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Adult creative writing classes encourage learning beyond the university

Photo contributed by Arshia Simkin.

When Emily Cataneo and Arshia Simkin graduated from their Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing program in 2019, they realized there weren't many opportunities outside of a university setting to improve creative writing.  

From there, Redbud Writing Project, the Triangle’s only adult creative writing school, was born.

Founded by Cataneo and Simkin in 2019, the project works to provide writing classes and opportunities for adults regardless of restrictions on time, money or resources. 

"There was a huge appetite for an offering like this in the community and so, almost five years later, here we are," Cataneo said

The organization is headquartered in Raleigh and offers classes at satellite locations in Chapel Hill, Durham, Pittsboro and Carrboro, including at Golden Fig Books and Flyleaf Books.  

According to Simkin, the organization attempts to make courses fun and engaging, while maintaining rigorous, college-level content in order to push students to write their best work.

Redbud is committed to the principles of compassion, empathy and candor, according to their website. The classes strive to inspire and create a safe space to share written work, while providing honest feedback.

“I think that people come to our classes and feel excited about writing but it's also important that they get feedback on ways to make their writing even better and suggestions and ideas for how to continue to progress,” Cataneo said.

Fiction teacher Matthew Buckley Smith said he provides specific feedback that acts less like advice and more like guided questions in order to point his students in the right direction. 

Kaye Usry, a student at Redbud, began her journey with the organization in 2019 after seeking feedback on a personal project. Since then, she has taken various classes, including the "Writing the Novel" course, and has written a full novel.

Usry said students have the chance to workshop their peers’ work throughout the courses, which both improves the class’ creative writing and strengthens the course community.

“The classes are only six sessions, but I've made some really good friends through those classes, because it's such an intimate thing to share your writing with someone else and to make comments on someone else's writing," she said. "Because it's such a personal thing, even if you're not writing about yourself.”

Along with giving feedback on written works, teachers will assign readings that expose students to different voices, styles and moods, Usry said.

“In the class I took, we read "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro, and we read an Elena Ferrante novel as well,” Usry said. “I didn't know about either of those authors and I've since come to love both of them.”

According to Simkin, Redbud makes every possible effort to incorporate scholarships and free community-based classes at partner organizations, including the Durham Center for Senior Life. These classes serve historically underrepresented groups in the creative writing field, such as BIPOC writers, domestic violence survivors, low income seniors and those who wish to share personal stories of reproductive injustice.

“We partnered with Planned Parenthood to do a class where people could learn how to write the issues affecting them around reproductive care,” Simkin said.

The project offers six-week courses, which vary in subject based on when they're taught. In the past, topics included sci-fi writing, poetry, feminist works, horror and parenthood. Three of this month's classes, "Fiction I," "Writing the Body" and "Writing the Novel" are currently full. 

Cataneo said the courses are designed to be pieced together into the equivalent of an MFA. 

Redbud has become a place where like-minded writers with a common interest can form interpersonal connections, something which was particularly appealing for students in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.  

“Today, four out of six [students] said that they worked remotely and part of the reason they were signing up was to meet people,” Smith said. “So they tend to be pretty sweet and open people.”

Many of the teachers have seen the bonds formed through Redbud extend beyond the classroom, Cataneo said. Last year, she ran into former students hanging out when she was at a coffee shop.

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"Some people have creative writing groups themselves, and those groups have been meeting continuously for years," she said. "In some ways those friendships naturally form, but we also have specific, more official ways that we work to create community, too."

They host readings at the end of the six-week sessions where students can socialize, share their work and have a glass of wine to celebrate their accomplishments in the course.


@dthlifestyle | @dthlifestyle

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