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InsideOut offers encouragement, writing tips for high schoolers

Nonprofit workshop brings award-winning poets to help develop students' individual skills

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Posted: Monday, May 14, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:57 am, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

High school students from all over the city attended a writing conference May 10 at Wayne State University set up by Detroit’s literary nonprofit, the InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

The conference, titled “Who Can Understand Me but Me?” was the second annual workshop of its kind.

Students from ten participating Detroit Public High Schools got the chance to take part in a series of workshops administered by many accomplished local writers from all corners of the literary world. For many, it was their first visit to a college campus.

Students were placed into idea sessions with award-winning novelists, poets, editors, hip-hop artists and journalists. The list of instructors included Marcus Wicker, an Ann Arbor poet and 2011 Ruth Lilly recipient; Peter Markus, author of “Bob, or Man on Boat;” and internationally celebrated hip-hop artist Invincible.

In these workshops, the instructors challenged students to examine and expand their writing. They made lists, read poetry, wrote in stream of consciousness and explored social issues. They learned and practiced literary techniques, each relating to their own unique and individual conception of self and place in open discussions.

“I feel like I’m becoming a better writer, learning other people’s techniques and putting them with my own,” said Ashley Lewis, a student at Detroit’s Communication and Media Arts High School.

The keynote speaker for the event was Detroit Poet Laureate and 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist Naomi Long Madgett, who is the author of the poetry collections “Connected Islands: New and Selected Poems” and “Octavia: Guthrie and Beyond.”

Madgett spoke of herself as a young poet who got tips from Langston Hughes, and encouraged all of the aspiring young writers in their future writing endeavors, saying, “I will be with you in spirit.”

Madgett also presented the Lotus Press High School Poetry Prize to 16-year-old Tracie Jones of Mumford High School for her poem “The Next Poem I Write.”

Dr. Terry Blackhawk, who founded the InsideOut Literary Arts Project in 1995, also started the Writers-In-Residence program, which places professional writers in K-12 DPS classrooms to inspire a love of writing. There is one poet-in-residence for each participating Detroit Public School.

She said that their mission is to “encourage young people to think broadly and create bravely, and then to share their voices with the wider world.”

Blackhawk herself has published six books of poetry. Her book “The Light Between” was on the top 10 poetry best-selling list, and she won the 2002 John Ciardi Poetry Prize with “Escape Artist.” She has received multiple state and national grants for her poetry and her work with InsideOut.

“We do everything we can to make kids college-ready,” Blackhawk said.

InsideOut will be hosting a slam poetry event called “Get Versed” 6-7:30 p.m. May 26 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which will showcase poetry, dance and music. For more information on the event and InsideOut, visit

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