English Beyond: Speak Out! and Rekindle the Classics

The CSU English department is home to poets and linguists, literacy researchers and teacher educators, novelists and literary scholars, composition specialists and writers of creative nonfiction. We share a passion for exploring the multiple and dynamic ways that the English language is used to meet the demands of life in the twenty-first century. One of the ways we enact this passion is through programs that extend beyond the boundaries of our classrooms, and even our campus, reaching into the larger community of readers and writers, collaborating with them in a variety of ways.

Rekindle the Classics is a collaboration between the Poudre River Public Library District, Colorado State University’s Department of English, and Wolverine Farm Letterpress & Publick House. It’s a series of free, open-to-the-public discussions about classic literature that is in its 2nd year.

Rekindle the Classics, Fall 2016
Rekindle the Classics, Fall 2016

Rekindle the Classics was proposed in July, 2015 by English professor Ellen Brinks and her graduate student Lara Roberts. The program features discussion of classic literature pre-selected and facilitated by CSU English graduate students and faculty. Rekindle the Classics’ goal is to encourage community literacy through the reading and discussion of literature.

Discussions have been attended by adults ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s. One participant at the very first Rekindle the Classics discussion (of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter) said that because of the discussion, “I will read more; be more forgiving, compassionate. I’ve always noticed that I’m more empathetic when I regularly read good literature.” Other participants have described the sessions as “lively” and “intellectually stimulating.” Currie Meyer, Manager of the Council Tree Library, says of the project,

As a public librarian and experienced book discussion leader (and English BA), I know there is a great deal of public interest in books and reading. People understand and regard highly the power of literature to spark passionate, sometimes difficult discussion. Our community also knows how books can encourage empathy among individuals with varying beliefs. This program is a perfect place to foster these important personal and community experiences.

Five more discussions are planned for spring, one per month, starting in January with The Selected Canterbury Tales: A New Verse Translation by Geoffrey Chaucer, (translated by Sheila Fisher).

To find out more about the Rekindle the Classics sessions, check the Poudre River Library Events Calendar or the English Department Events Calendar.

The CSU Community Literacy Center (CLC) is located in the CSU English department, but their work connects the university and the community. Through student and community volunteers, the center creates alternative literacy opportunities in order to educate and empower underserved populations in Larimer County (e.g. incarcerated women and men, at risk youth) to express themselves through art and writing, and sponsors university-community literacy collaborations. Beginning with a literacy research and action collective, in June 2005 they were able to realize their vision of a more permanent and tangible resource center through a physical office provided by the CSU English Department.

Community Literacy Center office, Eddy Hall
Community Literacy Center office, Eddy Hall

Director of the CLC Tobi Jacobi is a composition and literacy specialist in the CSU English Department. For her, work with the CLC interns and community writers represents literacy in action, a concrete way to enact a commitment to challenging the uneven power relations that attempt to “fix” the life experiences of some people through limited access to education. Like bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, and Gloria Anzaldua before her, she believes that language has the power to cause ruptures, pain, joy, and hope – and that their work at the CLC can contribute to moving literacy beyond pages with red marks.

The CLC mission is “to create alternative literacy opportunities to educate and empower underserved populations (e.g. incarcerated juveniles and adults, adult learners, women, at-risk youth, English Language Learners) and to support university-community literacy outreach programs.” The primary way they do this is through their Speak Out! Program.

CLC postcard
CLC postcard

The Speak Out! Writing workshops allow writers to explore who and where they are in their lives through creative expression. Speak Out! Started in 2005 with just a single workshop for the women in the Larimer County Detention Center (LCDC).  It expanded this year to six workshops – at the LCDC for men and women, Community Corrections for women, and Turning Point, Matthews House and Remington House for young men and women. These workshops promote community action and social change, culminating at the end of each semester in a creative journal compiling the voices of writers who have participated in the program.

The philosophy of this program is that every person has a story to tell; each has words that are valuable and necessary.  Each writer is encouraged to tell her own story and represent his own experiences on paper.

Cover of 10th Anniversary Speak Out! Journal
Cover of 10th Anniversary Speak Out! Journal

The CLC recently celebrated ten years of promoting literacy through Speak Out! writing workshops, enhancing opportunities for creative expression for confined populations and at-risk youth. In a recent interview, Associate Director Mary Ellen Sanger was asked her favorite thing about the CLC. She said,

The CLC provides safe spaces for expression for so many whose voices may not otherwise be heard – important for the writers and for the listening community as barriers blur and diverse groups come together. That this work is facilitated by energetic, curious and visionary interns (and volunteers) is one of my favorite things. They invest their time, intellect and hearts in facilitating important spaces for literacy, writers develop and share their voices, and the model moves forward as interns carry the experience into their post-workshop life, enriched and enriching.

The work of the CLC depends on in-kind support from the department and college, grants, and donations. To learn more about their work, visit their website, or read about how to make direct donations.