Okay, so Indianapolis is not New York. But we’ve done okay for ourselves over the years in the literary department. You can love him or hate him, but James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier Poet, was born in Greenfield and lived in Indianapolis. (My mom used to scare the crap out of us by reciting “Little Orphant Annie” at bedtime. “All they ever found was just his pants and roundabout.” I still wonder what happened to that naughty little kid who wouldn’t say his prayers.)
Widen the circle a bit, and you’ll find a fair number of prominent writers from Indiana. Theodore Dreiser was from Terre Haute, as were Max Ehrmann, author of Desiderata; and science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer. General Lew Wallace, who wrote Ben-Hur, hailed from Brookville. The great war correspondent Ernie Pyle was from Dana. Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club, was born in Bloomington.
My house in Indianapolis sits at the edge of a neighborhood known as Butler Tarkington, so named for Butler University and the American novelist and playwright Booth Tarkington–one of only three novelists to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. And right in the middle of Butler Tarkington is the boyhood home of our favorite son, Kurt Vonnegut. There’s a brand-new Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, and we’re thankful for it. He’s a writer whose work will be celebrated, rightly, for many years to come.
So who’s the next great writer from Indianapolis?
We don’t know (but we’re pretty sure it’s not Frank Indiana). We do know this: like many, many schools across the nation, our public schools in Indianapolis have a tough time teaching kids creative writing.
We’re not blaming them. Things are tough in the education business. Budgets have shrunk. Premiums have been placed upon test scores. There hasn’t been much time or energy to focus on something so ephemeral as creative writing.
So we’re trying to help. A little over three years ago, we created Second Story: a writing program designed to help change kids’ attitudes about writing, helping kids who may not like writing discover it as an avenue to creative and intellectual freedom. So far, it seems to be working. The kids we’ve worked with love writing, ask to write in class, and even consider themselves to be writers. We think that bodes well for their future, because we think writing will be a vital skill to have mastered in our creative economy.
Now we’re trying to take the next step. Second Story has partnered with Big Car, an Indianapolis-based arts collective, to develop a music, art, and writing center in Fountain Square, an up-and-coming commercial district on Indianapolis’s near southeast side. The center’s going to be amazing: part cybercafe, part bookstore, part art gallery, part event space, and part home for the creative writing programs of Second Story.
We could sure use your help. And it will cost you nothing but a few seconds a day for the next month.
Second Story and Big Car are up for a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Everything Grant. The money will be used to finish and furnish this great space, for which we’ve already received a grant that will allow us to work and run our programs rent-free for two years.
Helping us win the grant is easy. Click on the link above. Sign up to vote. Vote for us every day during the month of September. The top 10 vote-getters will received $50,000 for their project. (PS: you can also vote for nine other projects every day. Find other stuff you love and help make it happen.)
And if you really want to help even more, forward this story to your friends. Ask them to help. It takes literally seconds a day.
And, who knows? You could be helping to inspire the next Kurt Vonnegut, right here in his own backyard. Or the next James Whitcomb Riley. Hey, we believe it’s time to scare the crap out of a whole new generation of kids. Thanks in advance for your support.