The Writer's Life

Poet-laureate Whitehead
inspires students

He leads a year-long writing class in Carrollton

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. (November 2003) – Steve Smith is excited about a newly organized writer's workshop in which members meet monthly at the Carroll County Public Library. As a member of this creative clique, he embraces the opportunities it will afford him.

Ron Whitehead in class

Photo by Don Ward

Ron Whitehead leads a writing class.

A former journalist for the Madison Courier and a performing songwriter, Smith said he viewed his inclusion in this workshop as "an inspiration to go a littler deeper" in his writing. His goal is to become a more effective communicator.
From October 2003 until September 2004, members will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month at the library. Library director Jarrett Boyd organized the workshop by writing and submitting a grant to the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. The result was a programming grant to help fund the iniative.
Boyd said she believes the library is "a place for more than just books." The workshop, tentatively labeled, "Writing With a Purpose," was one alternative method to complement what the library already has to offer patrons.
Smith is one of 12 participants in this project. Boyd said members range from all over Carroll County and beyond, and she has noticed a great "enthusiasm for it."
So much interest was shown in this workshop that Boyd actually had to turn people away. After several young people answered a notice she had placed in the local paper, Boyd limited the memoir project to an older crowd, one that would stick with it.
Boyd, also a participant in the workshop, said she is familiar with such factual writing examples as grants, business letters and columns. It was time for her to try her hand at another type of writing.
"I have a lot of good first lines, but not second lines," she said.
The group's goal is to produce a publishable collection of memoirs by Kentucky authors. Boyd has enlisted the aid of local poet Ron Whitehead to instruct the workshop. Whitehead is working out details with Published in Heaven Productions to move the group closer to its goal. He will edit, proofread and organize the stories into a coherent text.
In addition to writing poetry, Whitehead has given lectures, readings, workshops and taught 20th century European and American Literature, Culture and Writing at numerous colleges, universities and institutions in Europe and the United States. He was a featured reader at last year's Kentucky Book Fair.
"Everybody loves a great story," said Smith, a Fairfield, Ohio, native. At 46, he will contribute bits and pieces of his own life to create an autobiographical work along with the other writers. Each participant will be given the chance to read from the finished product in September 2004 as part of the library's monthly "Wednesdays at One" series.
Visiting writers, such as Kentucky's own Ed McClanahan, will speak on the writing process, providing inspiration and resources for the group. Crystal Wilkinson, an African American writer from Appalachia, will also serve as a visiting writer. Whitehead said she would provide a "different prospective on country life" in Kentucky. The first writer, Michael Pollock, spoke on Oct. 15. A native of Western Kentucky, Pollock has spent much of his life living in Iceland, his mother's native land. He is a writer and singer-songwriter.
Smith said Whitehead is an excellent poet whose work has a quality of depth and sensibility to it. He jumped at the chance to work with Whitehead and considered this as an excellent way to communicate with other writers.
This project is unique in the sense that it is a yearlong workshop, said Whitehead. Most workshops last only a few days or a week at the most.
Whitehead said he hopes the participants "find their own voice as a writer, so they will have the greatest amount of integrity as writers, by being honest."
In an effort to present participants with this chance, Whitehead is employing a teaching process he called, "Crossing the River of Fire: The Alchemy of Writing." Developed though trial and error, this is Whitehead's own approach to writing. He said, "It is not taught elsewhere. There is no other process like it. It involves writing with the complete being."
Whitehead spent the first session having the participants introduce themselves and presenting an overview of the course. The second session involved a spirited discussion about writing from the heart by getting beneath the surface fears many new writers have of getting in touch with their true emotions.
Participation in the workshop was free to the students, and it is Whitehead's hope that those who can last the year will realize their personal goals of becoming better writers, and perhaps even published writers.

• For more information on Whitehead and his own publishing credits, visit his website: www.tappingmyownphone.com.



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