We are writing to let you know that we are stepping down from directing the SVSU Community Writing Center.
We had requested release time from our full-time teaching at the university for this upcoming academic year,
and we were granted some time to be able to finish a few grant- and donor-sponsored projects linked to the Center for Community Writing (including Still Life, our community literary journal; a partnership to develop a writing center at Western HS; the Vada Dow Workshop for Area Teachers; and the Michigan Authors Workshop Series). However, the allotted time doesn’t permit us to continue to run the SVSU Community Writing Center, the Saginaw Bay Writing Project, the upcoming Roethke Poetry and Arts Festival, the summer writing camp for
middle and high school students, and the number of other projects associated with our community writing work. As you likely know, SVSU, like many universities, has limited resources available as a result of the pandemic. Therefore, we are unable to continue much of our community writing work.
We had planned to open our Community Writing Center for face-to-face writing consultations and writing workshops on site at the Butman-Fish and Wirt Libraries beginning September 2, while continuing to provide online writing support through our website, communitywritingcenter.com. At this point, we are unable to do
so. However, we are told SVSU remains committed to supporting the Community Writing Center in some form in
Therefore, the SVSU Community Writing Center will temporarily close for both online and face-to-face consultations and workshops as of August 31. We hope that this writing center will be able to reopen in the
future and continue to serve the writers of the Great Lakes Bay Region.
In the meantime, to view recorded videos of our writing workshops or to learn more about our Center’s history and past services to the Great Lakes Bay Region, community members continue to can visit our website, communitywritingcenter.com.
We wanted to thank each of you: our writers who have participated in our writing workshops, writing consultations, and various writing events; our community partners, who have given us resources, advice, and support; and our donors, who have generously provided funding for our various projects. We consider ourselves fortunate to have worked with all of you over the past six years.
Helen Raica-Klotz and Chris Giroux,
Co-directors of the Community Writing Center.
“It’s another summer, which means another effort on my part to be more productive, to read and write more, to get more exercise. (January’s resolutions don’t always stick.)
“This year, I’ve been making a real effort to ride my bike more regularly. I’ve pulled out and dusted off my old vintage Schwinn Le Tour from the garage, I’ve added a padded seat, and I’ve mapped out a route that I can take (mostly safely if drivers aren’t being too aggressive) to the Saginaw Rail Trail. Once I reach St. Charles, with its river and its haunted house, I start the long ride back. On good days, I even take the dog leg that parallels Klucks’ Tree Farm and ends up in Thomas Township. Those days I cover about 35 miles.
“I’m exceedingly slow, I don’t think that I’ve lost any weight yet, I need new brakes, and there are certain parts of the trail where I always ask myself *how* much longer? Oh, and the equivalent of saddle sores has been an issue.
“There are, however, always surprises: the eaglet in the dead oaks I saw last week, the fawns in the brush, the move from a tunnel of trees to the wide open expanse of sky. The glow of a wayward Baltimore oriole and the discovery of a new (to me) type of bird: the flicker. But not every day’s surprises are so pleasant. Though it is the same route, some rides seem much harder than others, and some days life—or at least the weather—derails my plans.
“But I remind myself that this is all like writing—it’s the practice that matters. It’s not how fast I pedal, and yes, the process involves much repetition, but the very attempt makes a difference to me if to no one else. No matter how many near misses or rejection letters, the payoff is in the attempt—and the joys found along the way, often by just showing up, paying attention, and putting ourselves and our thoughts out there.”
Helen and Chris write:
“Thanks to all of you who participated in our June poetry workshop. We hope that it inspired some interesting pieces, ones that you may consider submitting to ‘Still Life’—the deadline is fast approaching… July 15, so if you haven’t submitted yet, please do so!
“We also hope that you’ll also consider attending our July workshop on memoir writing and our August one on mindfulness and writing. There’s still time to sign up for both! Just register on the website, communitywritingcenter.com.
“This month, as always, we’d like to recommend a few books for your reading pleasure. As we are in summer reading mode, which ideally means time reading by a Michigan lake, we are still focusing on Michigan writers. For novels, then, we’d recommend a re-read of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s version of Huck Finn, the rich ‘Once Upon a River.’ For poetry, try something from another Michigander--Thomas Lynch’s ‘Bone Rosary,’ which includes a poem about Roethke that Lynch donated to one of the Community Writing Center’s past initiatives. And though we are moving away from Michigan, and on to something a little different, try the homage to reading called ‘A Velocity of Being,’ edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick. The book is a series of letters to readers (often written by authors) about the joys of reading. Each letter is then paired with a piece of artwork. It’s great fun to read metaphor after metaphor about reading, and the book itself is piece of art.
“That’s all for now. Remember our CWC writing consultants are always ready to work with you, so don’t hesitate to make an appointment with them. Until then, enjoy these long summer days, stay safe, and keep writing!”
