I culled poetry from odors, sounds, faces, and ordinary events occurring around me. Breezes bulged me as if I were cloth; sounds nicked their marks on my nerves; objects made impressions on my sight as if in clay. There, in the soft language, life centered and ground itself in me and I was flowing with the grain of the universe. Language placed my life experiences in a new context, freeing me for the moment to become with air as air, with clouds as clouds, from which new associations arose to engage me in present life in a more purposeful way.
-Jimmy Santiago Baca talking about his experience as an incarcerated writer,
PCAP Honorary Advisory Board Member since 2008
The goal of PCAP writing workshops is to facilitate and support a process of personal and artistic discovery through language and expression. In new workshops, we often begin by offering participants basic writing prompts that inspire relatively low-risk writing (e.g. you wake up inside an orange ball—what happens now?). Through constant discussion, supportive peer response, and the creation of a community of individuals who acknowledge themselves as artists, this writing generally grows in strength and depth as the writer becomes more confidant of their ability and more comfortable sharing themselves through sharing their work.
In most cases, each week's workshop ends with mutual agreement upon a writing assignment which might include reading, writing, editing, and/or thinking that each participant is expected to complete before the next meeting. At the end of the entire workshop cycle, which generally lasts one to two academic semesters, the workshop puts together a reading that is attended by peers from the facility as well as by guests from the outside (youth writers are sometimes able to bring this reading to the University of Michigan campus).
Based on the testimony of writers in past workshops and our own observations, participants in PCAP writing workshops practice and improve their ability to speak articulately before an audience as well as to become part of a workshop community, listening carefully to their colleagues and offering constructive feedback. Perhaps even more importantly, they also learn to trust their own stories, histories, and imaginations, taking responsibility for and pride in their own work. The attention and praise from the audience during the final reading as well as the weekly opportunity to share and be heard adds to each participant’s sense of their own capacity and possibility.