By Erin McInerney
1. When did you first start volunteering with the IYWP and why?
I found IYWP through the course Writing With Purpose. At the time it was taught by Andy Axel and it was a really wonderful way to build volunteer work into my class schedule. Arts education and non-profit work were, and are, incredibly close to my heart. In my own hometown as a high school student I was able to benefit from programing that is very similar to what IYWP provides. For me it felt like pouring back into the vessel that had filled me, giving back to a literary community that had validated me as a young person. Reciprocal is the word that comes to mind. My involvement began my sophomore year and I’ve been here ever since.
2. Which is your favorite school to volunteer at?
You will mostly spot me at specialty events because I work with programing and event planning. But when I’m not helping out with an author’s workshop or a festival booth I regularly attend Tate Poetry Club on Friday mornings. That group of students is electric. I admit sometimes we spend too much time laughing – but I promise the work they create at the end of each session is dazzling. I have recently started a Spoken Word Club at West High but Taters are a sweet spot for me.
3. What do you like about the IYWP as an organization? What keeps you volunteering with us?
I love the transparency. Our director and other core team members are always honest and excited to work collaboratively to create programming. There is something about that dynamic that truly speaks to authenticity. It would be a lie to say I’ve never been intimidating by the brilliant minds at IYWP, the educators and artists, but each session with them is filled with validation. If you have an exciting idea for anything – from something simple like a prompt to a full-blown workshop – they want to hear it all and they want to help you make it happen.
4. What is one most-memorable moment from your time with the IYWP?
This is a hard question because there are so many, so that means I have to name more that one! Eating Hot Cheetos and pickles with Tate poets during their end of semester party is definitely one. Listening to a high school student analyze a William Carlos Williams poem with more grace and skill than any college student I’ve ever met is another. Hearing Roxanne Gay give writing advice – definitely. But I think my favorite was the Alexander Chee workshop. There was a moment when the author braved a question on the tumultuous nature of being biracial – something he and the student who asked the question shared. He told her to write about that feeling because it was important. I think about that all the time and how powerful representation is – how vital it is for young people to see themselves reflected back by the artists they revere.
5. What is your favorite book? How would you format a IYWP writing class around it?
My favorite book right now is probably Sula but if you ask me next week it might be something different. I think I would look at that scene where the two girls throw the little boy into the river and he disappears. It is such a trippy dreamy moment. I would turn it into a prompt and ask writers to create a scene in which an unexplainable act occurs – one that irrevocably binds together the two characters who experienced it. Then, from there, write one ending in which things turn out happily because of this act and another in which the opposite occurs.
6. What was your inspiration for starting the spoken word club at West High? What has the process been like?
I come from a spoken word community. I slammed in high school and competed nationally on a team. I know how powerful spoken word is, how accessible it is, how fluid and accepting it can be. It’s a unique medium that doesn’t ask you to be a perfect writer, or hone some elitist skill. Its really about community, bearing witness, and reading stories. It was a gift that was given to me, in high school, when I really needed it. At West I just wanted to extend that hand – that opportunity to other young writers who might need that space like I did. It has gone surprisingly smooth so far and I chalk a lot of that up to the teachers at West who have made it possible and my co-facilitator Caleb, who is beyond wonderful.
7. Would you rather have the ability to make something only in books reality or erase something that exists in real life?
Do comics count? When I got into Wonder Woman I was infatuated with her bracelets. They’re indestructible and great for dodging bullets. But my favorite part is probably that they’re made of a material named “feminum”. They would be pretty rad to have in real life.