Exercise your creativity by participating in the Poetry Marathon, an international event which challenges poets to write and post one poem per hour for a full (24 hours) or half (12 hours) marathon! Poets of all experience levels are welcome and encouraged to participate!
This event will be held from June 26th 9:00 AM through June 27th 9:00 AM. Click the button below to learn more about this event and apply to participate!
“Today is another unseasonably hot and humid day. I am sitting on our front porch, watching my peony bush and long-stemmed daisies wilt in the glare of the midday sun. My dog lies on his side, motionless, as he dozes in the heat. The ice in my glass has long since melted, and the water inside is lukewarm. The keyboard of my laptop is sticking to my bare legs, and I can feel a line of sweat run down my neck and back. My husband walked out the front door a few moments ago, looked at me with raised eyebrows, and muttered, “Hot.” Then he turned and went back inside the cool, air-conditioned house.
“He’s right: it is hot. But I refuse to go inside, even as the temperature tops 90 degrees in the shade. I have waited so long for summer to arrive, to not be outside, even if it is uncomfortable, seems wrong. It was a long and hard winter, so I take some pleasure in feeling the heat on my skin again. It makes me feel alive.
"When asked what writing has to teach us, Ray Bradbury responded, ‘First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive, and that is a gift and a privilege, not a right.’ I think he’s correct. To be able to write, to capture moments (real or imagined) on the page reminds us of the gift of being alive in the world, which is a precious gift indeed. As the summer begins to unwind itself around you, I hope that each of you take the time to write, to relax, and to live in this magical season of sunshine and warmth. And much like the wine that Bradbury describes in his ‘Dandelion Wine,’ I hope that the writing you produce in these summer months yields good memories to be savored in the future.”
Chris and Helen write:
“Thanks to all of you who participated in our Justice Reads on ‘All American Boys’ and came out for the Poetry in the Garden event at the Saginaw Art Museum. It’s always a privilege to hear your ideas and words.
“With that in mind, we hope you’ll continue to share those words and ideas with us at our upcoming workshops on poetry, memoir, and mindfulness. There’s still time to sign up for Donny Winter’s poetry workshop that will occur on June 15, and don’t forget that through July 15, we are accepting poems for consideration in Still Life 2021.
“And, as always, our staff is happy to give feedback on any type of writing you’re doing through our online consultations. For more information about all these events and offerings, visit our website, www.communitywritingcenter.com.
“This month, as always, we’d like to recommend a few books for your reading pleasure. First, consider Michigan writer Adam Schuitema’s ‘Freshwater Boys,’ a collection of short stories that are all set in communities on the west side of the state. In terms of poetry, we’d also recommend Victoria Chang (another Michigan native); Chang is a master of poetic innovativeness and her observations on grief in her recent “Obits” are a wonder. As for drama, consider the very short “The Guys” by Anne Nelson, a meditation on 9/11 that features a writer in the lead role. Finally, for our book on writing, we recommend you take another look at Annie Dillard’s classic, “The Writing Life”; it’s an older work but offers much reassurance (and humor) about the writing process.
That’s all for now. Enjoy summer now that it is here, stay safe, and keep writing!
Helen and Chris
Last Thursday we had a successful Poetry in the Garden event, hosted by the Saginaw Art Museum, featuring both the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center and poet Arra Lynn Ross! We're grateful for the nearly 50 community members who listened, read, and celebrated poetry with us in the lovely Museum gardens.
Check out the Saginaw Art Museum's Facebook page for more photos of this wonderful event!
“A few years ago, we lost the pear tree in our backyard. A storm came in and split the tree down the middle, landing one large limb on the roof of our back porch and exposing the rotten wood inside the trunk. Despite my best efforts to save it, the tree had been eaten from the inside by disease and had to be removed, cut down to the stump.
“I loved this tree; in fact, I sometimes would joke it was one of the reasons we bought the house. Its branches spanned a large portion of my backyard, and in the spring, it was were covered with delicate white flowers. The tree really didn’t bear much fruit, but it was lovely to look at: a large, tall, and graceful thing.
“When the tree came down, I was devastated. (I actually started looking for other houses online that afternoon.) Our backyard looked so barren and void, naked really. But my husband, ever-wise, cautioned patience. Wait and see what grows, he said. And so I did.
“This past summer, I watched the plants that had always stood underneath the pear tree’s shade grow and thrive. A hydrangea bush doubled in size and gave us large fluffy blooms. A forsythia bush stretched up and over the fence. And a clematis spilled bright purple flowers over a nearby post. There is still the stump from the tree on the ground, but the myrtle has begun to cover it over, and now, this spring, it’s become hard to even see where the tree once was.
“The loss of this tree seems like an apt metaphor for this past year. It’s been year marked by loss, filled with things I will never recover. But we all understand these losses, since all of us have had people or things we cared for deeply taken from us through this pandemic.
