2016 Tell Your Story Campaign: Spotlight on Sammi LaBue

20150131-Sammi and Henry-5

The Tell Your Story Campaign is back!

Every June, members of the NYWC community write stories about their experiences with NYWC as a way to raise awareness and revenue for our programs. Each week throughout the next month we’ll be featuring one of these stories on our website. The first comes from Sammi LaBue, a NYWC workshop leader who leads a workshop for blind seniors in a residence for the blind and visually impaired in Manhattan.

Be sure to follow and support NYWC’s 2016 Tell Your Story Campaign here!

The thing about my workshop crew, just like most NYWC participants, is that they are different, or at least made to feel that way. NYWC works with underserved members of the diverse community that is New York City. The participants I lead in our writing workshop every Thursday morning are visually impaired, but a few of them have urged me to “just call us blind.”

In any given workshop session every single writer may be storytelling in a different way. A student will hammer away at a braille typewriter, her efforts loud for the room to hear. It’s to that metronome that others find focus, one using a tablet, another handwriting on thick lined paper, magnifying glass in hand for rereading and edits. Others type on a computer’s braille keyboard. Some speak their stories to me, sometimes cracking me up, other times testing my ability to hold back tears, as I type to keep up with their sharp, witty tales. One gifted student comes to class with only a stylus and slate to manually punch holes into card-stock-esque braille paper. The muscles in her arms flex as she writes poetry Langston Hughes would snap a finger to.

It’s this miraculous variation in their writing processes that keeps us all on our toes. I often scramble around the hallways of our meeting location to gather materials, but setting up each writer’s station at the beginning of class ensures everyone has the opportunity to tell their story. When we settle in and the prompt has been given (describe a time everyone was laughing but you, write about flight, write a story from your mother’s perspective), my participants are never short on words. Their stories are often so strong with imagery I can see the scene as if I were there.

My students don’t mind being called blind, but I prefer “unstoppable.” When I am procrastinating writing my own work, feeling sorry for myself in that writerly way when my pen feels void of creativity, I think of them, how every week they get something on the page in one way or another. Even when their eyes are bothering them or the brailler nicks their hand, they keep going and are always eager to share at the end of class.

I hope you’ll consider supporting them and other participants like mine, who redefine what it means to be a writer. The New York Writers Coalition has created a safe space for them to express themselves. Many of them have become published authors, searchable by name on Amazon. They get opportunities to read at podiums where novelists and poets have read before them. Believe me when I say they all would be storytellers no matter what the circumstances, but NYWC gives them the support they need to keep it up and have their inspiring words heard.

With thanks,
Sammi LaBue

Donate to Sammi’s Firstgiving page here!