As a writer, twenty-six-year-old Ben Moorad knew that writing could be a powerful force in changing lives. In order to make it accessible to a greater community, he co-founded Write Around Portland, a network of writing groups for people who couldn’t access writing or community because of income, isolation, or other barriers. Write Around Portland, which is now in its seventh year, offers people the opportunity to write and have their writing heard in a supportive, safe environment.
“When you hear the stories of someone different from yourself, and put yourself in their shoes, you have a greater capacity for empathy,” Moorad says. “You’re also more likely to protect their freedoms in other areas.”
The workshops last for ten-week periods, and focus on generating new writing, as well as the revision of existing writing. At the end of the ten weeks, all of the workshop groups come together for a public reading of their work. Katrina survivors, people affected by HIV/AIDS, survivors of domestic violence, seniors in foster care, Vietnam War vets, sexual minority youth, and other groups read and listen to one another.
“If people are given the space to express their fears, their desires, their fantasies, and their histories, it has an inherently humanizing effect,” Moorad says. “Speaking and listening to each other, in community, helps us recognize one another’s innate humanity.” Moorad gives as an example the term “welfare queens,” saying: “If you don’t actually know anybody on welfare, terms like that shape your thinking. But if you know or speak with someone on welfare, you know that isn’t their experience. And once you’ve heard their stories, you can’t reduce them to stereotypes.”
Write Around Portland has run over two hundred and forty ten-week workshops, and has helped nearly two thousand people access writing in community. Enrollment in the Write Around Portland workshops is currently overflowing. The program is trying to increase the number of workshops offered.