“But I will say that I have been able to witness also the strength and resiliency of our writers. Many of you showed up for online writing consultations, talking through your drafts of poems, resumes, or short essays. Others came to our writing workshops, turning on your screens to learn how to publish your writing, craft a scholarship essay, or begin to write a memoir. Despite having a year that no one would wish for, you and your writing grew because you cared enough to give your words and ideas attention and care. And this work matters, because your words matter – not just to yourself, but to all of us. For these reasons, I am grateful to our writers who are part of this community writing center.”
Chris and Helen write:
“And we are pleased to continue to share our work online, including our upcoming writing workshops on writing resumes and cover letters, mindfulness writing, and an intro to memoir and intro to poetry (the latter taught by two Michigan published authors). And don’t forget our upcoming “Poetry in the Garden” event, in partnership with the Saginaw Art Museum, featuring a night of Michigan authors reading their work – and an opportunity to share your own writing as well! And, of course, we continue to offer the opportunity to receive feedback on your own writing through an individual consultation, which you can set up on our website, communitywritingcenter.com.
“This month, we’d like to recommend a few books for your reading pleasure: first, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, which also happens to be a community read book for Bay County (sign up for a book discussion this month here). This book tells the story of a violent incident at a high school and its aftermath, told from the perspective of a black and a white boy. This is a good example of the power of alternative narrative voice, and it engages all of us in an important conversation about race in America. We’d also recommend Sparrows and Dust by Zilka Joseph as our poetry collection, a light and lovely collection of poems about birds and the nature of our world, with the title poem first printed by SVSU in the 2018 Roethke calendar. We’ve realized that we’ve been ignoring drama, so we also recommend Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate, which, with its focus on family and race, makes for an interesting companion to All American Boys. Finally, our book on writing is Bret Lott’s Before We Get Started, an honest and humorous look at the writerly life.”
That’s all for now. Stay safe, and keep writing!
Helen and Chris
The Community Writing Center is excited to be partnering with the Saginaw Art Museum to host Poetry in the Garden, a free event open to all ages! This event will include featured poets, as well as an open poetry session! Learn more HERE and register in advance using the button below!
Thanks to your help, the book chosen for the 2021 Bay County Justice Read is All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely! Copies of this book are available at any Bay County public library location, and you're invited to engage with fellow community members by participating in one of the discussion groups below to join the conversation!
Check out the Bay County Justice Read website to learn more!
When the pandemic started, Chris and I were lucky enough to collaborate with some great folks at the Saginaw Art Museum to start “The Quarantine Chronicles.” We asked people to send us their artwork: their poems, essays, photos, artwork, music, or journal entries that captured their experience during the first few months of the pandemic. Now, one year later, all of us who submitted work were invited to write a follow-up to our original piece.
Almost a year ago, I had written about going for a walk with my son in early April. I said, “My son is 24-year-old adult, with a college education, his own car and place to live, and until about three weeks ago, his own job. But as I watch him walk ahead of me, I feel an overwhelming urge to run to catch up to him. I want to fix his collar, flipped up by the wind, and smooth the cowlick that curls below his right ear. I want to touch his arm, hold his face in my hands. I want to hug him, tightly, for a long time. But I can’t.”
Now, over one year later, I still can’t touch my son, or anyone else other than my spouse, for that matter. I’ve discovered this is what I miss the most. Physical contact. It’s funny, really. As an introvert by nature, these small gestures—a spontaneous hug, a hand on the arm, a pat on the shoulder—have always seemed a bit excessive to me.
But now, things have changed. My student tutors are graduating; I want to go to a ceremony and embrace them in a warm, congratulatory hug. My neighbor lost her dog; I want to hold her hand, her palm warm in mine, as she fights back her tears. Chris gets his second chapbook accepted for publication; I want to reach out and grab both his arms in excitement. And whenever I see a friend or colleague, I find myself stepping forward, eager for contact, before catching myself, then stepping the requisite six feet back.
So much of our interpersonal communication is based on body language; more than this, it is about contact. During the pandemic, we are often limited to our screens, where we cannot touch one another, stand next to one another, or even completely see one another. This means language is all we have left.
This is why the work of the Community Writing Center matters. To think write is to intentionally think about language and about communicating our ideas, thoughts, and feelings with other people. And if we are writing during the pandemic, we are doing this work in a time where we all deeply need to connect. Writing allows us to listen to our own words. And when we share that writing, we allow those words to be heard by others. That’s the kind of communication, the kind of connection, that matters most.
Chris and Helen write:
This month, we are pleased to share a few more opportunities to connect. We have our spring/summer schedule ready, with a series of great writing workshops on writing poetry, writing memoir, crafting resumes, and a new workshop on “mindfulness writing.” This month, we’ve got a workshop on “Introduction to Science Fiction Writing,” our prose and poetry writing groups, and, of course, our individual writing consultations. All our workshops and consultations will continue to be online through August, with the goal of returning to our library locations in the fall.
