Guest blog from Workshop Leader, Joey Ferber
Semester by semester, YourWords STL contributes to the ongoing St. Louis movement fighting for youth literacy and creativity. The energy and spirit of the organization in tandem with its students’ skill and passion create a feedback loop of inspiration. As options open and ideas flow, both educators and sponsors seem to be catching on to the potential for this young non-profit to have a significant role in youth writing programs city-wide. For YourWords STL, the mission is steady and grounded in the very students who fill its programs. The excitement and constant pursuit of knowledge rain from the top down, where students, tutors, and organizational executives alike work to improve their craft and learn from each other’s stories.
This fall semester, I was hired to plan, write, and teach a ten-week creative writing workshop for YourWords STL’s residency in the Marygrove School in Florissant. Having led the summer’s four-week songwriting workshop, and realizing the wide breadth of interests from the young men of Marygrove, I planned a curriculum that guided students towards building their own multi-faceted writing project but didn’t restrict them by length or genre. Creative sessions were inspired by prompts that explored relationships- between individual and society, and between knowledge and action. Students explored the conflicts of particular characters and places, writing events that reflected the challenge of surviving struggle. By the end of week one, genres ranged from autobiographical poetry to fantasy, with settings from St. Louis to the underworld. Each piece reflected the individuality of its writer who during the final class, performed excerpts from their completed work for peers and tutors. Several exemplary projects included poetry that meditated on perseverance and faith, a rule book and introduction to a card game that takes place in the fictitious land where forgotten thoughts go to live out there unrealized potential, and a prose piece reflecting the autobiographical awkwardness of asking a partner to prom.
YourWordsSTL is standing on the shoulders of giants in the lineage of Midwestern literaries. Its potential is not quantifiable. Rather, one would better gauge its impact by witnessing first-hand the glow of its students and tutors when working on and sharing pieces of writing. I am grateful to be involved with the YourWords STL community and am grounded in knowing that the final results of an educator’s work often go unseen, manifesting many years later in the lives of their students. At the end of each Saturday session, I left Marygrove hopeful that the young men were learning the possibilities for writing to be part of a lifelong ritual, an access point to the sublime, and an outlet to help survive life’s daily challenges- and maybe even thrive in the face of them.