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Creative Writing as a Path to Finding One’s Tribe

"It is nice to find your tribe, or actually, what happens is, your tribe finds you; and you are so happy." Quote by Lucille Clifton

Those of us who are writers and part of writing communities know well the truth in Clifton’s quote.

And in a recent article Kris Bigalk, director of creative writing at Normandale Community College, shines a light on how creative writing programs at community colleges can actually play a critical role in building that tribe for struggling students.

She describes how the student population at community colleges is often unique in its makeup because of the open-door nature of these institutions:

“The bottom line is that students attending community college usually have stressors or challenges in their lives that traditional college students do not typically face.”

But that is precisely why creative writing programs can offer powerful learning and community building experiences for these students. To prove the point, she offers many wonderful vignettes, like this one:

“For an entire semester, Sam came to class with amazingly complex poems. He said little, often staring at the floor or at his shoes when speaking or listening. His comments on peer’s poems, however, were sophisticated and helpful, though he rarely believed this was so. . . . Then, he entered a creative writing contest—and won. The next day, he was waiting for me at my office. “Do you think I could be a writer?” he asked. “I think you already are a writer,” I replied. After we sat down and talked awhile, he confided that as a student labeled as having a disability, he had always disliked school, and thought that his complex writing was a liability, not an asset. . . . But now that he had found something he was good at, he wanted to graduate with an AFA in creative writing. And he did just that.”

Bigalk describes the exponential growth of this program at her school over the past 15 years and offers concrete guidance on what’s needed to support AFA programs at other community colleges.

Check out the full text of her article Creative Writing at the Two-Year College: Creating Opportunity and Community in the current issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College.