The Community Writing Center is a cozy little building in Library Square (210 E. 400 South, 801-957-2192, SLCC.edu/CWC) filled with books and couches. It’s not the home of an exclusive literary conclave, however—technically, the award-winning CWC is an outreach arm of Salt Lake Community College. Andrea Malouf, the center’s director, is a former journalist and a current SLCC professor who knows that everyone can write—but that some people might need help finding their voice. The CWC encourages expressions of all kinds from Salt Lake City’s citizens—from teens to inmates to aspiring novelists—by hosting continual writing programs, events and workshops.
This year, the CWC is participating in a yearlong, community-wide conversation about race, the current thrust of which is the Race Card Project, which asks people to write a six-word sentence about race. Cards written by community members—which are candid and sometimes harrowing—are on display at the center as well as throughout the community. SLCC and the CWC are also hosting Frankie Condon, a professor and author who studies race and racism, for a conversation about race at SLCC’s Taylorsville campus (4600 S. Redwood Road) on Feb. 27 at 2:30 p.m.
Is the Community Writing Center a cool club where people come read poetry?
We’re open to everyone and all educational abilities, but we really do focus on populations that don’t have the same educational or economic privileges as others. We focus not just on creative writing, but on helping people write letters to legislators and work on their résumés or college-application essays and that kind of thing. We do in-house workshops here, as well as free one-on-one writing coaching. We have people who come in every day to work on novels, we’ve helped a gentleman with a letter to his parole officer ... we recently helped someone who brought in their cardboard sign and wanted a more strategic way of writing a help sign.
We did not want to be a literary salon. And our goal is not to just have people come here, but that our program be out in the community. We have different writing groups across the community, and work with probably 40 ongoing partners every year. We have workshops twice a week in the jail, one for women and one for men; we have workshops with some refugee groups. Every day, we have people all throughout the community actually facilitating something with writing.
Do you do editing for people?
That’s a common misconception. Most people have only experienced writing when they hand it in and then a teacher edits or gives them feedback. Ours is based on decades of writing-center research that focuses on a nondirective approach as a way of learning. We do not edit, and we do not take charge. Instead, we ask a lot of questions in a way that help the writer come to conclusions about their paper.
Can people simply walk in?
It’s interesting, because sometimes when people come to the door, they stop and seem to think, “Can I really come in here? I’m not a writer.” That’s the first thing people say: “I’m not a writer.” Well, everyone’s a writer. You don’t have to be a “Writer.” We find that after working with inmates at the jail or those at the homeless-youth resource center, a lot of them will then come here. As long as people are writing, they can hang out here all day. We do have people fill out a small registration, but anyone can be a part of it. And most of our programs are free.
Why do people think they’re not writers?
Writing is so vulnerable. There’s just such a personal issue with it—people love it or hate it, or they define themselves as not being good at it. But there’s no such thing as a good or bad writer. There’s lots of good and bad writing—Hemingway had both, I’ve had both. So I feel like when it comes to writing, there are a lot of misconceptions that happen, where someone’s been damaged by a teacher or someone who didn’t realize that what they were saying was so personal. So when we work with writers here, instead of saying, “You made this sound ...” or “You were confusing here,” we do a lot of anthropomorphizing: “This sentence is suggesting ...” It’s a way for the writer to disengage from it personally.
On the first day of class with my students, I break apart some myths about writing. It’s not a natural-born skill, you’re not a bad person if you feel you’re not good at it. People just have these fears that are unwarranted.