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For writers seeking to strengthen their style or figure out where in God’s green earth the comma goes, Oklahoma City’s literary community offers help.



For writers seeking to strengthen their style, iron out the kinks in their storytelling or figure out where in God’s green earth the comma goes, three staples of Oklahoma City’s literary community offer help.

Together, Oklahoma City University’s (OCU) Red Earth MFA creative writing program, Short Order Poems and the Ralph Ellison Library host free writing workshops for the public at the library, 2000 NE 23rd St., each second Thursday of the month, 6-8 p.m. October’s workshop, however, will take place this Thursday due to a scheduling conflict at the library.

Upon completion of the pedagogy strand in the MFA program, OCU students become eligible to lead workshops at the Ellison Library. Students set up tables displaying the subject each will teach. Community members sign up for their preferred session. Subjects range from forms — short story, poetry, memoir — to the finer details of the craft like dialogue, point of view and conflict.

Tim Bradford and Chad Reynolds of Short Order Poems facilitate the monthly event during months that Red Earth’s residencies do not take place. Short Order Poems is also a mainstay of H&8th Night Market, Midtown’s block party on the last Friday of each month.

Patrons pay $5 and give the poets a prompt; the poets then use a typewriter and craft the poem within 20 minutes.

“There are some people that have been there every time. Some just drift in out of curiosity,” Reynolds said.

An emcee greets the participants, introduces the students and previews the individual workshops. Then the emcee often opens with a poem or a prompt, some sort of icebreaker. Students teach their workshops, and then pieces created during the workshop are read.

The emcee and audience then give the writers feedback.

Quraysh Ali Lansana, an OCU faculty mentor and adjunct at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, said that respect is key to a successful workshop.

“When I enter a classroom or workshop, I do so with respect. I enter with the idea that I’m going to learn as much from my students as they will from me,” Ali Lansana said.

Ali Lansana has more than 20 years of experience facilitating writing workshops in the community and published a book on the practice, Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom and Community, in 2011. The workshops at the Ellison Library utilize his format.

The workshops began in 2012 as an integral part of Red Earth’s summer residency. The first writing workshop for the community took place at the Wonderfully Made Homeless Shelter. Current director of the program, Dr. Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, established the workshop as an extension of OCU’s commitment to service learning and social justice.

“Writing is usually so solitary. With these workshops, it’s not so solitary anymore. We want writers to know they’re not alone, to learn something from each other,” Dr. Mish said.

The organizers chose the Ellison Library because of the community it serves. The library resides in a historically African-American district of Oklahoma City, one that Dr. Mish said is culturally vibrant but often overlooked.

“We chose what we felt was an underserved community. We want to serve a community that otherwise wouldn’t have a program like this,” Dr. Mish said.

Print headline: Write away, A writing workshop brings together experts to help area writers hone their skills.

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