I have been wanting to write up this marathon for a few years, but never got around to it. I can’t even find the writing from this marathon, though I went searching through a stack of marathon notebooks searching for the one. (Lost notebooks are a particular heartache for writers. It doesn’t happen very often, and this one was small and only had perhaps one marathon in it, but still. It’s a blow not to have it. ) However, I still want to include this memorable marathon for blog posterity because it was so significant to my experience of place through writing.
This marathon took place at the last National Writing Project Annual Meeting in November of 2017, in Saint Louis. The Gateway Writing Project set up two awesome options for us, but I knew I wanted to see Ferguson. We have lots of students from St. Louis at MWSU, where I teach, and I wanted to know more about this famous neighborhood, made infamous by the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014.
Sioux Roslawski, Gateway Writing Project Assistant Director and writing retreat friend organized this marathon on purpose to show people from around the country that there was more to Ferguson than what we saw on the news. She arranged a bus to take us from the convention center, let us roam around as writers, and then had us meet at Cathy’s Kitchen, a Ferguson institution and a business that was so beloved that people defended it during the protests. Cathy was an incredible presence, a font of local stories and high praise for all us as teachers. Also, her shrimp etoufee was outstanding.
I had a great time writing with my marathon pals Amy and Lisa, getting coffee at a cute little place and then writing in the Ferguson public library. I recall thinking that this neighborhood was just like so many other places in quiet suburbs all over the country, very familiar feeling and quiet.
Yet, one could not escape the weight of the what had happened here or Ferguson’s role in propelling the Black Lives Matter movement, begun just one year earlier with the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin.
On the way back to the convention, Sioux had the bus stop at the place where Michael Brown had been killed, where there is a small memorial to him. Many of us got off the bus to pay our respects. We were all quite moved by the whole experience and left with what Sioux had hoped for us: a new appreciation and love for a neighborhood unfairly maligned during a national tragedy.
I am so grateful to Sioux, the Gateway Writing Project, and the National Writing Project for providing this unique and moving writing marathon experience for so many teachers.