Street Lit Authors Club: The voices of Austin’s homeless.
Organized by: Barry Maxwell
…is everyone’s, and each deserves to be told.
In the struggle against isolation, it’s a deep human need to share ourselves, to tell our stories, and open our hearts to the voices of others. Our poetry, our songs and tall tales, our whispered moments of vulnerable revelation—all unite us as equals, bonded in kinship and empathy.
The Street Lit Authors Club helps Austin’s homeless find their voices in weekly creative writing workshops, and supports them in telling their stories on the page.
We're off to a great start, but we need your help to carry on.
Hi. My name is Barry Maxwell, the founder of Street Lit, and now, the Street Lit Authors Club. That’s me on the left, with Prof. Charlotte Gullick of ACC, and volunteer, Austin Peterson, making the very first book delivery to the ARCH, back in 2013.
Today, in cooperation with Front Steps and the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), Street Lit offers free creative writing workshops in a safe, non-judgmental space. We lend encouragement, foster open expression, and honor the strength in those whose stories so urgently deserve a rightful telling.
Our group is new and gaining momentum. In only four sessions, the Street Lit Authors Club has welcomed more than twenty-five aspiring writers. Familiar faces return, excited to discuss their work, and each Friday new arrivals take their seats, curious and eager.
Queen just turned 18—she courageously shares her journal with us. Alan wanted only to listen, then revealed he would love to write, but can’t spell. (Dictionaries! An immediate need.) Thom inched to the table, leaning on his walker, and asked if he could simply sit to listen and comment. (Of course!) Amanda lifted her pen long enough to tell us that she writes constantly, and is thrilled to have found an open-minded audience.
Positive new connections are forming, and empty pages are filling with art that might have never happened.
Street Lit began as an Austin Community College class project, with the aim of collecting and distributing books to Austin’s homeless folks at the ARCH and the Salvation Army. The project is still active today, making regular deliveries to the ARCH and other shelters around town.
The inspiration came from personal experience. I had been homeless myself, a client at the ARCH, and struggling as an outcast here in Austin, my own hometown. Knowing I had a novel or two in my pack gave me point of connection.They provided a glimpse of the world beyond my limited vision, and kept a seed of hope intact. They prevented defeat from taking permanent root.
With more help than I can ever repay, I became one of the lucky ones. I managed to regain my footing, and today I’m in my own apartment, studying at UT toward a bachelor’s in English in the Creative Writing Certificate Program, and finishing an associate degree in Creative Writing from Austin Community College.
I’m fortunate now in the opportunity to do even more with Street Lit and the Authors Club, in a way I wished for during my years on the street. I can’t help but believe my time as “residentially challenged” would have been shorter had there been a group like this.
What I wished for then drives me now: Street Lit works to help its authors acknowledge their own worth, and to show every brave writer due respect where none is ever expected.
With your contributions, Street Lit can become for its writers another avenue back to a safe, productive, and fulfilling life.
In our workshops, we’ve discussed what writing means to each of us. We’ve read and commented on each other’s work. We’ve listened to recordings of poetic performances and sat silently afterward, holding our breath, stunned by the impact. The thrill in the room is contagious as both the readers and the listeners find themselves wrapped in one another’s words. All agree that the writing process not only helps us come to terms with the past and present, but helps us rewrite our future.
Our last meeting closed with a comment from Martin—an author of short stories, with a novel in mind—who said: “You know what’s so cool about this? It’s that you’re one of us.”
I have never felt more firmly planted in the right place, at the right time, and for the right reasons.
As Marge Piercy writes in her poem, “To Be of Use,” the Street Lit Authors Club is a “thing worth doing well done,” with “a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.” These newly-inspired authors deserve all the help we’ll give them. I hope you’ll join in this work through your donations, and nurture the Street Lit Authors as they grow.
(Take a second to show your support, and like Street Lit on Facebook! Thanks!)
PS: I would like to leave you with the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and essayist, Richard Hugo, who reminds us that:
The work of a fledgling writer “…may be of no importance to the world of high culture, but it may be very important to the student. It is a small thing, but it is also small and wrong to forget or ignore lives that can use a single microscopic moment of personal triumph.”
~ Richard Hugo, “In Defense of Creative-Writing Classes” ~
The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (1979)
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How will your donation help the Street Lit authors?
Here is an overview of existing, imminent, and long-term items we need to purchase. Most are immediate issues, or supplies to be replenished as needed from a standing fund; some are Utopian wishes; all will add value to what we can offer.
Immediate and ongoing expenses:
● Sturdy-backed pads.
● Pens by the bushel.
● Coffee and snacks. Good ones. Healthy ones. And all the accessories to go with them.
● Printing costs for handouts and “course packets.”
● Dictionaries. Pocket-sized. Many.
● Inexpensive reading glasses, free for the asking. (Available by the case.)
● Transportation. Occasional Uber or Lyft missions for delivering books to the ARCH, donation pickups, etc.
● Web hosting, design, and domain expenses.
● Texts, such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, for the more devoted. Multiple copies. (I anticipate 15-20, and more over time.)
● Fees for awareness opportunities. Booths at local shows, book fests, and advocacy events.
Intermediate, upcoming needs and enhancements:
● Consistent computer and Internet access. (The means for this is TBD.)
● A projector for teaching and inspirational presentations, videos, digital story work. (My laptop won’t cut it for group viewing.)
● The occasional Oprah moment: “This is an amazing book, and I’ve got a copy for all of you taped under your seat!”
● Surprise! It’s pizza day! (Or mmm… Ice cream…)
● Writer’s magazine subscriptions to share amongst the group. (Or funds to buy used copies to hand out.)
● Contest entry and submission fees for getting the authors’ work into the world.
● Field trips! Libraries, bookstores, campuses, literary events.
● Public readings, requiring transportation (Cap Metro passes), petty cash for coffee, snacks, and an order of dignity at the venue.
The BIG Dreams:
○ The Street Lit Authors Journal, a biannual collection of the work. A long-term goal, and deserving of pursuit.
○ A brick and mortar reading and writing room, independent of, yet cooperative with, social services. An office manned by volunteers and Street Lit authors, and a pleasant space to not feel homeless, if only for a while; a room where it’s quiet; a place to “be” without stress, where writing can get done in a comfortable chair.
○ And tee-shirts for everyone…