High school writers give coffee shop readings, in Montavilla

Find out how, and why, these SE Portland students came to Bipartisan Café in Montavilla to perform their works …

Franklin High senior Elizabeth Buscho talks about the play she wrote during her “Writers in the Schools” class.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In a time when young people typically communicate with one another by text-messaging nearly incomprehensible abbreviations, and Twittering haiku-length thoughts, there is an organization in the Portland area dedicated to developing more solid writing skills.

Mary Rechner, the “Writers in the Schools” program director for the non-profit Literary Arts organization, talked about this program, as students from Franklin High School – and their family and friends – filtered into Montavilla’s Bipartisan Café on May 6.

“These students participated in the ‘Writers in the Schools’ program,” Rechner explained.  “This program is present in all of the Portland area high schools, and in some of the alternative schools. We place professional writers in classrooms for 15 week residencies to teach creative writing.”

The “Writers in the Schools” program director for the Literary Arts organization, Mary Rechner, holds a copy of the latest published anthology, saying professional writers inspire students to the create top-quality work contained therein.

The culminating event is a public reading, Rechner said. They also publish an anthology, and provide authors visits to schools.Not another English class
Resident authors bring their professional experience as writers to the classroom, Rechner noted. “They introduce new ways for students to think about using their ‘voice’ and express themselves.”

“Writing is taught in the classroom, but students don’t always get a lot of arts education in public high schools. We provide students the opportunity to work with published writers – it really helps them to hone their skills. What’s being taught by their teachers is reinforced by an outside, professional voice.”


Not all sessions are in held in language art classes. Some are in math, English as a Second Language, photography, and other such classes, said Rechner. “Students also learn that writing is part of all disciplines. In college, students need to write well to be successful in science, mathematics, and especially the social sciences classes.”

And, teachers have the option of becoming a writer during the residency, she added. “We want teachers who also desire to benefit from our programs.”

Residency inspires students
Elizabeth Buscho, a Franklin High senior, told us she thought participating in the program has helped her become more creative. “We learn to think outside the box. For example, when you’re given the topic, you can sometimes write outside of that topic area. You learn to let your imagination flow. It helped me get out of my ‘little inner space’, and to believe I can write creatively.”

One of Franklin High’s writers-in-residence – Hunt Holman – listens, while a student reads her work. Holman has had his plays read or performed throughout the Pacific Northwest; one of them was made into an off-Broadway production.

Hunt Holman, her Writer in Residence, gave her class an assignment to write a play, Buscho said. “Mine is about two characters, Richard and Gladys. It’s a relationship where a couple has a problem – and what evolves from that point forward.”

While Buscho said she didn’t have aspirations of being a professional writer, she has explored many forms of writing. “I like writing poetry now – before the class, I didn’t think I could do it.”

Bergen Rueck, a junior at Franklin High School, prepares to read her play – as published in the Literary Arts 2008 Anthology.

The readings begin
The first reader in the evening’s program was Franklin High junior Bergen Rueck. She told us she’d be reading an essay from the class. “I’ve never done anything like this before. Now, I’m thinking that I might want to become an author or a teacher.”

Rueck said she already has her first professional works in mind. “I want to write a series of books on my high school experience. I journal about it all the time, and have lots of material for stories I’d like to write into books.”

To learn more about the program, visit their website: http://www.literary-arts.org.

Rueck reads her first-person story that won her a spot in the 2008

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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