A new collaboration between MSU’s Red Cedar Writing Project and the Capital Area District Libraries (CADL) will reconnect communities to the arts and humanities through a new set of library programs. Pioneering this project is Trixie Smith, Director of the Red Cedar Writing Project, who won the National Writing Project’s (NWP) Building a More Perfect Union National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to support the project.
Public libraries, like CADL, were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. With cancellations of in-person events, most community programs that allowed Lansing residents to engage with the arts and humanities in person were no longer available or had to move online in a different format. The Building a More Perfect Union grant aims to bridge this nearly three-year gap by bolstering new programs for residents.
“For this program, we’re thinking of how to get people back into libraries through a range of programming in the humanities…”Trixie Smith, Director of the Red Cedar Writing Project
“For this program, we’re thinking of how to get people back into libraries through a range of programming in the humanities that emphasizes the importance of citizenship and community engagement and also diversity and inclusion and making sure the humanities are inclusive for everyone,” said Smith, who also serves as Director of The Writing Center. “As a community member and a parent, I love CADL. To be able to give back and make this programming and service be even more effective and reach more people is its own reward.”
Programs are offered for all age groups and include a variety of subjects. For instance, there will be a Civic Letter Writing Workshop aimed at high school students and adults in the community. Another program that will be offered through the grant is afterschool tutoring. CADL typically runs this program in collaboration with MSU, but the program is now being reworked to better address student needs.
“MSU students leave at the end of April, but Lansing-area students don’t end until June, so they have more needs once the MSU students are gone,” Smith said. “One of our goals in connection to this was to do research in the community to build a better program. That’s one of the programs we want to help build to continue by doing something that works for the community members and the library.”
Other activities being run through the program include a summer reading program, oral history projects, author talks, and teach-in conferences for teachers. The programs run from April 2022 until March 2023, with most of the programming happening this summer and fall.
As Director of the Red Cedar Writing Project, Smith pulls from seven years of experience organizing and implementing community events, which allowed her to draw inspiration for her work on the NWP grant. For example, the teach-ins that will be offered by CADL are similar to the Red Cedar Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute, where teachers across all levels and disciplines participate in teaching demonstrations on how to teach writing across genres.
“It’s important for community members to see MSU as a place that cares about them as individuals and their stories. It makes the university seem approachable.”Trixie Smith, Director of the Red Cedar Writing Project
Smith and the Red Cedar Writing Project also direct the Greenrock Writers Retreat, a weekend-long residential program for high school students that allows them to explore the field of creative writing, experiment with genre and form, and share their work with others.
“There’s a lot of possibilities to build on things I’ve done as a teacher or through my work at the Red Cedar Writing Project or at the Writing Center, so pulling on the strengths that we already have in order to build programs and also pulling on CADL’s strengths is important,” Smith said. “There are many different ways to get involved by making connections to things that already exist.”
The collaboration between MSU and CADL is one that Smith hopes to see continue through additional funding of the Building a More Perfect Union grant. As a partnering institution, Smith also hopes to position MSU as an inclusive space that invests in its community members.
“It’s important for community members to see MSU as a place that cares about them as individuals and their stories. It makes the university seem approachable,” Smith said. “If this work allows youth to talk about college and talk about their literacies and their goals, even if they don’t come to MSU, if these engagements help them progress in their education, then that’s a win for all of us in the community.”