YpsiWrites celebrates first year of community writing programming

YpsiWrites celebrated its first anniversary with a special virtual program called Writing Matters in Ypsilanti on Oct. 24, with about 40 local writers of all ages in attendance.


The community writing center program is a partnership between the Ypsilanti District Library (YDL), youth writing and tutoring program 826michigan, and Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Office of Campus and Community Writing.


From October 2019 to March this year, a team of about 50 YpsiWrites volunteers provided in-person, one-on-one writing help to community members of all ages, as well as special workshops on topics ranging from resume writing to poetry. Since all YDL buildings closed for the COVID-19 pandemic in March, YpsiWrites programs have shifted to a virtual model.


Program organizers choose a motto for each year. The first year's motto was "Everyone is a writer." The new motto for the second year of the program is "Writing matters," and much of the anniversary celebration focused on that theme.


Participants were asked to name the last thing each of them wrote, with answers ranging from emails and to-do lists to lines of poetry or a few pages of a novel. Participants were also asked to reflect on why they write, and why they think writing matters. Some of the participants' answers were used to create a collaborative poem, "Why Do I Write?"


Participants also broke off into small groups to discuss examples of how writing could make a difference in a community, with teams identifying an audience, message, and action step.


"Some of the participants were really surprised that there was so much interaction and engagement," says Ann Blakeslee, an EMU professor and one of the founding members of YpsiWrites.


She notes that the small group exercise produced some ideas for projects that may become a reality, including a pen pal program with seniors.


"The groups came up with such amazing ideas, and several have written to me since about how they might carry those ideas forward and move into actionable steps," Blakeslee says.


The virtual program was also a chance to introduce the 2020 Writers of Ypsilanti, all local writers nominated by partners including the YDL and 826michigan. Those individuals are Abiar Alshikh, brothers Ja’Qub and Jaden Anthony, Yen Azzaro, Andrea Buckley, James Thomas Mann, Khaleb Rubanguka, Desirae Simmons, and Sarah Zettel.


Each Writer of Ypsilanti was asked to share a little bit about why writing matters. Answers ranged from Zettel's comment that "writing is the closest we can get into seeing into the minds, hearts, and mysteries of our fellow human beings" to Azzaro's answer that "writing is the foundation of society" and is a building block of such important activities as creating instructions, storytelling, or sharing a recipe.


Blakeslee says her hope for YpsiWrites' future is to cultivate even more community partnerships, like the new one YpsiWrites has established with Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan. YpsiWrites is helping to support Girl Scout book clubs with writing prompts, as well as writing help for girls who are eligible for bronze, silver, and gold awards.


Another current project is creating "writing boxes" to help community members with a variety of writing tasks, from resumes and cover letters to memoirs. Those will initially be available as PDFs on the YpsiWrites website, but a physical box with supplies will eventually be added to educational kits that the YDL maintains, many of which can be checked out and taken home.


"We always want to emphasize that YpsiWrites is a resource for the whole community, because everyone is a writer," Blakeslee says. "Sometimes people narrowly define a writer as someone who does it professionally or who teaches it, like me, and publishes, but it's really about literacy and the importance and power of words, writing, and language."


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photo by Kim Beneteau.

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