We also want to remind you that we’ve collaborated on a Justice Read in Bay County, where you can read “All American Boys” and participate in a community discussion about the novel (more info HERE), and “Still Life,” our literary arts journal, is currently accepting poems for its contest (more info HERE). And April is poetry month, so don’t forget to write a poem!
As always, we have a few books to recommend: “The Refugees,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is a collection of short stories about the immigrant experience in the U.S., with some memorable characters and striking use of images; it’s a great example of how short stories can have an emotional impact. For poetry, we're rereading Sharon Olds' “The Father.” It's an old collection but a good model for writing in sequence and exploring the same subject from different perspectives. And for some good ole-fashioned advice on poems, there's always Ted Kooser's “The Poetry Home Repair Manual.”
We’d also like to profile “Carbon Footprint,” a great collection of poetry by local writer Donnie Winter (who will be teaching our “Writing Poetry” workshop June 15!). This collection weaves together the impact of our lives on the natural environment and the LGBQ+ experiences in some remarkable ways. To learn more, visit HERE.
Thanks for reading. Keep safe and keep writing, everyone!
Helen and Chris
Every weekend this winter, I have gone cross-country skiing. My black lab, Atticus, comes too. We have a place up north that borders 30 kilometers of groomed trails, but we typically head down the same path: the one that crisscrosses the nearby golf course, skirting in and out of hardwoods and tall pines, turning left at a stand of white birch, down the ridge bordered by sumac and wild lilacs, over the bridge across a creek, and then circling round a large open field.
While the path stays the same, the weather does not. It is, after all, Michigan. Some days, it is overcast; the trees creak and groan overhead as I fight my way against the wind. Some days, the snow falls so quickly that I can barely see the trail at all, the world swirling in blur of white. And some days, the sunlight breaks through the clouds and dapples the path ahead, the tree trunks casting long shadows over the dusting of fresh snow.
My skiing changes too. There are days where the trail has been freshly groomed, and I am able to move in a steady rhythm, gliding across the snow. Those are good days. But there are other days where the trail has melted and refrozen, becoming a sheet of slick ice. My skis slip. I fall. I struggle to get up again. (There is usually cursing involved). And then there are days I am simply tired, and the whole endeavor of putting on the boots, the skis, the coat, the gloves, and going out into the cold just seems like too much. I usually go anyway, hoping that once I begin, I will feel better. This works, sometimes.
Writing is like this, isn’t it? The familiar sensation of sitting at a laptop or with a pen in hand, putting words to a page. For those of us who write regularly, it is familiar feeling. And yet, the writing process changes each time we do it: on good days, the exact turn of phrase, the sudden idea, the connection between two paragraphs that suddenly becomes clear. Writing is fun. But there are other days when all you can see is the clunky series of sentences, the half-formed concept, the awkward transitions, and try as you might, nothing comes right. (Again, for me, there is usually cursing involved). And of course, there are days when you are tired and really wonder if you want to spend your time and energy writing, or even doing anything at all. On those days, I hope you write anyway. Because that’s how we learn anything; in fact, you could argue that’s how we learn everything we need to know—by doing something again and again, with some effort and good will. Over time, whatever we are working on gets better, and we become a bit better too: more observant, more thoughtful, more gracious. And hopefully less cursing.
Helen and Chris write:
Of course, we love the opportunity to share our writing, which is why the Community Writing Center is so important. We have a great workshop on “Publishing Your Writing,” led by Casey and Denise Hill from New Pages on March 16, and another workshop, “Introduction to Science Fiction Writing” on April 20. Our “Poets’ Group” is meeting in March 23 and April 27, and we’re pleased to announce that we have another writing group beginning April 6, meeting the first Tuesday of every month (to learn more about this new group, which will be focusing on prose, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up on our website). As you can see, there’s lots of opportunities to write and talk with other writers, so visit us at https://www.communitywritingcenter.com/
We have a few books to recommend this month as well. George Saunders’ newest book, “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” is an amazing book on writing (and life), using seven short stories by Russian authors as a lesson in how to craft effective fiction. If you write, you must read this book: it’s clever, provocative, and funny. A great fiction read, with a marvelous narrator, is “Sorrow and Bliss” by Meg Mason, and our poetry recommendation is Mary Oliver’s collection of selected works, “Devotions” (we are eager for spring to awaken the world—Helen’s love of skiing notwithstanding).
That’s it for this month. Take care everyone, stay safe, and keep writing—and congrats to our Poets’ Group member Bruce Gunther who recently had work published in “Last Leaves” and “Modern Haiku.”
Helen and Chris
Directors of the Community Writing Center