Amateur Authors in Arizona: The Tucson Writers' Project

Article excerpt

Far from the downtown branch of the Tucson-Pima (Ariz.) Public Library, Lynne Weinberg-Hill of the Tucson Writers' Project (TWP) travels on a lonely desert road through the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. Three hours later she is welcomed at the Ajo Branch Library. During the afternoon workshop, Weinberg-Hill shares journal writing techniques and published works, and, most importantly, encourages library patrons to put pen to paper and write.

Tucson-Pima Public Library serves nearly 700,000 residents living in 9,240 square miles of rugged southeastern Arizona, an area larger than Massachusetts that encompasses eight different life zones from Sonoran desert to Alpine forest. The main library sits amidst skyscrappers, art deco, and Spanish-colonial architecture in downtown Tucson. Branches throughout the city serve patrons in the barrios, affluent foothills, and retirement communities as well as in rural ranching and mining areas. Each of the 16 branches and even the bookmobile stops have played.host to at least one TWP program.

The project reaches out and nurtures the community with its simple goal of helping people discover what they have to say. TWP has exposed library patrons not only to the techniques of writing memoirs, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and plays, but also to the possibilities of self-publishing, the empowerment of journal writing, and the fun of making paper to grace the cover of a child's story. In the November/December 1992 issue of Poets and Writers, TWP was described as "a community-based organization that makes an effort to reach all segments of the population" - a group as diverse and challenging as the landscape. Workshops reach the terminally ill, recovering drug abusers, and elderly, adolescent, bilingual, and mainstream populations. Participants discover their own relationship to the written word as writers or appreciative readers.

"The one art form everyone has experience with - writing - is predicated on a basic fact of life: We all need language to communicate," says poet Ann Dernier, TWP's director since 1987. "What counts isn't the proficiency, but that people care about what they say, and from that love of words comes the health of our cultural expressiveness ."

"The project has made an important contribution to our programming and services," says Library Director Liz M. Miller. "As we've grown, so have the demands and needs of the community. Our staff, pulled in many different directions, often needs to attend to important but more operational aspects of our work. We haven't had the luxury to take the time for planning programs in this particular arena the way the Writer's Project has been able to do."

"It's given us a way to offer programs that are able to touch people one-to-one through the powerful tool of literature and writing," adds Miller. "It is an extension of our services and our role in the community. It's a great collaboration, bringing in other experts in the field who can enhance what we offer."

Fifteen years of growth

During its 15 years, the TWP has grown not only in the diversity of its audience, but in the number of participants, the writers who share their craft, and the varied workshop offerings. TWP started in the late 1970s with humanities program funding from local and national grants along with a $360 grant from the Friends of the Tucson Public Library (now the Friends of the Tucson-Pima Public Library). Workshops took place in day-care programs, nursing homes, prisons, a disabled adult program and, of course, at the library.

By the late '80s the budget was up to $25,000. In addition to the primary funding by the Friends, TWP has received support in the past from the Tucson Community Foundation, Arizona Commission on the Arts, Tucson-Pima Arts Council, the Friends of the Pima - Green Valley Library, IBM, HP Books, the Arizona Humanities Council, the Annenberg Voices and Visions Grant (through ALA), a matching grant from the Pima County Correctional Facilities Commissary, and private donations. …