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#OTGYpsi: Honoring & Celebrating Writing In The Ypsilanti Area

The organizers of "Writers of Ypsilanti," a program sponsored by community writing lab YpsiWrites believe everyone's a writer and writing matters.

WEMU's Lisa Barry and On The Ground Ypsi project manager Sarah Rigg talk to the co-founder of YpsiWrites, Ann Blakeslee, about their mission and belief that the art of writing...in any form...still matters in 2021.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Meet the 2021 Writers of Ypsilanti honorees


Writers of Ypsilanti


Lisa Barry: You're listening to 89 One WEMU, and this is On The Ground Ypsi, our weekly conversation with On the Ground Ypsi project manager Sarah Rigg, about one of her Concentrate Media online stories she's featuring this week. I'm Lisa Barry, and Sarah joins us now. What did you write about? And we always like to bring a special guest, so tell us who also is included in our conversation today. 

Sarah Rigg: I wrote about the Writers of Ypsilanti program, which is a program of YpsiWrites. YpsiWrites is a community writing lab that's a collaboration between multiple entities, including EMU and the Ypsilanti District Library. And I have brought with me Ann Blakeslee, who is one of the co-founders of YpsiWrites.

Lisa Barry: Hi, Ann. Thanks for joining us. 

Ann Blakeslee: Thank you for having me. 

Lisa Barry: What is a writing lab? 

Ann Blakeslee: So, YpsiWrites was founded on the idea that we really had an interest in extending all the great writing resources and support that we provide on campus for our students, for our faculty and staff at Eastern, and extend that out into the community and provide that kind of support, resources, programs and really to celebrate writing with members of the Ypsilanti community. So, it's really more of a resource and a set of programs and initiatives and designed to really honor and celebrate writing. 

Lisa Barry: I love that. "Celebrate writing." Do you think the art of writing is growing or decreasing or where are we in that world these days?

Ann Blakeslee: Well, our tagline for YpsiWrites is "Everyone's a writer." And we really all do write. We write a lot of different things every day of our lives, a lot of informal writing, everything from a Facebook post or an Instagram post to a list to go to the grocery store to maybe some kind of more formal document or an academic paper if we're still in school. But, we all write, and writing is such an important means of communication for all of us. And so, we really want to call attention to that and call attention to the fact that every single one of us, you don't have to have some special skill or talent to be a writer, we all can write. 

Lisa Barry: How do you prefer to write? Online? With your computer? Or by is anyone writing by hand anymore these days? 

Ann Blakeslee: Actually, I think quite a few people are writing by hand. It's interesting. We're right now running a six-part memoir writing series, and we had our first session on Saturday, and we had 25 writers or more, and people would turn off their cameras to do their writing. But when they still had their cameras on, I noticed that people weren't. It didn't seem looking at screens. They were looking down, and I have a suspicion that quite a few of them were writing by hand. I know I was, and I keep a journal, and I think a lot of people do a lot of journaling, and I think that writing by hand is actually still quite popular.

Lisa Barry: Just to clarify, when you mentioned turning their cameras off, you're doing via Zoom, I'm assuming? 

Ann Blakeslee: Yes, we have been running a lot of our programs virtually, so that people feel safe, and we also, in doing that, have found that we are able to draw from an even larger geographical area, so we're welcoming participants in some cases from all over the country. 

Lisa Barry: Now I understand you are announcing a new cohort of eight community members for 2021. Tell us about that. 

Ann Blakeslee: We were founded two years ago. It seems like much longer because we've been doing so many different things in the community with writing. But, the first year, we decided to honor every year a cohort of writers from the community. We call them Writers of Ypsilanti. You don't have to be a published writer. And last year, in 2020, we started asking our partners, our community partners, and others with whom we work and interact, to nominate people. And so, this year, we had an incredible slate of nominees--people, a very diverse group of individuals from across the community who do all kinds of writing everything from just blog posting to publishing books and writing autobiographies and biographies, plays, and publishing and producing those plays. So, we have all types of writers, and we try to select a cohort every year that really represents the community in terms of age, demographics, in every possible way, so that we can celebrate them, their writing, and just writing in the community in general. 

