For many writers, the hardest part of writing is actually writing. That might sound confusing, but for a writer, it makes a lot of sense. That’s because every writer at some point struggles to find their own voice.
In the Maya Angelou masterpiece, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the award-winning poet wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Helping students in the South Sound tell that inner story is one of the things the organizers of Write253 are striving for. Write253 was founded in 2011 by Tacoma Community College professor Mary Fox who saw a gap in the writing ability of her students coming out of high school. According to the executive director of Write253, Michael Haeflinger, Fox wanted to help students look at writing as a joyful exercise, even if the only reason they were writing was because of homework for school.
“She wanted to create an organization that helped young people with their writing starting in elementary school,” Haeflinger says. “Today, we serve between 300 and 400 students a year through a variety of different programs.”
Write253 offers students a number of opportunities to improve their writing. Summer camps are available as well as college essay programs and after school programs. It offers opportunities for students of all ages, facilitating programs at Baker Middle School, First Creek Middle School, Guiadrone Middle School, Jason Lee Middle School, McCarver Elementary and Roosevelt Elementary. It also puts on workshops ranging from academic writing to creative writing at the various branches of the Tacoma Public Library.
He explains that the purpose of Write253 is to not be a writing club for students, but instead a place for students to get to the next level in their writing.
“Too many students seem to have an adverse relationship with writing,” Haeflinger explains. “It feels almost like a chore to them. Not a lot of students are in love with it. What we ultimately try to do is make writing fun and demystify it from this boring thing that you have to do in school.”
“Write253 really gives us a new avenue to freely express ourselves in an open way that we wouldn’t normally have,” explains Gloria Muhammad, who took part in the program and is now teaching with it. “Not just in writing, but in our discussions about music, news and culture. We really learn how to open up and connect our thoughts and put them on paper.”
“I went from getting mostly C’s to having an almost 4.0” says Sebastian Sallean, a student who joined Write253 last year and wants to continue with the program when he attends college.
Sallean says he joined the organization initially for its poetry workshop, but ended up utilizing it to strengthen his skills for other kinds of writing.
“I’ve always written poetry and lyrics, but I never knew how to use my words to communicate. They were always just in a notebook, for me. I never wanted to show them to anyone else. When I started working with Write253 and Louder Than a Bomb, I really started to feel like I was able to say in a way that people would understand. I really wanted to share my words for once.”
Louder Than a Bomb is the annual poetry slam festival Write253 puts on. Slam poetry is a kind of poetry that originated in Chicago in the 1980s by poet and teacher Marc Smith. The idea of it was to bring poetry out of academia and into the mainstream, something Write253 students and participants in Louder Than a Bomb relish.
“We love working with poets, fiction writers and non-fiction writers, but we also love to help students who need help in academic writing,” Haeflinger says.
Muhammad helps lead and organize the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival.
“When you’re speaking in front of a group, you can feel more vulnerable,” explains student Destini Sigler, who also took part in the last Louder Than a Bomb. “The experience really taught me that everything I create can be good. I don’t always have to present what I think is great, because it can connect with someone else out there. They really taught me that there’s inspiration everywhere.”
The Write253 programs are available to any student in Tacoma or Pierce County. For more information, visit the Write253 website.