By Coralee Hochstedler
For many, 2020 was not a time of inspiration. Among its hardships, a statewide lockdown made for an atmosphere of fear, lethargy and general fatigue; survival became the bare minimum and there was little energy left to devote to things like creative expression. As Ohio begins to reopen and the pendulum swings back towards normalcy, there has been an influx of creatives getting their feet back under them.
One such group can be found in this semester’s creative writing senior portfolio class. By nature, writing is a creative task. However, the end-of-year project currently being planned by this group aims to inspire more than just those attending the class.
“We have been reading a textbook called “Creative Writing in the Community,” a guide to using creative writing as a tool for various service-learning projects,” Dr. Neil Carpathios, Malone’s current writer-in-residence and professor of English, said. “Students discussed service-learning ideas that would provide some sort of positivity to the people of our area. Due to COVID-19, however, we were very limited in terms of any extended in-person, on-site activities. So, we had to come up with a less risky and safer approach.”
The project currently entails a mix of creative expression and community outreach. Each of the five seniors enrolled will be using their own original writing for three different items: a bookmark, an uplifting/inspirational greeting card and a spiritual or religious poem. Once the pieces have been designed and produced, students will be responsible for distributing them to the Canton community.
Carpathios, the brains behind the vision, has had a long-lasting career in creative writing and has seen the good that can come from creative minds coming together to serve a community.
“Over the years, I have been involved with many service-oriented activities and projects using creative writing, and I have seen how wonderful such endeavors can be,” Carpathios said. “I have led writing workshops of all kinds with children, troubled youth, elderly citizens, as well [with residents of] shelters, mental health facilities, schools, etc. I was also a radio program host on a segment involving writing in the community.”
Guided by the experienced voice of Carpathios, the students implementing this project will face their own unique set of challenges. Along with creating the words to put on the bookmarks and cards, they’ll also help with digitally designing each piece and, perhaps the most pivotal step, be fully responsible for marketing their work to the community.
“The most challenging part of this project is getting organizations to accept [our] work to display, even though it’s all free,” Nick Straits, senior creative writing major, said. “Networking has played a huge part in this … The vision of this project is something almost everyone can agree on, [however,] so theoretically businesses should be pretty agreeable.”
And in times like these, the vision of this project is more important than ever.
“I hope these pieces get people interested in writing again,” Straits said. “Or at least inspires people to pursue their creative passions. I want people to be encouraged; if they can read a line of my poetry and be like “Hey, that really helped me get through my day,” or feel better about this year in general for a brief moment, then that’s something that’s important to me. I want this project to restore the fire for art in Canton and bring back some happiness that feels like it’s missing right now.”
Fellow senior and creative writing major Cassie Loskocinski agreed, though her desired outcome focuses on the idea of empowerment.
“I hope that people read my work and it not only brightens their day, but empowers them too,” Loskocinski said. “I hope it gives people a reason to smile and puts some power in their step; helps them feel like they can accomplish anything they want to.”
Carpathios also has high hopes for the effects of this project on the community, though he dreams of results for his students as well.
“I hope that my students enjoy sharing their original writings while gaining some exposure for their words and for themselves [as well as] the Malone writing program,” Carpathios said. “They are so talented! I hope that they see how we all have the potential to help build writing and community bonds. I hope that their words might inspire and uplift people — which might well be the greatest function of literature.”