Tell Your Story Campaign: Spotlight on Julia Hillman Craig

julia smallerEvery June, members of the NYWC community write stories about their experiences with NYWC as a way to raise awareness and revenue for our programs. This year we will be hearing from eight such individuals. Read their stories, follow the campaign, and support the NYWC Tell Your Story Campaign!

This story is from Julia Hillman Craig. Julia has  led over 200 workshops with NYWC including  Brooklyn Public Library, Rikers Island,  14th St Y, Serendipity 2 ,Greenwood Cemetery and the High Line. She has also worked with Sandy Storyline  and with Arts and Democracy as part of the Participatory Budget Project in NYC. 

You are a writer. Everyone is a writer. Everyone has an important story to tell.

NYWC gives, often underserved communities, an opportunity to do just that by providing a safe space, with supportive people in which to sit down and just write.

I say “just write” but it is so much more than that. At times the words put on paper, born of experience, are so powerful they can reduce a room to silence, laughter, and occasionally tears.

A previously unheard voice can explode on the page surprising everyone, not least the writer who, “never knew I could write”.

My story with NYWC began a year ago. During that time I have been constantly amazed, challenged and moved by stories I have heard every single week.

I have written with seniors battling illness, isolation and transport issues, yet somehow make it to the workshop on time, determined to write, share and enjoy the support of others around the table. As a late life poet told me one morning:” I’m eighty eight years old. I’m not going to waste time. I only use the words that matter”.

Sometimes those words emerge slowly. I recently led a workshop for incarcerated teenage boys at Rikers Island. The first week they wrote a few cautious lines. Then, as the weeks passed,those lines turned to short poems,stories and the odd lyric. The writing was raw, honest and often self reflective. At times it turned to fantasy and looked past the walls of an unbearably hostile environment to the world of the “outside”. The bare classroom we wrote in also offered, “fresher air and somewhere to go”, as one boy explained on a stifling hot day.

My memories of that workshop are indelible, including watching  a sixteen year old copy out his poem “neatly” to give to his mother at Visiting Hours later that day, or one holiday weekend, when one of the guards unexpectedly joined in a workshop and read out loud for an inmate. A rare gesture in such a brutal environment.

I have also transcribed for writers who have recently lost their sight, and who find computer programs too difficult, or don’t use a computer, and need a little help to get their thoughts down on paper. Everyone in that workshop has a volunteer ready to write down what they have to say.

All these experiences have taught me that it’s about so much more than the writing, but the writing is the place we start. Words matter.

Please support NYWC in any way you can.

Julia Hillman Craig