By James Coats | Collaborating columnist
If someone had asked me what I thought I was doing six years after getting my MBA from Cal State San Bernardino, I would have said: help business owners improve their bottom line, identify ways to engage more effectively with customers or reviewing new business. projects as a business consultant.
Instead, I find myself helping writers improve their metaphors, identify their story arc, and help them organize their manuscript. How did I go from advising companies to teaching artists? Workshops.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, I, like many others stuck at home looking for connection, needed an outlet to express myself. At the same time, access to organizations that were traditionally closed because I don’t live in a big city has gone virtual. It became my rebirth and I couldn’t have enough open mics, book clubs and writing workshops. Shortly after the social justice uprising later that year, I recognized the need to discuss the triggering chaos of world events at that time, so I created a workshop dedicated to writing about topics of social justice.
Called “Be The Change”, it was a place where anyone – but especially writers – could express their feelings about the things we were all witnessing.
Sharon Williams, a regular participant, said: “It helped me move from trauma to prosperity and to find my voice… I currently have three poems accepted for publication as a result of the workshops. Connecting with writers and seeing them benefit from the workshops has emboldened me, confirming that my efforts are having an impact.
Workshops are important because not only do we learn, but we network and build relationships. Sometimes people make discoveries about themselves that they never imagined when signing up. This is what happened last month in Pomona during Press Cafe Con Libros Inaugural Literacy Festival. I was so blown away by the beautiful writing produced as we explored what heritage, tradition and culture meant to the participants.
Diosa Xochiquetzalcoatl, author of “A Church of My Own”, was in the workshop and said, “A good workshop takes us through deep roots, allowing us to bring those roots to light.”
Another essential aspect of the workshops is to give us the tools to recognize our emotions and the language to express and communicate them.
Today, my elementary students were working on “I Am” poems. These are poems that focus on personal experiences. Students used it to highlight emotions (such as sadness after their dog died) and express where they found comfort. Emotional intelligence is an important factor in professional success today, and writing workshops can help us do this at any age.
Workshops can be found everywhere now. There has been an upsurge in writing workshops, not only offered by community centres, colleges and libraries, but also by literacy organizations, non-profit organizations and bookstores/publishers. I recently started attending a review workshop offered by my local library in Cathedral City. The group is small but experienced and helpful. I learned from many amazing organizations that helped me improve my writing, but also showed me what works well in workshops and what can cause problems; ways to make members feel safe, welcomed, and ultimately inspired to create. Organizations such as Spoken Literature Art Movement, The poetry lab, Community Literature Initiative, Inlandia Instituteand Society of Poets of Los Angeles all of which are based in Southern California but also offer online workshops.
Lynda VE Crawford, a member of the Community Literature Initiative working on her first book, says, “90% of my poems are born in workshops. Some other community organizations offered wonderful workshops that helped me grow and connect with writers across the country were imaginative storm, university of poetry, East Coast Writers Associationand Write About Now Academy. There’s a workshop that matches your interests and goals at an affordable price. You can start building your own writing community today.
Currently, I teach with the Arts Connection AIR program at schools in the San Bernardino Unified School District, Inlandia Institute, Community Literature Initiative, and my own organization Lift Our Voices Education. The teaching workshops have been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. I love seeing writers young and old, new and experienced, explore and unleash the creativity within themselves and manifest things into the world that didn’t exist outside of them before.
It is an invaluable gift to serve my community in this way and I hope to do so for as long as possible. One day I may return to serving my community in a business capacity, but until then I will continue to write, perform and teach as a creative change agent. Connecting with people in my community who deserve to have access to the arts and workshops is one way for me to do my part.
James Coats is a poet, performer and educator. Her latest collection of poetry is titled “Midnight & Mad Dreams” published with World Stage Press.