A couple sat in the lobby of the Captain Whidbey Inn, thumbing through materials describing the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA in Creative Writing. I was among the students there for the August residency, a ten-day intensive of classes that kicks off the Fall semester. I chatted with these prospective students about how my studies there are helping me to become a better writer. One of their questions has stuck with me.
|Directed Reading Class, August Residency
photo by Dave Beach
“What does it mean that this is a writing community?”
Community is a term that people use a lot today. Many talk of it as a sense of belonging, a desire to be known and supported by those who live near them or by people who share common interests. The phenomenal growth of Facebook, Yahoo groups, Linked In, and a host of other Internet services is evidence of the yearning to connect with others. But what is this writing community that the Whidbey program tries to foster?
I look to my own understanding of community shaped largely by my experiences among Quakers. We place a high value on community, including it along with simplicity, peace, integrity, and equality as the principles that guide our lives (what we call testimonies). Here’s how Moorestown (New Jersey) Friends School describes the testimony of community:
Community means that we are responsible for the human beings that
share the planet with us. This means we must work together to help each
other become the best people possible. Quakers examine their own attitudes
and practices to test whether they contribute as much as they can to the
needs of the wider community; including addressing issues of social, political
and economic justice. In school this means that we all must work to
demonstrate respect for others and a willingness to listen to other points
of view, as well as serving the broader community.
Quaker writer and teacher, Parker Palmer, describes community this way:
Community is a place where the connections felt in the heart make
themselves known in bonds between people, and where the tuggings
and pullings of those bonds keep opening up our hearts.
I heard myself using similar language with the prospective students in response to their questions about Whidbey’s “writing community.”
The bonds among the students are strong. During the August residency we felt many connections in our hearts as we supported each other through news of the death of one classmate’s brother and a cancer diagnosis for the best friend of another student. When I learned mid-way through the residency of the death of my dear friend, Greg Ewert (see Sept. 9, 2010 post), I was comforted by several in this writing community.
At the Whidbey graduation ceremony, student speaker Mandy Manning reminded us of the many personal “tuggings and pullings” that she and her classmates had endured and how they had supported each other.
In workshops, craft classes, and at student readings, we work together to help each other become the best writers possible. Like the Moorestown Friends School, we do this with “respect for others and a willingness to listen to other points of view.” Probably helps us become better people, too.
Finally, just like the Quaker testimony of community, the writing program advocates serving the broader community. At Whidbey, we call it literary citizenship, and it’s evident in the efforts of students, faculty, and guest faculty who work to promote literacy, give voice to those rarely heard, and cheer on other writers at all stages of development.
I’m not claiming that my MFA program is a religious organization (Quaker or any other). But since writing is so intertwined with my spiritual journey, I’m grateful to have a writing community that shares and reflects the values of my Quaker community. If that’s what those prospective students are seeking, they’ll fit in well at the Whidbey Writers’ Workshop.