While I was homeless, but beginning to come out of depression, I got involved with Real Change, on the editorial committee (most of whom are homeless or formerly homeless; we let a few other folks in who are poor). I saw a lot of submissions that almost made it, but needed work. I saw others that were impossible to print, but had a spark, a fire, that I wanted to see come out.
From Anitra Freeman:
I worked with a couple of writers one-on-one, or edited their work for them. I quickly saw that (1) I was going to die young and shriveled, and (2) I was making other people dependent on me, instead of helping them do more themselves.
So I started a workshop, where everyone could share their experience and insights with each other. Great things have come of it already -- a lot of good new writing, people gaining confidence and beginning to make a name for themselves at open mics in the wider poetry community, group shows we have done together. There will be more.
Because there is a whole group working on it.
From Ruth A. Fox:
Why I Joined StreetWrites or, If S/he Could Be Homeless So Could I/You
Well, you know, we all carry around myths and stereotypes, whether or not we're aware of them, and sometimes it takes a new encounter to bring this home. I guess I've always known from personal experience that there isn't really a big opaque barrier separating "us"and "them" in any context, and that a light push of life's wheel can catapult any one of us onto the other side. However, I've never been without a roof over my head, due to luck and a strong supportive family, so it wasn't until I met Anitra and Wes that I fully realized the horrendous disservices and inhumane attitudes we thrust upon our unhoused soulmates.
Let me explain. After living on food stamps and government loans for four years so I could study poetry, etc. at a prestigious east coast college (and coincidentally getting my B.A.), I found myself seriously unemployed and miserable in my personal life to boot. With visions of street theater and alternative therapies dancing in my head, I moved to Seattle, where I worked as a nanny for three years, shunting my art aside while I confronted my psyche. Then when it was time to move on from that, I found myself not only seriously unemployed, but also damn unemployable. Yet as any true artist knows, one's art will never settle for going away, so my writing began bursting out, despite chaotic finances and scores of ridiculous and/or temporary jobs.
Enter Anitra and Wes, stage radical left. It was the end of summer, 1996, and I had been waitressing six days a week the entire season. I despised my boss and was horribly depressed because I hadn't written word one since May, after a year of writing workshops and night school fiction classes. It was Bumbershoot Arts Festival and I had the entire weekend off. So off I went and, while there, wandered into the small press book fair. Turning down an aisle , I saw two people hawking No Apologies: the Best of Real Change Poets. Yep, it was "THEM", shamelessly broadcasting their homeless pride in the face of a largely uncaring crowd, who simply wasn't even noticing their small, unadorned table.
I, however, was ecstatic. Since I had started up writing again, I had been paying a lot of attention to the alternative media, considering trying my own hand at some creative journalism. And Real Change was my favorite. They publish poetry. I'm a poet. So we started talking and we haven't stopped yet. During that first encounter, there was a shift in my consciousness, a shift so subtle I can barely describe it, but something wonderful happened, something that caused me to go beyond thought and into action.
Anitra invited me to join Streetwrites and riding the bus down to the first meeting, I wrote the first poem all summer, Rich Folks Just Don't Get It.
Through meeting people who have had all buffers and barriers destroyed in their lives and still maintain spiritual richness and personal power, I was liberated enough to break through my mental wall and say what I really wanted to about the economic reality of my life. And it was at that first meeting, too, when they sat unflinchingly listening to my ten page story about child rape, that I realized I had found two "amis sympas", real friends and writerly soulmates, something I hadn't found yet in all the mostly middle-class writer activities I'd been dabbling in, because whatever middle-class means (I'm still not sure) I've never fit in to it. I know now I never will, nor do I want to.
It was a pretty quick next step to become a member of the Real Change Editorial Board and I'm now a published writer, part of the alternative press myself, and there is no going back. My life is finally manifesting the deep purpose that I believe all of ours should somehow. I have faith enough now to know I'll realize my dreams. Equally important, I have also lost that dread we all have of becoming homeless because I have found a circle of friends that will support me no matter how deep a rut I ever fall into.
We're not all writers nor are we all drawn into politics. We can't ask the commitment that those of us here have of everyone nor should we. I do think, though, that we can hope that through our work more people will become able to confront that dread of destitution that we all carry around, especially those of us who are so near the economic edge ourselves. Perhaps then we will be better able as a society to stop turning away from those who have fallen off the pantry shelf, admit their humanity, and, conseqently, be able to give real service.
Okay, Anitra, so it's two pages, not a paragraph, but our bond here will never be broken, so I'm not worried.
However, the honeymoon is over; Wes, Anitra, and I cannot do it all. We gotta and wanna expand. Any more takers?
Anitra Again: What Ruth is referring to is that so far, she and I and Wes are the main organizers and facilitators. Everybody writes, everybody helps each other with the writing. We three do the web pages, the publishing, the posters and flyers, booking shows, facilitating the workshops. We want to have more workshops: a daytime workshop for shelter members who cannot come to night meetings; a workshop for street youth, going to their turf; a workshop for the women at Angeline's, who are also more comfortable on their own turf; a workshop out at SHARE's newest and largest shelter, the BunkHouse, where 50 people live. We want to do street theatre. We want to book shows for churches and community groups. We want every member to have published their own chapbook. We want to publish a real full-bound book.
To do all that we need more people who are willing both to join in writing and helping each other writing, but to join in everything else involved in getting the voice of the streets heard clear to the mountaintops.
It is hard work.
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Updated February 24, 1998