Center For Creativity offers writing workshop for LGBTQ+ elders


Courtesy of Erik Schuckers

Erik Schuckers created and leads “In Our Own Write: Creative Programming for LGBT+ Elders,” a nine-week writing workshop hosted by the Center for Creativity.

By Anna Ligorio, Senior Staff Writer

As people get older, getting involved in new programs and hobbies can be intimidating, especially if they have no background knowledge. Because of this, Pitt’s Center for Creativity is giving older adults the chance to try something new.

The C4C is hosting a nine-week writing workshop this semester, called “In Our Own Write: Creative Writing for LGBT+ Elders.” Erik Schuckers, the manager of communications and programming at the C4C, created and leads the program.

This workshop is geared towards novice writers with little or no experience, and consists of about 15 participants. According to Schuckers, he wanted to create a space where anyone felt welcome and could freely share their stories to others.

“Most of the people in the program have never taken a writing workshop before,” Schuckers said. “I really wanted beginners and amateurs to feel like they were welcome, and that their stories can be told and that we could work together to shape that experience.” 

The workshop meets twice a week, and consists of LGBT+ elders aged 50 and over. According to Schuckers, the workshop revolves around a weekly writing theme on Wednesdays, such as memory or family, and a subsequent Monday discussion. 

“On Wednesdays, we’ve done a session around memory and a session around family,” Schuckers said. “I’ll lead students through exercises that are meant to jumpstart their writing, and then on Mondays, we meet together to talk about the writing that they’ve produced.” 

Yvonne Hudson, a former Pitt theater staff member, is a student in the workshop. She said that in the past two weeks, the workshop has focused on primarily autobiographical material. 

“We’ve been doing a lot of memory writing things to kind of trigger our memories and get us to think about places we’ve been, people we’ve known, relationships, and our own life stories,” Hudson said.

For Hudson, this workshop has provided her the opportunity and structure to write creatively, which is something she said she has been struggling with during the pandemic. 

“I’m trained as a journalist, so I’m very deadline oriented,” Hudson said. “If I have structure, I can get things done, and I’m looking forward to writing some poetry because during this whole pandemic, I’ve only written one haiku.” 

Hudson also said she is looking forward to sharing stories through writing with her peers in the workshop.

“I’m excited and fascinated by the people in the workshop, because it’s a wonderfully diverse group,” Hudson said. “I’m sure we’ll learn a lot about each other, and we’ll be able to relate to a lot of things in our stories and learn about other life situations that we haven’t experienced.” 

At the end of the nine weeks, participants will have the opportunity to compile their favorite writing from the workshop into a book of poetry and writing called a chapbook. According to Schuckers, the book will be produced and published at the C4C and archived at the library as well.

“I’m going to ask all the students to submit a few of their favorite pieces, and we’ll choose some for a chapbook.” Schuckers said. “We will actually publish a chapbook of everybody’s writing at the end at the Center for Creativity, and we’ll also archive it with the University Library System.” 

In correlation with this workshop, the C4C is also offering weekly guest writer sessions. According to Schuckers, these are intended to complement the workshop, but they are open to everyone in the Pitt community.

“We are running the workshop, and then there’s also our Guest Writer series.” Schuckers said. “The guest writers will be doing readings and Q and As, and it’s intended as a complement to the workshop.”

One of these guest speakers is Caroline Earleywine, an Arkansas-based poet who spoke at the first writer session on Feb. 25. She said while she’s still getting used to reading over Zoom, she really enjoyed the feedback from her audience.

“I did a reading from my book called ‘Lesbian Fashion Struggles’ for about 20 minutes, and then I answered some questions,” Earleywine said. “I’m still getting used to doing readings via Zoom, but it was nice because Erik and the audience were so kind and had thoughtful questions.” 

Another of these guest writers, Jubi Arriola-Headley, is scheduled to speak March 4. For Arriola-Headley, the world of poetry and writing was intimidating until relatively recently, which is why he thinks this workshop is so important for elders. 

“I’m a living example of why it’s important to introduce writing to older folks as well, because I’m going to be 52 this year, but I’ve only been writing for the past seven years,” Arriola-Headley said. “It took me a long time to understand the universe that really is poetry.”

According to Arriola-Headley, this workshop is a necessary space for the voices of LGBTQ+ elders to be heard. 

“LGBTQ+ seniors have specific needs, because we’re not a population that is seen in the same way that other populations are seen,” Arriola-Headley said. “A workshop like this is a wonderful opportunity, because many people don’t recognize that we still have voices and things to say.” 

Earleywine also said she believes that this workshop and lecture series is vital for celebrating the voices of elders. 

“I think Erik is hitting on something really important with this program, because the elders of our community paved the way,” Earleywine said. “They have stories that are so important, but they have not gotten a chance to tell those stories or be celebrated.” 

For Schuckers, this workshop has created a space where LGBTQ+ elders can connect with each other and produce great writing, especially because of the lack of programs for this community. 

“It’s hard to make connections as you get older, and you don’t find the opportunities out there, so they’ve really appreciated this opportunity and they are creating work that I’m blown away by,” Schuckers said.