Lisa Barry: And not to put her on the spot, but I understand our own Sarah Rigg is on that list. 

Sarah Rigg: Yes, that's right. I had planned to write this story weeks in advance before I found out that I was also nominated to be a Writer of Ypsilanti. 

Lisa Barry: How does that feel? 

Sarah Rigg: It feels pretty nice. I think when I was growing up, everybody expected me to be more along the creative writing line, and people still ask me when I'm going to write a novel. I'm like, "You know, I do a whole lot of really important writing. Just because it's not in a bound book doesn't mean that I don't have a career as a writer." So, it's nice to be acknowledged. 

Lisa Barry: Who else did you talk to, Sarah, for this week's article? 

Sarah Rigg: So, I obviously talked to Ann to get a little of that bit of background about the program, and I talked to two people who had been named Writers of Ypsilanti in past years just kind of talk about their experience and how they felt about that. And I talked to--I wasn't able to talk to every single person in the new cohort, but I spoke to several of them. I spoke to Frankie Koni, who is a poet. And I spoke to Brent Miller, who is actually a volunteer with YpsiWrites. He tutors other people in writing and does a lot of writing in his own job. And I talked to William Teepen, who writes articles for The Fresh Start Clubhouse. They're a sort of a self-help mental health organization in our area. And they put out a newsletter, and he writes articles for that. And I spoke to Debbie Taylor, who is a local children's author. 

Lisa Barry: And one other person, I understand, you spoke to, I personally know of as an artist. We've spoken to her many times here in WEMU, Yen Azzaro. But she was also recognized as a Writer of Ypsilanti last year. 

Sarah Rigg: That's right. One of the things that she does kind of includes art and writing together. She takes..I can't remember the exact term she uses, but she takes visual notes. So, she'll like, sit in on a staff meeting and will take notes and add illustrations to it as well. So, writing is definitely still a big part of what she does. And she says it's also important for creative types, art as visual artists, to know how to write grant proposals andpply for residencies and things like that. 

Lisa Barry: And, Ann, back to you, I understand you have a motto this year, "Write now." But it's W-R-I-T-E? 

Ann Blakeslee: Yes. Correct. And that sort of builds. We've had a motto every year, so we started with "Everyone's a writer," which obviously continues because everyone, we really, truly believe that that's foundational for us. Butm last year, it was "Writing matters." And this year, it's "Write now," to really put the focus of attention on those things we are writing in the moment or at this present time and why those pieces of writing mattered to us and to others.

Lisa Barry: Do you think the younger generation--I feel old just saying that--but let's just say those in high school or even in younger grades need to be encouraged to write? Or do you think it's still strong for them at this point? 

Ann Blakeslee: Honestly, and I'm a parent too, and I have an eighth grader and a 12th grader, and I see it as being really important, and I think that they recognize it's important as well. I think obviously the modalities are quite different from when we were growing up, and maybe they're not always reading books, for example, but they have so much information that they're processing, and they see the importance of being able to clearly communicate their own ideas and to get those ideas across to make change, to make a difference. And I see that generation is being very sort of engaged and involved, and communication is such a critical component of that engagement. 

Lisa Barry: Even if you're writing a blog or does texting count as writing? 

Ann Blakeslee: Texting. Absolutely. It counts as writing, even though I don't understand half of it, in terms of how that generation texts and communicates or memes, or all kinds of ways in which Tiktok, for example. There are all kinds of ways in which they're communicating with one another, and writing really is an important component of all of those. 

Lisa Barry: Well, I think we're gtg. You guys know what that means?

Sarah Rigg: Good to go. 

Lisa Barry: Yes. Good to go. Ann Blakeslee. Sarah Rigg. Thank you so much for talking to us here in 89-1 WEMU. 

Sarah Rigg: Thanks, Lisa. 

Ann Blakeslee: Thank you. 

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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