Circulating Communities

Choose one or two of the essays you read in the Circulating Communities book and consider the editors’ opening queries (from the introduction): “…beneath the discussion of the “form” of community writing groups and publishing is the question of intent: What is the ideological framework in which this work takes place? Why do these individuals and groups feel called to write in the first place?”

 Engage these questions by offering examples from both a couple of the projects highlighted in the book and your own SpeakOut experience.

4 thoughts on “Circulating Communities

  1. The FFWCP began as “a very diverse collection of groups of people, representing many different experiences within its ‘working-class writing.’” Since the common bond here was a working-class background, the group enjoyed a varied cultural/ethnic membership.

    To me, this is similar to the SpeakOut experience. Although many of the kids in Turning Point do indeed share a similar socio-economic background, the real bond is their current life circumstance—namely, trouble in life, home, or school. These shared trials and tribulations foster a safe writing space by reducing judgment from outsiders and allowing the kids to connect on an experiential and emotional level.

    Another interesting aspect of the FFWCP ideology is that “it should not create paid positions where individuals could earn a living from the writing of other workers.” As CLC interns, we straddle the line between selfless facilitators and credit-earning benefiters. To me, this point is mostly neutralized by the fact that we pay for our credit hours—meaning, the yin-yang exchange of give and take feels balanced. Plus, without interns this program might collapse under its own weight.

    To push this example further, the Writing Center is considering creating a paid internship position for the forthcoming veterans writing workshop—essentially, a SpeakOut-modeled program for the local veteran community. I initially poopooed the idea of making it a paid position, but the backing professors believe that this will make the position more sustainable and competitive after I leave.

    Is this a moral conundrum?

    Perhaps. To me, this program is a bit different from SpeakOut in that the veteran population being served isn’t confined—meaning, they’ll have others options for writing workshops if this becomes a point of contention. Confined writers have very few options, so maintaining an intentionally non-exploitative position is key.

    Next, Street Papers. This was quite an enlightening read—e.g., “many street papers provide opportunity beyond selling a newspaper, including access to computers, literacy classes, writing groups, social workers, medical clinics, or other referrals.” While SpeakOut can’t offer all these amenities, it still feels like our writing workshops round out the (limited) opportunities already offered to confined populations.

    As an anecdotal aside, I’ve purchased quite a few of these street papers over the years but never read a single one. For me, it was always an act of charity, not a literary opportunity. I’m sure there’s some commentary on privilege embedded in this statement, but it’s the truth—or rather my truth. Now I’m beginning to wonder if others view SpeakOut in the same way. Sure, I’ll take a book. Never opened. Collecting dust.

    I hope that’s not the case.

    This is perhaps a telling passage: “While street papers aspire to lofty aims such as being a ‘voice on the ground,’ telling stories of people affected by poverty . . . being a small publication that circulates hand to hand . . . in a single city makes [readership] aims difficult to achieve.”

    In my opinion, this is why readings are so important (and I’m thinking about Turning Point at Wolverine Press last semester). Readings—public or otherwise—humanize the written material, bring it to life. It’s no longer black words on white page but rather a human in all their emotional vulnerability speaking their words, sharing their story.

    That’s the magic.

    Writing is the first step. Publishing, the second. And, whenever possible, sharing is the third.

    The times I’ve purchased street papers weren’t usually just an exchange of money and print. The person selling the paper was also usually a writer, a contributor—and a person with a complicated and often tragic story. In that sense, I gave those individuals my open heart and listened to their stories, not one to brush them aside. In some cases, I heard nutshell versions of life stories in a ten-minute exchange. One human pouring out their soul before another.

    To me, this is the goal of SpeakOut and other community publications—the written medium as a means to connect human-to-human, heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul. To learn from a diverse writership and to reach a wide and varied audience.

    Long live community circulations!

  2. I love pulling away from thinking about the “product” (i.e., the writing, the journal) toward thinking about the process. Why do people write? What do they get from it? What meaning do they ascribe to that process, and does it happen deliberately before they write, or coincidentally as they write?

    The piece on “International Networking of Homeless Publications” brought to the forefront a fascinating tension, between the intent of staying true to a “community” style and having the publication be “professional” (read: pandering to capitalist ideas of what is valuable/worth reading) and gain revenue and readership. What a conundrum, and a clear way to see how ideological framework informs the form of publication. As Mathieu states in this piece, the ideologies and missions propelling street paper publication varies – there are as many ideologies, perhaps, as there are papers. It also makes me reflect on personal or individual ideology versus ideology of the publication itself. What do we, as interns, ideologically ascribe to the SpeakOut! journal that may or may not reflect the things that writers hope to get from publication? Are we attuned to their reasons for writing? There have been times when writers have expressed aloud a hope that their writing in the journal can change public perception of incarceration, or at the very least can open up their mind to new ways of thinking about incarcerated people themselves. Others seem to want the validation that comes with publication, without much thought to the broader audience. Others still show up and write and share within the group, without even submitting a “permission to publish” form. Like the individual writers at street paper publications, there are a myriad of motivations for writing. I hope that, by both holding space for writers in the workshop in real time, and by giving the option of publication, we are catering to at least a few of those motivations.

