By LORAINE ANDERSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The first semester is over and the first 22 students in the Front Street Writers program will celebrate it in their own words — at their first public reading Thursday evening.
The readings will be held in the classroom studio during a public open house from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 123 W. Front, the same location as the National Writers Series offices.
The year-long tuition-free creative writing program — a collaboration between the NWS and the Traverse City Area Public Schools — started in September.
The 22 students were selected through an application process that included samples of their own writing.
"They're passionate about writing and they want to be here," said teacher Leigh Gallagher, the writer-in-residence from Califoria who earned her master's of fine arts at the University of Michigan.
The class meets from 2:15 to 3:45 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays — two of those days in smaller workshop sessions where they read each other's work and critique it. The writer remains silent, just listening.
Students also attend National Writers Series events at the City Opera House and the guest writers come to the classroom while in Traverse City to discuss their books and writing. Other authors writing locally also speak and teach at FSW sessions.
"Front Street Writers is a legacy program," said Doug Stanton, the Traverse City author of two best-sellers and a founder of the National Writers Series. "This makes me happier than almost anything. It's as fun as being on stage with smart brilliant writers and trying to talk about complicated issues.
"It's also a meaningful way to connect our students with writers writing locally."
Founding the FSW has been a long-held dream for Stanton, who grew up in Traverse City wanting to become a writer. He never met any writers until his early teens during the 1970s and attended Interlochen Arts Academy for three years with the help of his parents, a scholarship and working part-time at a local restaurant to save money for tuition. Stanton is author of "In Harm's Way" (2001) and "Horse Soldiers" (2009), both best-sellers.
"I had good teachers in Traverse City, but Interlochen accelerated it," he said.
Stanton hopes the Front Street Writers program can become a state model. An adviser on the project was poet Michael Delp, a retired Interlochen Arts Academy creative writing instructor and former department chairman from 1984-1997.
"When you meet Mike Delp, you can see how someone like him can ignite that spark "¦ that's what I wanted as a student, " Stanton said.
Delp was the guest speaker at a FWS class last week. He focused on the writing process and the importance of seeing and paying attention to other senses — hearing, tasting, touch — to good writing.
He also expressed concern about the deadening effect that today's busy world, cell phones, the Internet and other technology can have on the senses and creative process.
"There is no 'Now' in our culture," he said. "We're so busy we don't have time for 'Now,' and we need it. You can't write anything if you aren't alive."
The ability to see is the heart of writing, he told the students.
"The last thing on my mind as a writer is picking up a book with my name on it," he said. "What I think about is how to see. Until you see, you're wasting time."
Writing is an instinctual process rather than an intellectual one and writers need to pay attention to the subconscious, he said.
But where does it come from and how do you get there?
"It doesn't work if you don't knock," he said. "And as soon as you turn away, it opens and expands. And where are you — on your cell phones? If it opens, you'd better be there and be ready."
He showed the students a faded bandanna filled with objects that have been important to him over his lifetime, including a petrified raccoon foot, two tiger teeth that a Buddhist monk gave a friend who later gave it to him, and an unusual and beautiful stone his daughter, then a little girl, found and gave him.
"It has a language on it," he said holding the stone up for the students to see. "My job as poet is to translate it."