MLK slam poetry event works with young writers

by Megan Clyne | 1/24/16 7:50pm

For the first time, the Young Writers Project partnered with the College’s Institutional Diversity and Equity office to host a poetry slam and writers workshop on social justice issues.

They aimed to provide people with a forum to write about issues that concern them, whether they be socioeconomic, justice or gender related, vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity Evelynn Ellis said.

Twenty people attended the event, which was held on Sunday afternoon in One Wheelock. Anyone from middle school to college could brainstorm and perform at the poetry slam.

Ellis said that her office began planning for the event, held as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations, about a year ago.

She added that her office had to negotiate a large number of factors and logistics in planning the event. For example, to make the event accessible to a larger age range, Ellis and her team had to choose a time that fit into school-aged children’s schedules — avoiding weekdays where parents were not always available to transport them.

After young writers showed interest in this event, the IDE contacted the Young Writers Project who agreed to the partnership, Ellis said. The Young Writers Project is a nonprofit based in Burlington, Vermont that focuses on confidence-building and communication skills through writing for young people.

Sarah Gliech, director of the Young Writers Project, said that when the IDE reached out to the project to involve local community members in the College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming, they were happy to form a partnership.

Ellis echoed a similar sentiment, saying that the goal of the event was to make the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations even more inclusive by including younger people.

Because individuals of many ages use Young Writers Project, the topics students write about vary widely. While drug abuse and romance may affect seniors, for example, Gliech said that these topics are not appropriate for the younger children to write and hear about.

The Young Writers Project requires writers to be respectful, Gliech said, to use language that’s inclusive of everyone but also have the freedom to write about whatever is most important.

Gliech said that including younger children in the poetry slam was ultimately a major benefit, as it enabled older people to become more aware of how they presented their ideas, look for ways to articulate their ideas more clearly and have more impact.

The workshop prior to the event was a time for the six performers to brainstorm their ideas. The writers worked individually and then paired off in groups of two to discuss their writing, Ellis said.

Ellis also performed at the event, and discussed her work with a young writer. She said that working with someone so young was a transformative experience for her. She said it encouraged her to look at her writing in a more open, less guarded way, and approach her writing with a new perspective.

Gliech said that she was glad they decided to host a workshop, and was thrilled by all the quality writing produced in under 60 minutes. She also said that what characterizes these events is good energy, and that this year was no exception.

Julia Anderson, a senior in high school who is a member of the Young Writers Project and performed at the poetry slam, said she was delighted to hear that there was going to be a local event in Hanover since most events are farther away in Burlington.

“When I heard they were having an event nearby, I was super excited, and said sign me up,” she said.

Anderson said that these events are great spaces to think, write and perform outside of her normal comfort zone.

“I like to perform, but it definitely takes me some prompting,” she said. “It’s not usually something I just go and do.”

Anderson said that she is in supports this event and the opportunity it affords, and she hopes that the Young Writers Project will come back to Hanover and visit more often.

Another performer, Reed Kuivila ’19, played a song on the piano in honor of King and to celebrate the young writers.

“I’m loving seeing such young children writing,” Kuivila said.

Ellis said that the poetry slam aimed to provide a space for people to express their thoughts about issues that concern them.

“We were hoping that people who had something to say and wouldn’t otherwise say it would be able to say it here,” Ellis said.