January 2024
Encouraging Passion
AZ Wordsmith wants to hear your story

Reading can be both therapeutic and enriching in practice. With just a click of the mouse or thumb we can access a whole world of information, we fill educational curricula with that world’s excerpts and creativity, and often draw from literature to source new discoveries. The creativity lives in the minds of writers everywhere, and as long as the passion persists, so does the enjoyment. A writer embedded in a community is a writer empowered.

Prior to the pandemic, Janet Hopkins and colleagues Lee Reeves and Sue Favia set out to put in motion a new local initiative to bring this concept home to us. The nonprofit AZ Wordsmith offers events dedicated to storytelling, promoting local writers, and other programs to encourage and keep people writing.

“We started about 2019,” says Janet. “I started it because I spend half my time in St. Petersburg, Florida, and we have a very vibrant writing community there.

I thought we needed something like that in Prescott. I interviewed the woman who started it there, and I came back and set up AZ Wordsmith with the idea of gradually expanding it.”

AZ Wordsmith began with live open-mic events held online, where writers could bring excerpts of their work as readings. As the group transitioned to in-person events, it added opportunities for writers to perform and market their books to audiences.

“Once we were able to meet in person again for our open mic, Steve Karstein joined and has been helping us with it. He and Liz Rogers wanted to start Storytellers, which fit perfectly into the vision.”

Lively turnouts for the group’s prose events attracted more enthusiastic storytellers and audiences. In November I attended a Storytellers event, where I found themes spanning heartwarming to thrilling to hilarious, all drawn from real experience.

Event organizer Lee Reeves told me, “We’re looking for community members who are not professionals. We absolutely invite professionals into the mix, but what we want are regular people telling real stories. Funny stories, serious stories, whatever they have to tell.”

Janet explained that many of the performers chosen come out of their workshops, where writers congregate and work together. Others are inspired to come forward through word of mouth and flyers as the name has gained traction.

A special interest of Janet’s is to give voice to writers everywhere. This sparked a new project called Stories from the Inside.

“John Morris is the recently retired chief of the Yavapai County Probation Department, and he’s worked in probation for 26 years. He’ll be working with me to set up a prompt-free writing session in the jail at Camp Verde. They are very excited about doing the project. We will probably do one group for men and one for women each month. At the jail they

have this great new system where they’re using tablets, and are able to send (stories) to us if they’re interested in getting them published. My plan, over a year, is to eventually put together an anthology.”

AZ Wordsmith’s board outlines the program as “A literacy/reintegration project …. ‘Bringing people together to promote creative expression and foster human connection through the art and craft of writing and storytelling.’”

Janet is currently working on a youth contest called Mystery Writers. “We usually get a good showing of kids, and it’s so encouraging for children to win a prize in a contest. The comments they write are just fabulous. They make it all worthwhile.”

Upcoming Storytellers events are set to take place on April 14, May 26 and July 28, with the calendar already running into 2025. Members are in the process of assembling more workshops, and continue to hold prose open mics on the second Wednesday of every month.

For more more information visit AZ Wordsmith on Facebook.

Prescott native Laura Cummings covers local arts and business.

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