Writing around it

Lighthouse programs help authors channel anxiety into narrative

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Andrea Dupree believes having a rich creative life allows a person to have a richer life in general.

“Creative writing,” said Dupree, who is the program director at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, “is one of the most accessible of all the creative arts.”

And in times like these, creative writing can be especially valuable, Dupree added.

“We’re going through an unprecedented time,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons stress can take over right now. Putting it into narrative can help you gain control. The minute people just start writing it down, their anxiety tends to remit.”

Additionally, the end result doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, Dupree said.

“Anybody can write,” she said. “There are benefits to telling your story and hearing others’ stories. It helps you feel connected and realize you’re not alone.”

Lighthouse Writers Workshop is a nonprofit literary center established in 1997. Serving about 25,000 writers a year between its main location in Denver, 1515 Race St., and satellite location in Louisville — and now online — Lighthouse exists to support and elevate the literary arts through various outreach and youth programs, along with a wide variety of in-house writing workshops.

Lighthouse has always offered limited online options, but now with the coronavirus pandemic, all of its programming has been moved temporarily to a virtual setting. However, people have embraced the online workshops, and Lighthouse may add to those offerings, in addition to its regular in-person workshops, from now on, Dupree said. The biggest benefit to that, she said, is being able to offer the workshops to people who have limitations that prevent them from attending classes in person.

Sela Buckner is one of them.

The 12-year-old lives in Los Angeles and dreams of becoming a novelist someday. She has attended in-person workshops in her local area in the past, but none of them seemed to provide much advancement to her skills, Sela Buckner’s mother Gayley said. For example, Gayley Buckner said, Lighthouse offers detail-specific classes versus general writing courses.

“She’s inspired to work on new and different things,” Gayley Buckner said. “Part of it is probably just pure fun for her, and part of it is the feeling that she’s accomplishing something during this time. The days are becoming monotonous, and her (Lighthouse) workshops are something she looks forward to.”

Writing is personal, but it also builds a connection with people, said Joy Roulier Sawyer, a published poet with a background as a trained writing therapist who has been teaching at Lighthouse for about 10 years.

“For some, it’s a way of self-expression,” Sawyer said. “To work hard on a craft when we’re in a time of such crisis provides a sense of accomplishment and focus.”

Sawyer mentions the Hard Times workshops — a free course for people who have recently experienced or are currently experiencing poverty, addiction, homelessness or other difficult situations — and free workshops for essential workers “designed to help nurture personal insight and emotional grounding,” states the website.

“Writing is therapeutic — or it can be,” said Steve Knopper, editor-at-large for Billboard magazine who has been teaching at Lighthouse for about 2 1/2 years.

He describes his students as “creative and committed.”

“One way the students inspire me is the way they’re willing to write about everything in their lives,” Knopper said. “It’s super interesting working with the students.”

Knopper has been in journalism since the 1980s, he said, and has been a full-time freelancer since the late 1990s. He noted how difficult it is to get published but added that he encourages his students to do so.

“What I love is when the students bring their own experiences of getting published,” Knopper said.

Writing is a means of expression for Lindsay Hayes, who has been taking classes at Lighthouse since last fall. She always enjoyed writing as a child, she said, and as an adult did some travel blogging.

For her, the Thursday evening class she is currently enrolled in is a “two-hour respite” from the current state of the world.

“There’s just something about writing. It’s cathartic,” Hayes said. “I am grateful to Lighthouse because it’s good to have something other than the pandemic to focus on.”

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