Writers Off the Block 

Locals share stories of homelessness in poetry and prose.

Some of them may not have a place to call their own, but a few of Memphis' homeless (or formerly homeless) have found their voice through a writers' club catering to the downtrodden.

The Door of Hope writers' group, which held its fourth annual writers' workshop at the Commons on Merton earlier this month, offers a place for those familiar with homelessness to share their experiences of life on the streets through poetry and prose.

Founded seven years ago with only two members, the group has grown to 15 members who meet each Wednesday at Door of Hope, a nonprofit that provides services to the homeless and formerly homeless.

"These are the type of people who are living behind gas stations and in abandoned buildings," said Jennifer Sudbury, administrative director of Door of Hope. "These are not panhandlers. They're not people on the corner of Union asking for money. These are the people you never see and don't know exist."

Ellen Prewitt, a published author, founded the group in 2005 to help the homeless deal with their emotions through writing.

"You get the opportunity to interact with other people whom you normally wouldn't get the opportunity to interact with," said Roderick Baldwin, one of the original members of the group, who once suffered from chronic homelessness. "It allows you to be open-minded with a lot of subjects that we wouldn't normally get together and talk or write about."

"You have people off the streets, and they don't even remember how to stand in line. They don't know that they have a bathroom they can use," Sudbury said. "So when they've got something like the writer's group, where they're respected for their ideas and they can spell things correctly or use correct grammar, it's very empowering to be there."

About two years after its founding, members of the group felt it was time to share their work with the larger community. That's when Door of Hope began inviting writers from across the city to its annual workshops.

"Our writers had been writing for a couple of years, so we decided that they had gotten to the point where it would be good if they were co-facilitators," Prewitt said.

The annual writers' workshop, which was held on February 11th, gives other aspiring writers the chance to collaborate with the Door of Hope writing group, as well as the chance to publish their work in the organization's online newsletter, The Advocate.

"It's really for the community to come in and be a part of our group, which is open to anyone on Wednesdays," Sudbury said. "What this group does is to help eliminate those stigmas and barriers [surrounding homelessness]. We're all writers, whether we're homeless or housed. Everybody's at the same level playing field."

The Door of Hope writing group is open to the public every Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Door of Hope's office at 245 N. Bellevue.

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