Writer Inspires Student Creativity at Blackfeet

May 15th, 2004 | By | Category: 15-4: Ancient Cultures Modern Technology, Tribal College News
By Meg Kearney

STORYTELLING. Patricia Henley discusses writing fiction with BCC student James Evans. Photo by Meg Kearney

A unique community outreach project designed to promote reading and writing as a means of preserving American Indian culture brought fiction writer Patricia Henley to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwest Montana last fall.

Her visit as a writer-in-residence was co-sponsored by the National Book Foundation’s American Voices program and Blackfeet Community College (BCC, Browning, MT). She talked and gave writing workshops for college and high school students, faculty, and members of the community as well as a reading at BCC’s library.

All participants received a free copy of Henley’s book, Worship of the Common Heart, in preparation for her visit.

In one talk, Henley explored the role of place in stories. She encouraged audience members to write stories of their homeland — stories only they can tell. During sessions with English and journalism classes, she asked students to write about their landscape or turning points in their lives. “As students read what they wrote, I sat in awe listening to the beautiful, descriptive language she had elicited,” says Colleen O’Brien, English instructor at BCC.

“The program inspired more talk on campus about starting a ‘traveling reading series,’ hosted by other tribal colleges, with people from that location presenting their work,” says Sarah Balk, BCC student who works part time in the library and helped to organize the residency. ”In the wake of her visit we’re organizing a book club and investigating opportunities to hear readings,” says O’Brien.

Meg Kearney is the acting executive director of the National Book Foundation. For more information, see the foundation’s web site at www.nationalbook.org.

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