By SUSAN JONES
Erik Schuckers, of the Center for Creativity, has been thinking about his current project for several years, but had to wait until he was old enough to participate in it.
The manager of communications and programming for the center is looking for participants for the second cohort of “In Our Own Write: Creative Writing for LGBTQ Elders.”
The online program allows members of the LGBTQ community who are 50 and older “to be able to explore and tell their own stories and experiences through creative writing, specifically through poetry and creative nonfiction,” Schuckers said. The first cohort of 11 people — from both within and outside the Pitt community — met last year as part of the Year of Engagement.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, especially as I got closer and closer to 50,” he said. “The Year of Engagement was really the perfect opportunity to put something together for this.”
The group will meet online from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays for 10 weeks, starting Feb. 16. He hopes to attract people inside Pitt and in the broader community. On Mondays, the group will discuss different readings on a particular theme, then they will receive a writing prompt and bring back their writings on Wednesdays.
“A lot of people that participated last year found it really comforting to be in their own space while they do this,” he said. “And for a lot of people, coming into Oakland, at certain times, twice a week would be a barrier.”
Schuckers said this program is important for several reasons. As people age, they often start to feel invisible, he said, and that’s especially true in the LGBTQ community.
“We’re used to having our experiences kind of denigrated or overlooked by the larger community and so I think to provide a space where that experience is celebrated and is a point of connection is really important,.” he said.
“I think when you turn your stories and experiences into art, it’s a way to connect with other people that’s not just educational, but also connects with them on an emotional level. I think it’s important that these stories be preserved and not overlooked.”
Last year, the writings were collected into a chapbook for each student and a copy was given to the University Library System to archive. This year, Schuckers also plans to reach out the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to archive a copy there. There also was a public, virtual reading by the people in the cohort, which was open to others to read.
The open mic night also helped to foster intergenerational communication, he said. “I think a lot of times there can be a disconnect between generations within the queer community and to be able to bring people together and let elders share their stories, and also learn from younger folks, is important.”
There will be five guest writer sessions, which will be open to anyone at Pitt. Schuckers said last year the guest writers were mostly younger than 50 and there were younger participants as well.
Schuckers said there’s long been an erasure of LGBTQ history and experiences. “Things have gotten better over the last 10 to 15 years. There’s been a lot more scholarly work produced. Our stories have been more available.”
He thinks young people are looking for the stories about what it was like. “All the time, I’m amazed when I talk to younger folks whose experiences are so very different in a lot of ways. It’s very different coming out now, for example, than it was in the ‘80s or the ‘70s or the ‘60s, and yet, there are so many points of commonality too. Families are still families, they still react the way they react.”
For more information about the “In Our Own Write” program and to register, go to the Center for Creativity website. Schuckers also spoke on “Lynn Cullen Live” this week about the program.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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