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2018 Montana Center for the Book Prize

Missoula Writing Collaborative

For nearly 25 years the Missoula Writing Collaborative (MWC) has been helping kids find and hone their superpowers of expression, reflection, and creative joy. Humanities Montana recognized that work by awarding the Montana Center for the Book Prize to the organization this fall. The MCB Prize committee especially applauded the MWC’s "In Our Words: Creative Writing Residencies on the Flathead Reservation of the Salish and Kootenai Confederated Tribes" program which reaches fourth and fifth grade students in Arlee, St. Ignatius, Pablo, Ronan, and Dixon, Montana.

"Reading my poetry out loud helps me control my anger when I am mad," one student wrote at the end of a residency program. "It makes me feel noticed," wrote another.

During these 12-week creative writing residencies students work with MWC’s published, professional writers. Writers used regional and American Indian poetry as writing prompts, then help students create poems about place and memory, exploring different poetic forms such as odes, sestinas, and sonnets. Salish poets Heather Cahoon and Vic Charlo have visited students in the classrooms. Student work is published in anthologies, which are free to all students, and read during community and school poetry readings.

"Bringing the poetry into the classroom is important to students this age for a variety of reasons," writes executive director Caroline Patterson. "As our poets use regional literature as models—poems by writers including James Welch, Heather Cahoon, and Jennifer Finley--students learn that material from lives similar to their own can be the stuff of literature. Then students get to write their own stories—in the forms of odes, letter poems, acrostic poems, and sonnets. As they do so, they are learning not only how to use language and literary techniques such as metaphor and description, they are also harnessing the power of story. They are learning about the power and potential of language."

Few forms of storytelling cut through the chatter of our busy minds, spark inspiration, and promote healing like poetry. Students who write and publish poems with the help of MWC’s resident writers experience the power of poetry firsthand. Megan McNamer wrote the first NEA Art Works Grant to support creative writing residencies on Montana reservations through MWC. Current Executive Director Caroline Patterson implemented the grant.

"Our writers come into the classroom once a week for 12 weeks and each time the kids learn a piece of poetry literature, then they write a poem and read it aloud to the class," she writes. "Creating and sharing that creation is a joyful experience. At the end of the residency, their work is published in an anthology and all students participate in a school reading. Student experience the joy of creating work and pride of sharing it with others."

Caroline has had many rich experiences while implementing this particular program. One of her favorite memories included "our reservation-wide reading where we took a poem from each school and had a translator translate it into Salish," she writes. "It was a profound experience to hear the sound of this language. We bused kids to Salish-Kootenai College and had a potluck for everyone. These were wonderful evenings."

You can find poems by these students on Missoula Writing Collaborative’s Facebook page every Monday for their "Monday Poems" posts, as well as in school libraries. Residency writers include Anna Zumbalhen, Caroline Keys, and Alex Alviar. Learn more about the Missoula Writing Collaborative here. Follow the Montana Center for the Book on Facebook and be up-to-date on what’s happening around the state.


by Ameah Hunt

St. Ignatius School, 5th Grade

There are mountains in Montana

far away never to be seen

with trees of deep happiness

and mustangs of wildness

and flowers with beauty.

Nobody can find these things

because it's something too beautiful.

There are no people in it

because humans destroy things.

Everything there is perfect,

meadows and mountains

and fields of freeness.

There is no harm in their way.

This place is also known as heaven.

Not heaven for all people.

This place is for Native Americans

who died fighting and trying.