece “Good Things Come in Small Packages”.
DivaFest accepted our submission (I learned that the judges scored the three short plays quite highly, which was very gratifying). The women are now going through the throes of a first production which have included finding and losing actors and a director, scrambling for a production concept, negotiating for rehearsal space….all the things that real life playwrights deal with all the time.
I am in the unique position of being able to say (as a first-time playwriting instructor) that 100% of my students have gone on to have their first production within six months of having completed my class—a statistic that I don’t think I will be able to use for the rest of my career!
We have had fun with our process, and look forward to Divafest. Come join us if you like…good things really do come in small packages.
Performances at Indy Fringe, Friday, March 8 @ 7:30pm, Sunday, March 10 @ 6:00pm, Friday, March 15 at 7:30pm.
Okay, new name. We argued about this one. Change? Don’t Change? It got a little heated sometimes. Maybe everybody’s still not positive that we did the right thing. If you’re not so sure yourself, we hope you come around.
It’s clean and streamlined, just like us. No pesky apostrophe; everyone hated that.
Plus, everyone calls us “The Writers Center,” anyway.
And new logo.
Tolstoy said, “Clarity is beauty.”
In this day and age, small not-for-profit organizations survive by staying light. But honing in on the most fundamental needs of the communities they serve and creating a long-range plan to meet those needs, making the very best of the talents and resources that are available to them.
That is what I’ve tried to do since having taken over as the Executive Director of the Writers’ Center in January, 2009—and I’m very happy that the Center is thriving as we enter 2013.
We know what we do and we do it well.
- Classes for writers working at all levels, from beginning to master
- The Annual Gathering of Writers
- Free writing groups for members
- Online resources
- Literary news from around the state
- Community-based memoir projects
- Summer learning programs for Indianapolis youth
- Sound advice on publishing matters
We’re rich in the resources that matter most: passion, creativity, discipline and heart. Our staff works tirelessly to keep our office running and uphold our program standards. Our Board of Directors is extraordinarily committed to the Center, overseeing our business affairs and sharing their expertise in a variety of ways.
For example, it was one of our board members who created this brilliant new website for us. Among the new features you'll find here is an improved course catalogue, searchable by genre, level and frequency, a store featuring our InWords publications (and, soon, other Writers Center merchandise), and a news center on our front page with all the latest and greatest from the IWC.
How cool is that?
Click to enter, your first step toward enjoying the new Writers Center.
May 2013 be your happiest, most creative year ever!