Randall Horton on Community Building in Syracuse

Poet Randall Horton blogs about his experience at an annual P&W–funded event at the YMCA's Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse. Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and the National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. A Cave Canem Fellow and member of Affrilachian Poets, Horton's lastest poetry collection, Pitch Dark Anarchy, will be published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2013.

Recently, I had an opportunity to do a reading at the Downtown Writer's Center, located at the YMCA in downtown Syracuse. Each time I read in this series, which is supported by Poets & Writers, I come away not only impressed with the reading series itself, but also with the organization's commitment to running community-based workshops. Often times, the poets invited to the reading series have published books that are taught by passionate teachers who are poets and prose writers themselves, such as the wonderful teachers Georgia Popoff and Jennifer Pashley. I often find the people who are taking these workshops have various life experiences. The DWC is for everybody, but it pays close attention to the communities that are often excluded because of economic and educational factors.

Founded by poet Philip Memmer in January 2001, the DWC is the only community literary arts program in the central part of the state, and serves several hundred writers and readers each year through a variety of programs. It offers more than sixty creative writing courses each year (including "DWC PRO," a creative writing certificate program modeled after more traditional MFA writing programs), and typically hosts twenty-five or more authors each year for readings and other events. The program is part of the YMCA National Writer's Voice network of literary centers, which was founded over thirty years ago by the late Jason Shinder. I asked Phil to explain the primary goals of the Downtown Writer's Center, and he replied, “Our primary goals are to help emerging and literary authors develop audiences for their work, and to assist aspiring writers achieve their own artistic goals." 

The night I read there was an energetic and attentive audience. I would like to think more than anything, we had a shared experience. During the question and answer period, because some of them had been in a class that taught my book, we were able to examine my work in a way that I found extremely helpful. There is an audience in Syracuse. The converted may come one at a time, but they do come.

Photo: Randall Horton.  Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.