BY ELAINE KLAASSEN
I’ve started going to two writing groups that have sprung up in our neighborhood.
I go every time because I love words, language and people and that’s what these groups are about. I consider myself quite limited when it comes to imagination and since I wrote factual stories for so many years for this newspaper I am now trying to delve into another part of my psyche that has to do with lyricism, imagination, fun, feeling, etc.
If you stick with something, as I have since Agape started its writing group at 38th and Chicago in the beginning of March, the rewards will be great.
In the Agape group, Marquise Bowie is the leader and organizer. It is for members of the community, mainly around 38th and Chicago, but not necessarily. Many are friends of Marquise. He works as a security monitor at Roosevelt High School, and one evening six students he had invited from Roosevelt were there. One of the writing prompts was “love” and a student asked the elders to give them our wisdom. I was touched.
In the beginning, Carolyn Holbrook, a well-known, accomplished writer in the Twin Cities, was the facilitator. She brought poems and exercises, which were wonderful, but then she got COVID and didn’t come back. I know she has all kinds of other astounding projects going on because I see her on Facebook. So now, the group is more haphazard and we all volunteer writing prompts and share and talk to each other. It’s a work in progress. Marquise is a quasi-facilitator, but he kind of hangs back and lets the group find its way. He is definitely on top of the food. There’s always food.
One evening, Nate Johnson, who started FreeWriters, came to Agape and introduced himself and met people, engaged people in conversations, and told us about FreeWriters, an organization he started to create an opportunity in correctional facilities for writing and healing. He holds classes for men and women in lockup 10 times per week, specifically in county jails. He invited us to his group at Plymouth Congregational Church, which is for members of the community around the church (and others), plus community members who have been incarcerated.
In both groups, during the two-hour sessions about four writing prompts are agreed upon and everyone writes spontaneously for five minutes. Then, those who wish to share what they’ve written, do so. Sometimes there is discussion about people’s writing and sometimes not.
It is all very informal. Nate always brings food to the Plymouth group from Smoke in the Pit at 38th and Chicago.
What’s so interesting is the range of writing experience and talent. There are people who’ve never written a word in their lives. One evening, such a person surprised everyone by writing little stories with dialogue and characters! Then there are writers like me who’ve been writing informational paragraphs forever. And there are spoken word performers and novelists. In the past two sessions I’ve heard writing from Native people about their connection to nature and community that gave me goosebumps, and a spoken word artist whose rhythm washed over me and moved my heart with its harsh and tender beauty. You never know what profound words you will hear. Nate and Marquise, of course, are splendidly talented.
The variety of people from many vocations and many cultures who write about their experiences and viewpoints can really change your world.
FreeWriters is like Agape in that there is a lot of turnover. Every time, there are a few regulars (I am one of them) and then always new faces. And some people attend every third or fourth time.
If you go, you can write funny stories, made up stories, sad anecdotes, personal insights, nonsense, admonitions, advice, regrets, tall tales, beliefs and manifestos. It’s endless. You can share as much or as little about yourself as you like, but the whole exercise contributes to an examination of your own life.
The Agape group meets on Tuesday of the first week of the month at Agape’s office at 38th and Chicago. Then, the second week on Thursday, it’s the Free Writers group at Plymouth Congregational Church at Nicollet and Franklin. The next week it starts over. So each group meets every other week, one on Tuesdays, one on Thursdays. The exact dates for the two coming up are Thursday, July 6, and Tuesday, July 11.