U-M Library event gives students opportunity to share and publish creative writing

Monday, February 11, 2019 - 9:07pm

School of Social Work freshman Abbey Phillipson reads her short story at Café Shapiro at the Undergraduate Library Monday night.

School of Social Work freshman Abbey Phillipson reads her short story at Café Shapiro at the Undergraduate Library Monday night. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

Approximately 25 students and faculty members gathered at Bert’s Cafe Monday night for the University of Michigan Library Cafe Shapiro’s first night of a weeklong poetry and short story reading event.

The event has been happening annually for more than 20 years, and this year there are a total of 55 student writers speaking over the course of 6 nights. Students are invited to participate in the event after they’ve been nominated by their professors.

Student Engagement Librarian Amanda Peters, a host of the event, said the event began in 1997 and has only grown since. She said one of the goals of the series is to expand the impact of creative writing on campus.

“It’s been going on for 22 years, and it started as part of the University’s Year of the Humanities and Arts, so that was kind of a special thing that had happened that particular year,” Peters said. “It had a goal to explore the role of arts and humanities in civic and community life. It’s just become so much more than that over the years. It has become this really amazing event for students to come and share their work in this informal way, but it’s just really cool to see how it keeps growing and growing and we get more nominations every year from our faculty.”

Peters said the event is a great opportunity for undergraduate writers to gain confidence reading their work aloud to an audience and a chance for attendees to learn more about the University community through student voices.

“For some of them, it is their first time ever reading their work in front of an audience other than their classroom, and so we really like being able to give them that experience,” Peters said. “For the listeners, they’re just hearing so many interesting stories about the student experience because a lot of students are writing about their own life experiences or people they know.”

The event features students studying a wide variety of disciplines ranging from English and creative writing to psychology, public policy and computer science.

English lecturer John Buckley said he nominates his students to give them a chance to share their work in public.

“For the last couple of years, I’ve been privileged to teach through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program which enables me to pick three or four students to really do an intensive weekly workshop with and help them try to get published,” Buckley said. “Part of that always ends up being nominating them for Café Shapiro to give them publishing credit and give them a chance to read in public.”

Buckley said Café Shapiro really boosts his students’ confidence in their own abilities, and it is especially memorable and important for those who have never participated in an event like it before.   

“I think my students gain confidence,” Buckley said. “I think confidence is the big thing. Just like most things, the first time is the hardest. The first time is the scariest, so if we can get over this initial hump, that’s a big step.”

LSA junior Mahmuda Ahmed is an aspiring author and a student of Buckley. She was very flattered Buckley nominated her to share her work and said it would be her first time participating in a read in front of strangers.

“It was really cool (to be nominated) because I’ve never done anything like this before and my professor is really cool,” Ahmed said. “We’re in a creative writing group kind of thing so we work on our stories together, and this was one of the one’s they helped me edit and so this is the final product of it.”

In addition to providing a space for undergraduates to read their pieces, Café Shapiro publishes an anthology of all the work. Ahmed said she has never been published before and is excited about the opportunity. She added she appreciates how in addition to being an opportunity to share her own work, the event gives her a chance to listen to her peers and learn more about the campus community.

“I think I’ll gain experience,” Ahmed said. “Also, it will be published in the anthology too, right, so that’s also pretty cool. I’ve never had anything published before. And it’s just a really cool event, too — we get to hear readers and their stories, too.”