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October 20, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 42
 
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Sunday, Jan 26, 2020

 

 



 
Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Itching to Write? Get Bent
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

Last Saturday night I went to hear the marvelous Dorothy Allison -- early activist, author of many books, and winner of multiple literary awards -- and was introduced to the Bent Writing Institute. An enriching experience. Bent is a collective of local writers and performers who are at least a little bent, and its "Showcase" of Allison filled downtown Seattle's First Methodist Church auditorium.

Once a year Bent arranges two-day "Showcase" workshops mentored by prominent writers, a practice beginning in 2003, and this year featuring Allison - always a great favorite - winner of, among other things, two Lammies and a National Book Award, and a member of the board of Pen International. After each day's workshop, Bent students perform before the Showcase paying audience, and the featured Mentor gives a reading.

At this time Bent is the only group of its type in the country. Something else Seattle folk can be proud of.

OUR BENT FOLK

Bent Writing Institute was conceived of to promote Queers, etc., wanting to perform with language -- oral as well as written. And it knew those of a certain bent have a lot to express. It encourages and is dedicated to promoting its' students' work in an environment safe for Queer writers, and it does this with style, offering weekly classes and encouraging participants to perform around the area. Not only does it mentor its students, it brings in prominent writers to do it - like Ms Allison.

It has encouraged beginning and not-so-beginning writers, some of whom have gone on to graduate programs, to publish and to perform - and perform and perform.

IT WAS TIME

This writer has said it before: just because you can't find a certain kind of writing doesn't mean it isn't being written. Nobody knows that better than the mother of this local enterprise, Tara Hardy. All she had to do was post one flyer and a few days later, 15 eager people showed up from that one announcement. Obviously, bent folk wanted to write. Since its inception in 2000 several hundred bentniks have taken part in its workshops and lusty performances.

In introducing Allison, Hardy told the Friday and Saturday audiences, that this one woman's writing had freed Hardy herself to write -- to believe that she had something to say and the right - and even the means - to say it. This was all she needed. In addition to working on her own writing, she created Bent and its programs, seeking to offer the same to everyone like us.

She credits Allison with changing the direction of, if not her life, her belief in herself; Allison said that Hardy's introduction and tribute had "floored" her. Well, Bent Institute naturally has a limited budget and did not expect to attract such a national figure, so Allison's delight at being invited to Seattle had floored Hardy.

WHERE TO FIND THEM

At this time Bent, now a nonprofit organization, occupies space in the LGBT office on Seattle's Capitol Hill, 1115 East Pike St. It has done a phenomenal job of growing in six short years. That original 15 participants originally met in Hardy's living room, but the numbers of interested people quickly obviated this arrangement, and it found the funds to move to its current space.

Bent offers classes to anyone who identifies as of "alternate sexuality" - or as I would put it, Queer, though Bent sometimes uses the acronym LGBTIQTS - which I first had guessed to be something like: LesbiGayTransexInvertQueerTransvee [thinking surely some of that had to be right. Write. Or some such thing.] In fact, Bent has been careful to be all-inclusive: adding Intersex, Queer, and the Native American usage,Two-Spirit, to the community's LGBT.

Classes are arranged in 4-week cycles: 2 hours, 4 days a week. The sliding scale starts at $75, $125 for fiction [www.cafepress.com].

This year, Allison was delighted with her students and their work, zeal and determination. "Those kids", she said "shine like new pennies". They made her proud - and happier about the future. It goes without saying that her own performance - a new short story -- was gangbusters. The audience wouldn't shut up.

THE TRUTH SO FAR

Past Showcase performances have proved so popular that they've outgrown their original venue (Re-Bar!) Last year's Showcase was held in the Broadway Performance Hall, where Juba Kalamka and Buddy Wakefield "packed the house" with close to 300 people each night.

Bent's creator, Tara Hardy, is a social worker with an MFA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Social Work. Hardy and fellow social worker A. Tyler Perry have been nursing and cajoling Bent through the years, to the point where Hardy is now able to delegate some of the work to others.

See some of her writing in Without a Net [Seal Press] and Blithe House Quarterly (http://www.blithe.com) Vol VII (4)2003: Hole in the Ice. Or catch one of her frequent performances. A Tyler Perry's work can be seen in Bent's own publications.

Watch the SGN and other for announcements of new classes and Bent performances.

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