    The piece on storytelling in communities of immigrants gives another opportunity to think beyond form and into ideology. Oral histories and digital recordings are such different forms compared to a journal of mostly poems – and yet so much can be learned by “zooming out” and considering the ideologies and motivations associated with the project described by Lyons. One of the things I love about this piece is that it holds enough room for many ideologies at once. At the beginning, the organization’s mission is described as follows: “to provide immigrants technical computer and language skills that will improve their employment opportunities, to use our classes as a venue to create community, and to identify and develop leaders who can involve our community in a dialogue with the institutions that affect our lives”. This alone is quite a few reasons for the program – but it appears, from reading the piece, that the transformative power of validation of self and others is another ideology of the group, as well as the idea that such stories can also create change, motivating writers to fight injustices represented in the stories. How complex – and how true to SpeakOut! – that some of these ideologies are articulated from the beginning, while some emerge (whether hoped for, or by happenstance) as the project progresses. I think about writers who might come with a particular goal in mind – to work on their novel, to learn to write better, to socialize with a friend – and leave with a different, evolving idea of what the purpose of the group could be for them and for everyone.

  3. After reading the essays, the one that spoke the most to me was “The Challenges of Circulation: International Networking of Homeless Publications” by Paula Mathieu not only because it was focused on a demographic that I am not that familiar with, but also because of the structure these organizations have considering the level of involvement on behalf of the writers as well as a solid and inspirational purpose within a community to represent a underrepresented group of people and to change the public perception of those peoples.

    It was a pleasant surprise to learn that something so small and local could and would grow to an international level – here, thinking of the INSP that Mathieu talks about – because we always think of newspapers and small press literary magazines as city-level local or regional – national for those who make it big, but not usually a grassroots organization. This part struck me because it embodies what we as scholars are always talking about with our research and academic writings: how does this [one] voice fit into the larger conversation. It appears that INSP models that conversation holder for groups like Boca de Rua, StreetWise, Real Change, and even SpeakOut. Because it has been so successful, and we’ve already experienced cross-organization collaboration, it makes me wonder what else we can be doing to participate with other magazines and journals to join the conversation about these demographics.

    I also was drawn to the writers’ participation in the newspapers because it does more for them professionally than just being published writers – though that phrase does have some social weight to it for sure. In these groups, the writers – and volunteers too – would assist in the copyediting, proofreading, typesetting, piece accepting/rejecting, cover design, and especially distributing, and pretty much everything in between. Although I have not caught wind of any interest within my group – writers and volunteers – last semester or this, I definitely would not rule out the option that it could be possible in someone’s group that there might be a writer/volunteer who would be interested in extending their involvement to something even more personal than being the submitter.

  4. “…beneath the discussion of the “form” of community writing groups and publishing is the question of intent: What is the ideological framework in which this work takes place? Why do these individuals and groups feel called to write in the first place?”

    This last question leads me to a quote found at the beginning of Chapter 6, “Unfinished” from Rachel Meads, the director of the DiverseCity Writing Series in Salt Lake: “…my dream has been to create a space in which any voice with words that needed speaking, and any fingers that twitched with their own truth, could write and be acknowledged.” This quote touches on a truth found at the heart of nearly any community literacy project, SpeakOut! included.

    If we are to look at the goals of SpeakOut!, we might say give voice to the marginalized, create a space for connection and empathy between people inside the prison industrial complex and people outside, or introduce a new healthy coping mechanism for those who may need it. But why is writing the avenue for these goals?

    Inherent in writing is voice, and voice is powerful. To speak one’s truth and to have it heard seems to create space in the heart for oneself. Though at SpeakOut! many of the women have never written creatively before, many still have their own notebooks filled with pieces. So may any of us. I know that I have pages and pages of my own silly ramblings that have never seen the light of day– I also know that when I grow close to someone, I feel an urge to read these to them. We all have truths that we must somehow give voice to, whether it be through writing or something else, and we all have an urge to let these truths be acknowledged. It’s a drive for social connection at its heart, but these more vulnerable truths which potentially hold hurt also hold healing if they are shared with the right people. I believe a common thread between community literacy members is a drive to share and hear truths; we want to be the right people for the job.

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