Kindred Voices: The Workers Writing Project
A Unique Project
The Workers Writing Project is a unique program that promotes writing by workers as a path to lifelong learning. Over the last five years, with generous support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a coalition of labor/management education programs has designed, developed, and operated a nationwide series of creative writing workshops for unionized workers.
Components of the project serve workers, educators, and workplaces through a variety of instructor training modules, writing workshop curricula and publications. The concept is simple: encourage confidence and a desire for learning in workers by writing about work and what it is to be a working person…write about your life, and gain important, applicable skills immediately useful in academics, job training or for personal enrichment.
Creative Writing as a Gateway to Lifelong Learning
Hundreds of adult learners have participated in these on-going workshops, which produced a significant body of worker stories, poems, plays, films and narratives. Each piece expresses a singular view of the world as seen through workers’ eyes and as experienced through workers’ lives. Contemporary American literature is rich with the contributions of formerly marginalized voices. Now, workers’ stories can join those of African-Americans, women, Latinos, immigrants, and add to the diverse tapestry of American writing.
Evidence of the success of the curriculum is that countless numbers of students have used the skills gained in these workshops to improve their performance and confidence on the job, enroll in academic programs, and take advantage of job-specific courses.
Read Workers’ Stories: Kindred Voices I & II
In 2006, a chapbook of writings was published “Kindred Voices: The Workers’ Writing Project.” As new workshops were launched, more pieces were submitted for consideration in subsequent publications. A second publication, Kindred Voices II, now available for sale here, was published in partnership with the Labor/Management Workplace Education Program at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.
As new writings are gathered from subsequent workshops, we will prepare more anthologies for publication.
In 2009, the administration of Kindred Voices transitioned from the Association of Joint Labor/Management Educational Programs to the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. The University, a leader in higher education and a pioneer in lifelong learning opportunities for union-represented workers, continued to guide the evolution of Kindred Voices by providing ongoing support of instructor-led writing workshops and piloting an on-line version for workers in Massachusetts and New York.
The Back Story
The Workers Writing Project began in 2000 with a series of creative writing workshops for steelworkers. Award-winning author and poet Jimmy Santiago Baca facilitated that process through workshops sponsored by the Institute for Career Development (ICD), a joint educational initiative of the United Steelworkers and participating companies. An anthology, The Heat: Steelworkers Lives and Legends was published in 2003, and is still used in writing workshops. These workshops continue today, reaching steelworkers in the central and mid-west regions of the country.
With the assistance of the ICD, the Association began documenting the elements of the workshop and developing instructor training and lesson plans for use in the classroom and online.
Working closely with the NYS & CSEA Partnership for Education and Training, another series of creative writing workshops was launched for union-represented psychiatric aides, and later expanded to include a large cross section of state workers. As expressed by the Partnership for Education and Training, “Long term, this positive learning experience has become a valuable stepping stone to a life of learning.”
The scope and heartfelt intensity of the writing generated through these workshops confirms that the voices of workers should be recognized as an essential part of the diverse literary and cultural heritage of America. Over two-hundred-and-sixty manuscripts were submitted for review, with ninety pieces selected for publication in the first and second edition of Kindred Voices.
Our hope and expectation is that Kindred Voices will become an opened-ended publication, always a work-in-progress. As creative writing workshops continue and expand, more and more workers’ voices will be heard.
New Writing Skills for Lifelong Learning…and Doing
What happens after the workshop? Buoyed by confidence in their new-found writing skills, workers have improved their careers and used their writing skills outside the job.
- Former steelworker Jeff Manes writes is a featured columnist for Post-Tribune (Merrillville, Indiana). His column, Salt insightfully chronicles the lives of everyday working people. He is also working on a documentary on the history of the Kankakee River and the million-acre marsh that once surrounded it. He hopes to use the film to advocate for a thirty-acre restoration/refuge project. Jeff committed to this project upon learning that the Grand Kanakee Marsh was once equal to the Everglades before it was drained and used as a ditch by early settlers.
- Julian Pimiento, a New York City doorman and member of Local 32BJ, transformed his short story Grace into a screenplay and produced a film short based on his mother’s quest to make a better life for her children in America. Grace works in a garment factory, and her life – and her children’s lives – changes after an INS raid of the factory. The film has been featured in a variety of film festivals, including, BET’s Urbanworld Film Festival; Seattle International Latino Film Festival; Montezuma International Film Festival; HBO New York International Latino Film Festival; and the Bronx Independent Film Festival. He was interviewed on CNN en Español on his plans for more stories and films.
Krista Gibson is a communications assistant and Communications Workers of America member. Krista began to using writing to seek positive solutions to negative events in her past. “I write to heal, share, inspire, evoke emotions and touch people with my words,” she says. An avid learner, Krista has earned credits in both business and computer classes at Virginia Intermont and Baker University, and she has taken several non-credit courses at Mountain Empire Community College. Krista is also participating in an online program through the Community College of Beaver County, and is working toward a CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) degree in Applied Science.
- Daphne Knight is a Calculation Clerk 2 for the NY State Department of Labor Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). The mother of three, grandmother of one, Daphne found the writing workshops beneficial to her professional and private life, giving her the tools needed to improve crucial skills. “The course has really changed the way I read and write,” Daphne reports. “I now read and write with a purpose, as I keep my audience in mind. It makes a tremendous difference in my writing.”
Sale of KINDRED VOICES 2 will be used to continue the project of capturing the voices of workers.
To Learn more or to book a writing workshop, Contact: