The Wordcraft Circle is back again and getting better

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Writers and Storytellers to gather again

by Terri Hansen
News From Indian Country 2-08

Dr. Kimberly Roppolo, Wordcraft helped her find courage to publish, now she is helping it come back to life. Wordcraft was a godsend for me,” reflects MariJo Moore an award winning Cherokee author.

An unprecedented number of Indigenous writers gathered for the first, historic Returning the Gift Native Writers Festival in 1992, where the Laguna Pueblo writer, Dr. Lee Francis III recognized the need for an organization that would link beginning writers with more accomplished writers, in a mentoring partnership.

The Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers grew from his vision into an organization beloved by its members. By the end of a decade Wordcraft had gained international recognition with members from over 135 sovereign nations then faltered, with the death of Dr. Francis in 2003.

“After Dad’s passing, we all didn’t quite know what to do,” says his son, Lee Francis IV. Though young and still in school at the time, Lee accepted the responsibility of leading Wordcraft “with a sense of gratitude, perhaps as a way to hold on to him, perhaps as a way to understand his life, perhaps as a way to ensure that his voice was heard ‘throughout the world.’

Wordcraft was clearly missed by its members. “Years ago, when I first began writing, Wordcraft was a godsend for me,” reflects MariJo Moore, a celebrated Cherokee author who has authored and edited such books as The Diamond Doorknob, Confessions of a Madwoman, Genocide of the Mind, New Native Writings, and Tasting Blood: Breaking the Great Silence of the American Indian Holocaust. “Lee was such a wonderful support, as were the other members.”

Seasons passed and Lee, now the executive director of the Laguna Education Foundation, another organization his father helped to create, came to understand that though his father had passed Wordcraft to him, it was not entirely what he wanted for his son. “Wordcraft was his vision and life-work, and he questioned if he was unduly make this choice for me.”

Dr. Kimberly Roppolo, assistant professor of Native Studies at the University of Lethbridge in Lethbridge, Canada, was appointed associate national director by Dr. Francis a few years before his passing. Dr. Roppolo went on to organize and hold an RTG writer’s festival in Lethbridge, Alberta in 2004, but the Wordcraft website went off line, and communication remained open with few Wordcrafters.

In late 2007 Wordcraft sprang back to life, moving forward under the leadership of Kimberly Roppolo. “Without Wordcraft, I never would have gotten through writing a dissertation, much less would I have had the courage or the connections to publish any of my poetry,” says Kimberly, of Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek descent.

She writes and publishes plays, poems, articles and book reviews from her home in Alberta, Canada. Kim’s children, Cody, Rachel and Marley, all lend a hand when help is needed. Rachel is active gathering and sorting pieces of information on former Wordcrafters, as members are called.

And word is getting out. Enthusiasm runs high on the Yahoo group Kim created to get members back in touch with Wordcraft, and with each other. With members sharing their knowledge and achievements, the warm sense of community and sharing has returned.

Wordcraft belongs to its members, who in turn are committed to giving back their creativity. While many members have gone on to publish works, the group has always focused more on the talents members offer the Wordcraft community and less about what Wordcraft can do for each member.

It’s in that spirit that Kim sees emphasis placed on the mentoring that Wordcraft has always done. Seasoned writers and storytellers mentor beginning and emerging writers to refine their storytelling and writing skills. That’s an important core component of Wordcraft, Kim says. “I want to turn the focus to mentoring in the biggest way we can.”

There are a lot of exciting plans for the future, in terms of encouraging writing in Indian Country for “as many folks as we can get involved,” Kim says. She envisions online writing workshops led by rotating Wordcrafters, free of charge to students. A journalism workshop led by Louis Whitehead is already in the works.

Wordcraft brought the oral storytelling and written traditions of Indigenous Native literature to students at all educational levels, and actively promoted the emphasis of Indigenous Native traditions though the writings and storytellings by beginning, emerging and established writers and storytellers. Kim would like to take that a step further, by getting books by Native writers into Native communities.

“We had the opportunity at the Lethbridge RTG to help Blackfoot writer Beverly Hungry Wolf begin collecting books to replace the library the Blood Reserve lost here.” That felt good, she says, “but it would feel even better to know that far more Native people had access to books written from Native perspectives.”

The organization’s focus right now is on outreach and reuniting. Currently, Wordcraft member ages range from 18 years to 82 years old but writers of all ages and skill levels, especially beginning writers, are encouraged to join. There will be reduced dues for registered students and Elders on limited incomes.

To join or renew send Kim an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She’ll send an invitation to subscribe to the Wordcraft listserve on Yahoo. There are no dues until the Wordcraft website is fully up and running. That should happen in the next few months, she says, on the temporary website the University of Virginia at Richmond has been kind enough to let the organization use. Kim hopes Wordcraft will have its former URL back by May.

Traditionally Wordcraft was organized to develop and maintain on-going formal and informal relations among Indigenous people of Mexico, Central and South America. Kim plans to advance that tradition, first by seeking regional directors in the U.S. and Canada, then moving on to other countries, migrating southward.

Members can look to Wordcraft to once again conduct, coordinate, and sponsor seminars, workshops, forums, meetings and other educational activities across the country that emphasize writing and storytelling. Currently, any tribe, band or urban group can sponsor Kim or another Wordcrafter to teach writing workshops for youth, Elders, tribal councils, “whether it is journaling as a means of healing, recording Elders stories that they want us to hear today and tomorrow, or on utilizing the power of words to write persuasive proposals.”

Plans include regional directors to oversee the organization of regional workshops, one gathering in each of the four directions each year. An international Returning the Gift festival is planned for each year.

Kim’s leadership as national director brings to life a statement in Lee’s Re-vision Statement, “to serve as a guide for the next generation and for those who wanted to take Wordcraft ‘to the next level,’ whatever direction that might take.” Kim is committed to making the Circle whole again, and, as a pebble dropped in water ripples outward, Kim sees the Circle ever widening, opening to possibility.

FMI: Kim Roppolo: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

At Yahoo groups: wordcraftcircleofnativewritersandstorytellers.

On the Net: At Native Wiki:
www.nativewiki.org/The_Wordcraft_Circle_of_Native_Writers_and_Storytellers .

The full text of Lee’s Wordcraft Vision Statement is on Wordcraft’s temporary website: http://oncampus.richmond.edu/~rnelson/wordcraft/index.html