Robert accepting his award
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from Robert Brooke, NeWP Director

A week ago Friday at the 2014 Spring Gathering, you all honored me for 20 years as Nebraska Writing Project Director. You surprised me with a quilt (adorned with archaic writing implements called manual typewriters), a Proclamation of support from the current National Writing Project director, and a boatload of personal testimonies about some of the small ways NeWP has touched your lives. I’ve been verklempt all week. (Not necessarily the best emotion for UNL Finals Week, but I managed!) I wanted to use our public blog to say “thank you.” The Nebraska Writing Project network has sustained me for over 20 years as a professional writer and educator. I am happy to be involved in such a great group of people, accomplishing so many fine things.

At Friday’s ceremony, I told an anecdote from my younger days. Back in the mid-1970s when Kate and I were dating in Spokane, Washington, an old family friend of Kate’s did our star charts. (Pamela was an astrologer then. Now she’s the owner of the wildly successful Wonders of the World shop in Spokane’s Flour Mill — well worth a visit if you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest: I think Pamela’s real purpose was to discern if Kate and I would be compatible – and I like to think our 30 plus years of wedded bliss have proved her right. But what she told me then was I had a “grand trine” in my chart – some kind of triangular pattern of planets that channels life energy in a certain direction. “You’re supposed to direct your energies toward a group of some kind,” she told me. “I don’t know what group it is, or if you’ll have the sense to recognize it when you find it. But that’s what your star chart says.”

Now I leave it to you as individuals to weigh the debatable merits of astrology, especially astrological forecasts. But I like to think that I’ve found my group in the Nebraska Writing Project.

On the surface, NeWP seems deceptively simple: a group of educators who like to share writing with each other and their students, and who like to share good teaching ideas. But the longer I hang around with the people who make up the Nebraska Writing Project network, the more I’m convinced there really is some kind of cosmic stellar energy at work. How else do you explain the astronomical growth of NeWP activities, from what was initially a simple four week summer class in 1978 to what’s now our yearly array of 40-60 programs and the strong personal connections between the hundreds of teachers who claim Nebraska Writing Project as an intellectual home?

As Director for some of the years NeWP has been in operation, I’ve done some administrative drudgery to clear the way for such energy. But what’s constantly amazed me is the way volunteer leaders routinely emerge from amongst you Nebraska Writing Project teachers to bring new, crucial programs into being. There are too many leaders and programs for me to name them all, so I’ll just list some of the programs here. I’m sure you all can add to this list. These items are metonymic – parts standing in for the whole:

  • The Rural Institute program that emerged through our participation in Rural Voices, Country Schools, which has reached out to over 20 communities across the state;
  • The Embedded Institute program, initially at Pius X High School, but soon spreading to Papillion-La Vista, and continuing to spread, most recently to Gretna Schools and Lincoln North Star and next year at Saratoga Elementary;
  • The Young Writers Festivals, Young Writers Camps, I/We Love to Write Workshop, Poetry of Place Celebrations, School-sponsored Writing Marathons, Urban Justice Leagues, Community Oral Histories, and a host of other local school events through which we invite young people into the sheer joy of writing as a means of self-expression and social transformation;
  • The Writing Groups, Writing Retreats, Writing Marathons, Professional Writing Retreats, and online Social Network Writing, erupting spontaneously after every NeWP institute in every corner of our state; and
  • The yearly exponential growth in the professional presence of NeWP leaders, seen in masters and doctorate theses, conference presentations, professional publications, book authoring groups, NWP site directorships, professional development leadership assignments, educational advocacy, and an array of statewide teaching and service awards.

There’s simply way more going on in the Nebraska Writing Project network than any one person can keep track of. In astronomical terms, I guess the best metaphor would be that NeWP is something like a nova at work in a white dwarf star, where the combination of energies creates a vast brilliance with the potential to light up several galaxies. It certainly feels that way, when every October we try to compile the year’s activities into the National Writing Project’s continuous activity report forms. We’re aware we never get all the activities of the network into NWP’s database. The leadership team, our NeWP secretary, and I have made a pact, the past few years, just to enter programs until we meet and exceed the year before. I don’t think anyone really knows just how much our community of teachers and writers actually accomplishes.

I feel honored to have been along for this cosmic ride over the past two decades. Thank you all, again, for the tremendous honor of the recognition celebration last Friday night. And for the even more tremendous honor of being your colleague during these years.

Oh. And a final thing from that star chart Kate’s astrologer friend drew for me, back in the mid-1970s: Pamela also told me I was destined to be verbose!

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