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Writer's space fosters creativity in Jacksonville

Jacksonville writer Marion Denard has created the type of writing environment she’d like for herself — a space where she offers regular workshops on the craft.

“For a lot of people who want to write, it’s about creating a space in their lives for writing. That’s something I think the Writer’s Room provides for people,” said Denard. “It’s a designated time and place to devote themselves to self-expression.”

Writer’s Room, which opened in February, is located in the upper level of a carriage house behind a bigger building at 240 S. Oregon St., which was once the residence of noted Southern Oregon artists Steve and Sue Bennett. The carriage house had been used as a painting studio.

“My goal for people is that they want to write more — that they leave excited enough and encouraged to write more,” said Denard.

Some people may be writing family histories, others perhaps working on a novel or a children’s book, while others just enjoy writing, she said.

Denard uses the Amherst Writers and Artists method and is a trained AWA facilitator. Its core philosophy is that every person has a unique voice and that the craft of writing can be taught without damaging that original voice.

In the workshop, participants are presented a series of prompts and write for a set time, usually 15 to 20 minutes. Prompts can be music, images, words, scents or other stimuli and are a place to begin.

Writers can read their work aloud to the group at the end of an exercise. Full critique is not given because the writings are new, but feedback is given on what is strong and memorable in the pieces. Focus is on the writing and not personal anecdotes that relate pieces to experiences.

“We are looking there to react to what is strong writing and what we remember from what people have read,” said Denard. “It’s encouraging when they see people react to how something is working. We listen for what is strong in other people’s writings.”

Some participants bring laptops to the workshop, while others work in longhand. While people can writer faster with a computer, the machines are used a lot in daily life, said Denard. Computer use may make it harder to turn off the business mind and turn on the creative mind, although she says it’s a personal choice.

“It’s a very open space where nobody needs to feel judged. It’s for beginners and experienced writers alike,” said Jessie Pannell, who lives near Jacksonville. “Writing in a group can be very intimidating, but Marion and the method make it very open and welcoming.”

Pannell published a book of her poetry after being inspired by the classes. She’s also working on a children’s book and does editing for other people. Pannell has been in at least a half-dozen of Denard’s groups over the years and says Denard has become a mentor.

“Writing can be really lonely when you are home by yourself and staring at a blank computer screen, so this provides some community,” Denard said. “It’s a time to talk shop and connect with others interested in writing.”

Group members can also take part in a manuscript response, where 10 to 15 pages of poetry or prose by a participant are read outside the sessions and feedback presented in a brief group discussion.

Workshop space is designed to help people relax with comfortable chairs, bean bag chairs and small desks. The stairway leading to the room is painted like a library book shelf with volumes displayed.

Dennard has been published in several poetry journals, including Adanna, Peregrine and Arc Poetry Magazine. She has a master’s degree from Dartmouth, where her thesis was a collection of short stories. Her bachelor’s degree from University of Puget Sound is in English. She taught composition at Vermont Technical College.

Had she kept all her rejection slips from publishers, said Denard, she could have papered the walls of Writer’s Room. She has saved hand-written notes of encouragement and is currently working on a children’s book.

Denard offered Writer’s Room workshops on a quarterly basis for about seven years at various public spaces before she opened the new space. Most workshops usually include six to seven weekly sessions, but two in November have only four meetings. Workshops will resume early next year. Groups are limited to eight members, and sessions last for two and a half hours.

A young writer’s group, for children 11 to 14, is being offered during November. Denard plans to develop workshops for younger children also. Student rates and scholarships are available to help with workshop cost. More information can be found at writersroomworkshops.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Correction: This article has been corrected with the names of the artists who previously owned and lived in the building that is now Jacksonville Writer's Room.

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