This morning I woke up on a mission to keep the momentum going on a book I have been writing for a long time. It is not finished, but definitely a part of my bucket list!
I didn’t have to go far to get inspired. In Northport at the Civic Center the first ever Book ‘Em Event was getting started.
The opening speaker, Marlin Barton, from Montgomery Alabama (actually grew up in Forkland, Alabama) was my creative writing teacher at Huntington College. He reminded me today that he started in the program working with kids who are incarcerated at Mt. Meigs in 1997. I think that was about when I was taking his class, aspiring to figure out all there is to know about poetry and creative writing.
Today, almost twenty years later, I am still in awe of the things writers are doing to make a difference in our world.
One of those places is in our prisons. Jeannie Thompson, Director of the Alabama Writers Forum ( Alabama Writers Forumhttp://books2prisons.wordpress.com/), is the founder of this project after a visit during Christmas to some youth who would spend the holidays behind bars.
The group is on their Seventeenth issue, with Marlin as Director. Open the Door 16 is available at his events for free, a candid look into the hearts and minds of these students who crave books in the libraries as escape and perhaps peace among the clanging solitude they are experiencing behind bars.
He also shared some information on a project they did with the University of Illinois where students there of photography sent photos for Mt. Meigs students to write about. They in turn shared poems that the Illinois students created photography for. The story is HERE.
Marlin read some of the poems written by his students. Mt. Meigs now has nearly 150 boys in their high security prison. His classes allow 30-40 “kids” between the ages of 12-18 to unravel the hurt and remorse they each hold inside and produce something beautiful from a life that for most of them is quite ugly.
Marlin also read from his book, The Cross Garden, fiction based on his seventeen years of experience with these kids.
The event includes authors from across the state as well as Rene Denfeld, author of The Enchanted. Mrs. Denfeld works for clients in Oregon who receive the death penalty in an effort to interview and understand those who affected this person as well as record witnesses to the crimes they have committed.
“I am blessed by the people telling their stories, although often horrific. It is not my place to judge, but to get a deeper set of truths,” she told the audience, mostly writers.
She talked about publishing, as she has been writing during all of the peaks and valleys of the publishing industry. She began writing in newspaper and for anything she could find before finding an agent. Her work is being used in schools today to teach high school students about writing. Her stories began with interview of kids on the streets, and these days are fiction, based on her work in prisons, as she is bound by confidentiality in her daily life.
The Enchanted is a collaboration of all of the witnesses she has grown to know over the years, as seen through a female character.
A visitor in the room called this book, “A life changer!”
I look forward to reading my signed copy.
University of Alabama professor, Joanne J. Terrell MSW, LCSW was there to talk to the audience with Mrs. Denfeld about her work as a death penalty investigator (she is one of the few in this line of work in the Southeast and the only in Alabama to be able to testify). A fascinating look into the world of the mind of a death row inmate, this discussion no doubtably ran over into the lunch break.
Anyone who has interest in writing in this region should put this event on your calendar if it is held again next year. The talent in the room was inspiring and approachable.
After break T. Michael Hankins shared illustrations and Michelle Lowry Combs, author of Heir to the Lamp was on hand to talk about her book.
A skype interview with author Kirby Howell of Autumn in the City of Angels and Autumn in the City of Lights.
Poets: Irene Latham, Doris Davenport, Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Jerri Beck
Bill Fitts : Author of The Needed Killing Series
Rene Denfeld, Marlin Barton, Georgia Ann Banks-Martin, Dean Bonner, Carolyn Breckenridge, John David Briley, Tanya Eavenson, Bill Fitts, Carolyn Haines, Trudier Harris (Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South) , Nancy Dorman-Hickson, Wynora Freeman, Irene Latham, Carroll Dale Short, Earl Tilford (author Turning the Tide- The University of Alabama in the 60’s), Taylor Watson, Veronica Wynn-Pruitt, Kirby Howell, Debbie Herbert and James L. Noles, Jr.
Taylor Watson brought Inside the Vault, a collaboration with the
University of Alabama featuring items and information from The Museum at the University where he works.
Doris Davenport is hosting an event called 100 Thousand Poets for Change on September 27, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, noon -4pm. If you would like to get involved, (poets, musicians, activists) contact her at email@example.com
If you live in Tuscaloosa and want to meet other writers while honing your talent and getting inspired:
The Guild of Professional Writers for Children meets on the Second Saturday of each month from 10-12 noon at the Rotary Room at the Tuscaloosa Library.
The Tuscaloosa Christian Writers- Meet on the Last Tuesday of the Month in The Rotary Room at the Library at 6:30 PM.