A Dream Come True: Writing Marathon Graduate Class at MWSU


I still cannot believe that I have been fortunate enough in my position at Missouri Western State University to teach a whole graduate class on writing marathons.  This past year’s class brought together an inspiring group of teacher-writers who loved, loved, loved the marathon already and leaped at the chance to study them together while also going on several marathons in the process.  We wrote in groups and on solo marathons, sharing our writing in class and online.  We even revised several marathon pieces into a collection we published on the Prairie Lands Writing Project website

Exploring, writing, and sharing with these fellow marathon fans was a dream come true for a marathon researcher like myself.  It was also a wonderful chance to more fully embrace my quirky new home of Saint Joseph, MO.  My groups wrote at the Remington Nature Center, the St. Joseph Frontier Casino, Dunkin’ Donuts, Il Lazzarone, the First Ward House, Paradox Coffee and Theater, and Coleman Hawkins Park in Felix Street Square.   I’m forever indebted and bonded to these amazing fellow writers.  The places where we wrote will belong to us forever, and we will belong to them.

12:25 p.m.  Saint Joseph Frontier Casino

Waves of awfulness and joy, smells of smoke and fast food, and reassuring glitter, lights, and carnival carpeting.  The blackjack table dealer greets me warmly.  He’s bored and hopeful, but I take a seat at the bar and put the lullaby cacophony to my back.

The bartender says, “It’s free, honey,” when I order a club soda with lime.

No one here seems to notice the music.  At first it was “Devil Inside” by INXS.  Now it is Queen’s “Under Pressure.”  The soundtrack is trying to save us all, but no one is listening. Why would we want to leave? Even the stale smoke smell is comforting, somehow.

My heart aches for my BFF and our strange, beautiful Vegas adventure.  With the right people, even nightmarish casinos can be a wonderland full of charming strangers and wild adventures.

When I walked in the front door with my writing group, we passed the hunched women with walkers, the hard-faced men, the tired and wretched.  No one looked happy at all, and I wondered: why on earth do they come?

But I know why.  The plastic, brightly-colored dreamland soothes the soul, somehow.  Time stops in the winking rattling of cheerful horrors.  When the world so clearly seems like it is headed for a nosedive anyway, why the hell not?

2:03 Felix Street Square

Hard not to feel blessed here on this beautiful fall day.  We’re writing at the gazebo, inspired by Lu Ann’s stories of trips with her daughter downtown on the city bus.

People clearly on the St. Joseph Wine Walk saunter down Francis Street, just above the gazebo, making their way from the Tiger’s Den to the next stop.  There’s also a fair amount of foot traffic in and out of Christ Episcopal Church where just days ago my love and I started our lovely waltz class.

I sit and write, sitting stage right and to the back of the great statue of Coleman Hawkins (one of St. Joseph’s most famous sons—a jazz saxophonist and composer).  And today I feel I have St. Joseph’s back.  I may have missed every single one of the lovely free concerts in the square this past summer, but that will not happen again.  And I will not stop singing St.  Joseph’s praises, especially to her too eager critics.   Sure, we’ve got trouble.  Right here in this river city.  But we’ve got so many great things, too.

Just as the song starts weaving in my head, four teen rapscallions lope into the gazebo.  I don’t think they saw us writers sitting in here when they approached, but now they do not care. They leap onto the benches and take turns swinging from the roof railing and then jumping into the center.  They chide each other.

“Dude, I’m so impressed.”

“Dude, your butt crack is showing.”

“Dude, at least my brain isn’t!”

And then they are gone, rambling and leaping down 7th street, then onto Felix. We watch them go, and  smile at one another.  We write for a few more minutes, then wrap it up to join another marathon group headed to the read-around spot, just up the street.



  1. I was wondering when our class would grace your blog! 🙂 I think that the marathon not only gives you the chance, as someone who is fairly new to St. Joseph, to explore and embrace this place, but it also gives people who have lived around here all their lives, like me, that same opportunity too. I’ve seen and experienced so many things in my own backyard from these marathons that I didn’t even know existed, thanks to writing marathons: the beer cheese dip from First Ward House, the stillness of Mount Mora Cemetery, the sweet smells of Pony Espresso… (To be honest, I’m going to partial to anyplace on a marathon that has good food/drink…) 🙂

  2. I’m not sure that I ever thanked you for introducing me to writing marathons. While I do not get to do them very often….ok, only when I’m with you….I appreciate their power. They enable me to slow down, truly see, hear, smell, and feel what is going on around me. It is almost like I am able to step back and just observe, invisible to others. What a precious release from reality writing marathons offer. My hope is I will start setting time aside for writing marathons, even if they have to happen only a few times a year.

  3. Writing Marathons changed my life as a writer and educator! I thank you for all that you have done in the development and campaign to pass WM on to educators and non-educators alike. Mitch and I often enter an old building, a quaint cafe, or coffee house and both comment, “wouldn’t this be a great place to write?” This is a result of our experience from the Si2016. It was an extraordinary experience going through the SI together and the WM continues. While it doesn’t happen often, when it does the magic happens each and every time that I stop, sit down with a notebook, and just write. Magical!

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