Where Your Writing Can Go: Storytelling as Advocacy

But what do I do

Christy Burch didn’t think she was a writer. This was before she worked with rape crisis centers and with the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association (KDVA), working with advocates statewide to support victims of violence.

While in these roles, she was instrumental in the release and pardon of thirteen incarcerated, battered women. She also discovered her writing side: Burch developed writing workshops and theater productions that became some of Kentucky’s most successful platforms for victim advocacy.

find your green dotYou may have encountered Burch’s work without knowing it: she co-created the Green Dot mission and Initiative—now used all over the country to teach violence prevention. (Think anti-bullying campaigns, violence awareness, rape prevention, etc.) Her theater productions include personal narratives written and performed by survivors of power-based violence, and some have toured all over the States. But what does this mean for Ploughshares readers?

calculatingUniversity of Kentucky researchers studied Burch’s work and concluded that witnessing personal narrative performances about violence changed the attitudes of audience members, and significantly improved bystander behavior in response to violence. And 36% of survivors who participated in Burch’s art and advocacy programs went on to access additional services or support, vs. the national average of 3-6%. Add this to the growing evidence that writing is effective therapy for PTSD, and it becomes clear that creative writing can transform survivors and their communities.

gifty-time writing pic

If you’re a writer, this might seem obvious. Of course writing is powerful. Of course stories change people. But here’s the thing: if you’ve never spent serious time considering the community role that your own writing or teaching could be having—like, where you are right now—then maybe it’s not as obvious as you thought. And maybe your work can go further than you realize.

So during this “season of giving,” I asked Ms. Burch for her insights about what creative writing can do. Here’s to thinking big(ger):

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Chucking “Art for Art’s Sake” – Writers and Social Impact

will write for social changeOne morning in late September, I found myself backstage at the “Annual Day of Peace” in Covington, KY—an event that kicks off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’d been asked to perform a song I wrote about my family’s history of domestic violence, and was listening as speakers urged the young audience to find—and use—their voices to prevent violence. I wondered how many listeners were writers, performers, artists, and how many might go on to use their art as voice, changing their communities in the process.

audrelordeLeaving that day and re-entering the media binge on the word “shutdown,” I couldn’t help thinking about writers around the globe: how we use our voices; whether (and how) we’re heard. I also couldn’t help thinking of Audre Lorde:

We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine. Maybe because we do not listen to our poets…

Creative writing has the potential to change perceptions, elevate public discourse, inform, protest, and/or bring awareness to difficult issues and situations. Could we do more with this potential? Should we?

is this gonna get political

(No.)

Before anyone gets politi-scared, hark! I don’t believe writers should start “politicizing” all our work, or Woodie-Guthrie-ing our poems for the greater good. But I do believe that if we’re moved by any current economic, cultural, political, and/or social suffering, there’s a place for us—and our craft—in the fray.

But how? Where? If you’re interested in finding your writerly place in this kind of work, here are three steps even non-”activist” writers can take to dive in:

  1. Identify Our Stories
  2. Re-imagine “Going Public,” and
  3. Chuck “Art for Art’s Sake.”

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Writing Lessons: Colleen Abel

In our Writing Lessons series, writing students—and this month, writing instructors!—will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying and teaching writing. This week, we hear from Colleen Abel, the Joan Beebe Graduate Teaching Fellow at Warren Wilson College. You can follow her on Twitter @circadias—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

authorpicRecently, poet and scholar Seth Abramson released a list on The Huffington Post called “The Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry.” The list included writers, teachers, publishers, founders of listservs and writing centers, and celebrity Friends of Poetry like Bill Murray and Patti Smith. Abramson didn’t define what he meant by advocacy, but I imagine he meant things like word-spreading, cheerleading, and trying to make poetry reach a wider audience—which most of us agree that poetry needs.

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