Going “Mamma Mia” in York, PA


Have you ever thought about moving to a foreign country? Just going all “Mamma Mia” and running away from the land of your birth?

Back in the spring, I spent the day at York County Literacy Council along with a few of my author friends and nearly 100 YCLC students who’ve done just that. They followed their dream to a foreign country.

Imagine a group of people (for whom English is NOT their first language) sitting down and writing about themselves and their journeys! Each year YCLC students put together an anthology of their writings, and this year my friends and I got to help!

I understand how hard it can be to start a first draft, so I asked if it would be helpful for some published authors to come visit their classrooms. They invited us immediately.

Mary Pat Hough-Greene, Rose Buscarini, Gloria Bostic, Julie Swope and I arrived at YCLC’s offices in York, Pa., fully intending to share our wisdom from the combined century of our writing experience. We were ready to talk about story structure and getting past the blank page. We had handouts with lists of feeling words in English that speak to each of the five senses. And we brought our past teaching experience to help them find their best stories.

That day the “teachers” became the “students.” 

What we quickly learned was that there are 800+ adult learners studying at York Literacy Council. An entire community of people for whom going to the grocery store, filling out a job application, and standing in line at the DMV presents not just the normal annoyance, but translating every single word that comes their way. (Now I don’t know about you, but reading labels at the grocery store is damned confusing…)

So while we certainly gave our all to help the students know how to launch their writing, it turned out that the stories these folks had to share were already framed as heroes’ journeys – filled with both physical and emotional conflict, and carried by the hope for transformation.

And for just a couple hours, we got to be part of that transformative journey.

We sat with individual students and helped them find the nouns and adjectives to give breath to the chronicles of their lives. We happily ignored overuse of “-ly” adverbs, the word “that”, and even the importance of subject-verb agreement. Nothing else mattered but getting the shell of that first draft down on paper.

Amazing! When the internal editor is told to take a hike, the words just flow.

That day, published authors who have struggled through draft after draft watched non-English-speaking students freely ink their hearts and souls out on plain white paper. It didn’t take a leather-bound journal or a fancy pen. No computer keyboard was necessary. No perfect writing program, no intuitive grammar-checking software. Just the willingness to put down one word after another.

It can be this easy for you, too!

Intrigued? Find out how you can help YCLC today at yorkliteracy.org. Or reply now to sign up to help with this project next spring!

And always – write with joy,


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