Partners in Rhyme
POETS & WRITERS IS MORE than a magazine. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving creative writers. We pay fees to writers giving readings and leading workshops, provide information and advice to authors, and help them connect with one another and with audiences. We also sponsor a number of awards and prizes.
Those who visit public libraries are surrounded by books and literature, of course, but rarely are they connected with the writers who created these works. Large, urban, and well-funded library systems may produce elaborate and popular author, poetry, or speaker series, but rural libraries operate on shoestring budgets with minimal staffing and limited hours. Over the past eighteen years, California Center for the Book, part of the California Library Association, has built a unique partnership with Poets & Writers to provide funding, support, and a framework for workshops that connect rural community members and librarians with California writers.
This year the Rural Libraries Tour will sponsor ten writing workshops at libraries in places like Quincy, in Plumas County. With slightly more than 1,700 inhabitants, Quincy is typical of locations that benefit from the program. The workshops will be led by writers Olga García Echeverría, Tim Z. Hernandez, and Susan Wooldridge, all of whom have a long history with the program. They will work with local librarians to design writing workshops that meet each community’s needs. This might mean a workshop is delivered in both English and Spanish, focuses on poetry or memoir, or explores writing and creativity more broadly. Each of the workshop leaders has the ability to pull something unique from the group. A workshop leader creates a safe space where walls come down and creativity and communication open up.
For librarians in rural areas, programming and professional development opportunities are few and far between, and the Rural Libraries Tour offers an essential link to local literary and creative communities. By offering a free creative program, in a familiar and neutral space, libraries convey the message that the arts and writing are accessible and for everyone. Librarians and community members appreciate the opportunity to learn and express themselves on their own turf.
How do librarians get geographically dispersed community members to show up for these events, prepared to work on their craft in a room full of strangers for up to two hours? The most effective way is to leverage community relationships. This means outreach (meeting with a group of seniors who might be interested in writing their memoirs) and legwork (walking to local coffee shops where writing groups meet to personally invite folks to engage with the workshop planning process and then show up to write). Writing is a solitary craft, of course, but writers still need a community—and who better to foster this feeling of belonging and sense of support than the local librarian? Librarians who work with community partners—local arts organizations, veterans groups, senior centers, and high school writing clubs—find their workshops are better attended, and they are able to create connections within the town that might otherwise not have been made.
As a program manager in the nonprofit sector, I understand the importance of tracking metrics, reporting on intended outcomes, and describing a complex program in a two-sentence grant report. But I find the Rural Libraries Tour is a bit of a square peg in a round hole. The number of participants at these events is not enormous, but the effect these writing workshops have on the community members and the hosting librarians is undeniable. One librarian recently wrote, “The workshop itself was a success, but it was also a great exercise in the importance of flexibility and community engagement and partnership. It made me a better a librarian.” As the Rural Library Tour kicks off its eighteenth season, I am confident that this small but mighty program will once again have a meaningful impact on communities that need it most.
Read more about events supported by the Readings & Workshops program at pw.org/blogs/rw_blogger.
Julianna Robbins is program manager at the California Center for the Book. She earned a master’s degree in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and has been working in California libraries for nearly fifteen years. Learn more about the Rural Libraries Tour at calbook.org/programs/poetryworkshopsatrurallibraries.