Twenty-five enthusiastic students from Jackson Public Schools, Canton Public Schools, and The Piney Woods School recently completed specialized training offered by the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University through the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts, Food, and Justice Creative Writing Workshop Initiative.
Jackson native Kiese Laymon founded the Initiative last year in honor of his grandmother, Catherine Coleman. Laymon is professor of English and Creative Writing at Rice University and the author of three full-length books: a novel, Long Division (2013) and two memoirs, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America (2013) and the award-winning Heavy: An American Memoir (2018). He is also a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient.
The JSU workshop curriculum was designed by Dr. Shanna L. Smith, Interim Assistant Chair/Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Speech Communication, and Dr. Robert Luckett, Director of the Margaret Walker Center, to provide avenues and experiences for emerging Jackson and Mississippi future writers and journalists.
During the week-long workshop, June 4-9, 2023, students studied the art of writing poetry, fiction, and scripts with additional emphasis and exploration on food and justice initiatives. In-classroom instruction was held on the JSU campus in the Dollye Robinson Liberal Arts Building. Mid-week, Footprint Farms in west Jackson hosted a day-long agricultural experience to allow the young writers to get a firsthand look at “from farm to fork.”
On the final day, Kiese Laymon, via Zoom, added a personal touch to the students’ experience as he shared his journey as a writer. He also announced the writing workshop will remain at the Margaret Walker Center at JSU and committed to match up to $50,000 in donations to the program for the next month. “My grandmama sent all her daughters to Jackson State. This initiative will continue to help young folks in Jackson become the next Danielle Buckingham or Leslie McLemore Jr., two of the greatest young artists in Mississippi,” he told his inaugural class.
Laymon’s investment in Mississippi’s youth mirrors that of his grandmother, who stayed and fought for a better future for the state’s children rather than leave for promises of greater freedom and opportunities through the Great Migration to the North.
“This city and Margaret Walker had major impacts on Kiese’s life and career, and we are so proud that he decided to entrust us with carrying out the momentous work of the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts, Food and Justice initiative,” said Dr. Luckett. “The incredible honor of being a MacArthur Fellow is so well deserved and will bring great recognition to him and to this program now permanently settled on our campus.”
Tax-deductible donations to the Coleman program can be made by visiting the JSU Development Foundation website and selecting the Catherine Coleman Fund under “General Designation.”
For more information, contact Dr. Luckett and the Margaret Walker Center at email@example.com or 601-979-3935.