Voices from the Edge: Literary Cleveland to host writing program for essential workers

Since March of 2020, essential workers have been putting their health at risk to ensure our communities have access to food, deliveries, health care, and other essential services. However, few have been given a chance to reflect on the past year of the pandemic or to share what it is like to live on the edge of history.

Literary Cleveland is launching Voices from the Edge, a free online writing program designed to give essential workers in Northeast Ohio the opportunity to process their experiences of the pandemic through writing and share their stories with the public.

Beginning in April, Literary Cleveland will offer free eight-week online writing workshops for essential workers in Northeast Ohio. Participants will engage with writing, connect with other frontline workers, and learn to craft their individual stories.

The response has been overwhelming since Literary Cleveland announced the classes last week. Two of the classes are already full and there are only a few spots left in the other two.

“We have discovered that those on the frontlines of the pandemic have an overwhelming need to share what they have seen and experienced, says Literary Cleveland executive director Matt Weinkam. “We suspected there would be some interest, but the response so far has been dramatic.”

Weinkam says registrants were given an opportunity to share their stories on the enrollment form.

“We've learned a great deal about who they are: a middle school teacher supporting students in quarantine and managing her own anxiety about potentially contracting the virus at school; Food Bank employees who have seen an unprecedented need for emergency food assistance; a therapist working with veterans suffering increased depression; and an overnight ICU nurse who became sick with COVID and brought it home to her two-year-old,” Weinkam shares. “One ICU nurse wrote to tell us, ‘Not only would [Voices from the Edge] help the general public begin to understand the moral distress placed on healthcare workers during this time, I feel it would serve as a great coping mechanism for me.’”

Workshops are offered at a variety of days and times to accommodate different work schedules. Participants will receive an honorarium, and all attendees will be informed about Northeast Ohio financial, mental health, food, and family support services and programs available to them as essential workers.

In the fall, the writings will be collected and published in an online anthology and presented in a variety of public readings. The writings will also be distributed in news stories amplified by Literary Cleveland’s media partners to re-engage the public with the individual stories of these workers and transform our understanding of the challenges they face.

“Many essential workers were already in a precarious position before the pandemic—underpaid, unrepresented, replaceable—and now they have been forced to risk their lives for work that often pays below a living wage and provides little or no health benefits,” says Weinkam. “Now that we approach the one-year anniversary of Ohio’s stay-at-home order, these workers don’t need more empty praise about their heroism—they need the public to hear their full story told in their own words. Voices from the Edge is designed to give them that platform.”

Those organizations that employ and support the essential workers support this creative outlet. Program partners include the Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, Greater Cleveland Nurses Association, Cleveland Emergency Medical Services, Cleveland Division of Firefighters, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Agency, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, and Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. This program is made possible through the support of the Cleveland Foundation.

The programs begin on Tuesday, April 6. Evening sessions are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Morning sessions are on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Essential workers interested in participating can learn more and apply to join the workshops here.