CAPTURING THE AMERICAN SCENE
For the past 27 years Robert Wolf has been roaming the American landscape, organizing writing workshops in cities and rural hamlets, in farmhouse dining rooms, church basements, schools, libraries, and colleges. Begun in 1989 with a workshop for the homeless in Nashville, Tennessee, Free River Press has since worked with people from all walks of life.
Designed by Robert Wolf, the writing workshops are geared for people of all ages, and was designed with the amateur in mind. Its secret lies in the fact that it is orally oriented, which in practice means that participants tell their stories before writing them. The workshop can handle up to 20 participants, and experience in numerous communities has shown that enough stories and essays can be collected in three days to form a small book.
Each workshop begins with the group reading aloud several published stories and discussing what made them effective. Afterwards everyone tells a story about his life or community. Participants are urged to ask any question they might have about the story, which helps the writer know what needs fleshing out. When everyone’s story is discussed, writing begins.
Participants are asked to write their stories as closely as possible to the way they told them, and not to worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. The important thing is to write the first draft as quickly as possible.
When first drafts are completed, each story is read aloud. Everyone says what they would like to know more about, including things the writer may have told but omitted from the writing. No negative comments are allowed.
People within the group find themselves bonding, and people who thought they could not write find themselves writing with facility.
Many of the workshop stories have been published by Free River Press, a nonprofit company that documents life in CONTEMPORARY America. The press was inaugurated in 1989 with two volumes of writings by Nashville homeless. Since then the series has issued 27 titles by farmers, native Americans, Hispanics, residents of rural villages, and others seldom heard from in the mainstream media: .