Fifth Ward Seniors Write Memoirs

A small community center in the Fifth Ward is home to an unusual program for senior citizens. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, every week about a dozen ladies gather to share their thoughts and memories through the art of creative writing.

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Lula Jones

Norma Edwards Koontz

Ernestine Mitchell

Claudia Moran

Step inside the Finnegan Park Community Center and you're bound to meet Lula Jones. She's a tiny woman in her 70s with beautifully smooth skin and a mischievous look in her eyes. Wearing a red, flowered dress and a bright corsage, she takes charge of the group in no time.

"One more one-liner! Doesn't expecting the unexpected make the unexpected expected?"

Mrs. Jones has more where this came from, but she knows the group is here for the writing. She and 14 other ladies get together once a week to write poetry, short stories and memoirs.

"If you carry a pen or pencil, you're going to write! So why not be creative about it. Why not give them some adjectives to make it -- I love voices that come out and 'he jumped!' 'he ran!'. I want to always use something that's going to be exciting."

At this gathering, the ladies are presenting the work they've written over the past year. Jericho Brown is a professional writer and he's been meeting with them every week for four years now. He says it's been fascinating to see how they've opened up over time.

"It's really good to see how much they've kept inside and never actually shared with one another, let alone with people of following generations. So that stuff comes out in their writing and a lot of other subconscious material comes out in their writing. And so I like to think that we deal with the subconscious material of African-American women in the Fifth Ward."

Some of that material is surprising and remarkable. Brown says he's reminded there are a lot of things people will write down that they would never normally say. Take for instance, these lines from Lula Jones' poem called "Is this Love that I'm Feeling."

"I want to love your mother as my own. I want to share the bitter and sweet times with you. I want to produce living images of our love. I want to spend eternity together. If I feel all these things, it must be love."

The Memoir Workshop for Senior Citizens is a program run by an organization called Inprint. The idea is to empower seniors to keep their minds active and provide them with a place of fellowship, as well as to preserve their stories as a history of the community. You can hear full-length versions of the women reading their works on our website, KUHF dot org. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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