Tools of the trade. Photo: Mark Monson

While skimming through the index of a website that gathers pithy quotes about the act of writing, we found that the headings could be shaped, trimmed and rearranged into a fairly decent poem about the subject:

Writing is Heaven.
Writing is Hell.
Writing is Work.
Writing is Money.
Writing is Truth…and Fiction (see above).
Writing is Character.
Writing is Drama.

Writing is all these things and more. But to begin with, clear writing is a necessary tool for achieving goals in life, and this is the idea that the instructors at Write@253, Tacoma’s new writing center for students ages 6-18, will impart through an innovative program that offers one-on-one tutoring, free workshops, a drop-in writing room and creative publishing opportunities. Spaceworks Tacoma is proud to award Write@253 a six-month Creative Enterprise Residency in the Hilltop neighborhood where a staff of about 20 volunteers, including college-level instructors and staff, will begin tutoring in April.

The Write@253 creative engine is modeled after 826Valencia, a non-profit writing center founded by author and TED Prize-winner Dave Eggers, in San Francisco, with satellites across the country. Mary Fox, a Tacoma Community College (TCC) writing instructor, and Jen McDonald, volunteer coordinator for the Tacoma Children’s Museum, first bounced the idea of launching a similar center seven years ago. (An existing 826Valencia chapter in Seattle precluded starting one here.) “We didn’t pursue it then, but loved the 826 model,” says Fox. The idea arose again last year at a gathering of local educators that included David Droge, a career advisor at Lincoln High School and a retired University of Puget Sound speech communications professor: “Again, a bunch of us were familiar with 826Valencia, loved it, and decided to go for it.” They investigated the possibility of working in the Salishan housing community on Tacoma’s East Side, and approached Michael Power, of Tacoma Housing Authority, “Who, incredibly, had written a grant a few years before to bring an 826 writing center to Salishan – this was before funding dried up for the educational/retail building that was going to be the final phase of the Salishan development.

“Really, the stars were absolutely aligned for this to happen in Tacoma,” says Fox.

Right now, as they prepare their Hilltop space for occupancy, Write@253 volunteers are providing one-on-one tutoring at Salishan, and at First Creek Middle School (as part of a pre-existing after-school program); during spring break they will offer writing enrichment activities at McCarver Elementary. The volunteer pool now includes teachers, fundraisers, college students and writers from organizations including TCC, the REACH Center, Tacoma Housing Authority and Lincoln High School. These are people who love writing and want to help kids love writing, too – from essays, stories and multi-media projects to nailing down a resumé.

Fox says the 253 team members “want all Tacoma students to love to write, to think of themselves as writers – and way too many of them don’t. It’s too often a chore: something students have to do to achieve a passing standard in school, not something they choose to do, look forward to doing, or feel they’re good at.” One way of firing up young writers is by publishing their work in print or online. Seeing their work in published form “can dramatically change students’ perceptions about themselves. It’s important to all of us to know that people want to listen to us, that people are interested in what we have to say….That can be life changing.” Next month, Write@253 will launch free workshops with writers including Rosalind Bell and Peter Bacho. To get the publishing side of the program going they are seeking donations of computers, a copier and other equipment. Spaceworks’ partner, Shunpike, is helping to strategize grant writing and fundraising.

The Write@253 crew is busy cleaning and designing their residency space on the Hilltop; their neighbors and fellow artists-in-residence are the rock band, Goldfinch. The writing lab is sure to produce dozens of terrific real-life stories – stay tuned for developments!