Inspiring Voices

On April 6, Lighthouse and Stories on Stage will be co-hosting Voices from the Edge, a production in which the stories, poems, and memoirs of several members of the Hard Times writers group (and other Lighthouse outreach programs) will be performed by actors at McNichols Civic Center. This promises to be both an entertaining experience for the audience and a transformative and empowering moment for some exceptional authors. To understand what makes this extraordinary, it helps to know a bit about the Hard Times group and its members.

The Hard Times Writing Workshop, which meets at the Central branch of the Denver Public Library (DPL) every Tuesday at 3 PM, was started by Lighthouse, DPL, and the Denver Voice. The aim is to create a welcoming setting for those currently undergoing problems related to homelessness, mental health issues, and other conditions, to meet and explore topics through writing, finding a greater sense of self-worth and camaraderie along the way. The class is free and open to all.

The workshops are led by founding facilitator Jane Thatcher and bolstered by Dan Manzanares (Lighthouse's "Mr. Outreach"). Other Lighthouse writers also volunteer time to give editing advice on a one-to-one basis, and Lighthouse instructor Joy Roulier Sawyer leads once-monthly writing sessions. Participants listen and respond to prompts resulting in work that, when shared with the class, dazzles with unsuspected skill, wisdom, and range of expression. Resulting prose or poetry may or may not be based on personal experience but consistently opens up emotional, thematic, and technical surprises, which are discussed in the Hard Times manner, meaning only positive and empathetic comments are given unless the author specifically asks for a more intense critique. For many, the reading portion alone is worth coming for.

This experience has been a remarkable success, with a core group of over a dozen that has been coming regularly (many come weekly) for as long as two years. Many others come once or twice, and there are several semi-regulars who drop in and out as their conditions and plans allow. The sense of community and shared purpose has created a group that seems to have clicked from the beginning and has only strengthened over time. This success is now being duplicated in classes being held at The Gathering Place, the Arvada Library, and a local women's correctional facility. The class has been the subject of stories and articles in local media (including a segment on 9News).

Group members have participated in many writing ventures outside the class too, at venues such as the Clyfford Still Museum, the Museum of Western Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Walk and Ride of Silence (in commemoration of victims of traffic accidents), the Art Students League, the Denver City Council Chamber, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, and others. They have collaborated with and/or in Write Denver, Lit Fest, the 40 West First Friday events, Santa Fe Arts District’s First Fridays, VFW exhibitions, the National Slam Poetry Festival, World Poetry Day, the Stratus Chamber Orchestra, and more. Many group members have gone on to take other workshops and classes at Lighthouse which, thanks to grants and donations, is able to provide "writerships" for those unable to afford the tuition.

Members have published their work in the Denver Voice (which dedicates a page every month just to the Hard Times writers) and the local art and literary magazine Birdy. Lighthouse program coordinator Laura Miller has visited Hard Times to talk about the submission process for literary journals, and some of our members have published their work elsewhere. A few intrepid entrepreneurs have explored the world of self-publication.

Hard Times also just published its first ‘zine to complement and accompany this year's World Poetry Day reading event at DPL. Copies of the ‘zine will be made available to inmates at the Sterling Correctional Institute, with whom Hard Times is developing a reciprocal relationship, allowing the prisoners to express their creative endeavors with a supportive and compassionate audience in the outside world and receive feedback and offerings that bridge the gap with art and empathy. (Thanks must be given to DPL for their assistance in this project. It should be noted that the library offers other opportunities to write to prisoners through their "Write Nights: Words Beyond Bars" program at the Ross-Cherry Creek branch.)

Many of the Hard Times participants regularly point out, to their classmates and others, what a transformational experience these workshops have been for them, and that transformation and shared growth continues. It is not a stretch to say that for some, it has had a profoundly positive life-changing effect. Indeed, it is not unusual to hear that these Tuesday afternoon sessions are the highlight and central pillar of the week that keep participants going, no matter what troubles other days have in store. 

This brings us back to the Voices from the Edge performance. The collaboration, allowing the Hard Timers  to hear their words in another voice, and with theatricality adding further layers of meaning and substance, is something that many in the group are excited to be part of. The boost in confidence and self-esteem they have received from attending classes and seeing their works in print has already been remarkable. Voices from the Edge is further encouragement.

This event is something that few of them could have imagined a short time earlier. It makes clear, both to them and to the audience, that one should never underestimate the talent, the skill, the worth, and dignity of those who might not seem, at first glance, the true artists, the wise and beautiful souls we discover them to be, if we give them the chance and the respect they need and deserve.

Voices from the Edge will take place from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, April 6, at McNichols Civic Center. It's free and open to the public; you can RSVP here. Stories on Stage will be performing work from:  

  • Lyric Saint James, Mark Kern, Sheryl Luna, Michael Sindler, and Saif Suhail of The Hard Times Writing Workshop at Denver Public Library's Central branch
  • David Wesley Chapman, Sheree L. Downs, Jane Lewis, Daniel Angel Martinez, Laurie L. Meador, Robert Petrich, and Trish Veal of The Hard Times Writing Workshop at the Arvada Library
  • Sandi Martinez and Leticia Darlina Tanguma of The Gathering Place Writers' Group
  • Autumn and Delonna S. of Writing to Be Free (Lighthouse's workshop for people transitioning out of incarceration)

Voices from the Edge is supported by the Denver Arts & Venues Cultural Partner Program at the McNichols Civic Center Building.

Hard Times participant Michael Sindler, a native of South Carolina, has called Denver home for over a decade and his work often reflects upon the easily and commonly overlooked moments in life and, in particular, the contemporary nature of Denver and its inhabitants. His compositions span fiction, memoir, poetry, song, and other hybrid genres. His writing has appeared in various publications and he has collaborated in a number of media bridging projects and read/performed his work at numerous events and venues in Denver and elsewhere. 


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