Meet the Neighbors: Q&A with Lucy Bucknell of Writing Outside the Fence

Lucy Bucknell is the founding director of Writing Outside the Fence, a writing program for returning citizens in Baltimore. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Alaska Quarterly ReviewThe Baltimore ReviewThe Chattahoochee ReviewCream City ReviewFictionThe Laurel ReviewNatural BridgePleiadesSouthern Humanities ReviewWar, Literature & the ArtsWillow Review; and elsewhere. After teaching for several years in both The Writing Seminars and the Film and Media Studies program at Johns Hopkins University, she became full-time faculty in FMS in 2007. She is also Principal Investigator for the Baltimore Youth Film Arts Program.

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: What is Writing Outside the Fence and how did it get started?

Writing Outside the Fence is a free, volunteer-staffed, community writing workshop. It meets weekly at the Northwest Career Center in Baltimore. It was originally intended specifically for returning citizens. I taught a workshop at the Anne Arundel Detention Center, and one of the participants—a Baltimore City resident—was due to be released. I tried to find him a free or affordable writing program and there was none. The then-director of the Career Center, Felix Mata, suggested I start one, so I dragooned a couple of friends to teach the first few sessions. Within weeks writers of all stripes were asking to join, so the group opened to anyone from the community, regardless of background. Instructors have continued to volunteer and we’ve kept on. The center director is now Gerald Grimes, and he’s also been very welcoming. In twelve years, we’ve paid no rent, no salaries, and no tuition; and we’ve missed meetings only for water main breaks and snowstorms.

Q: In an email I received inviting me to lead a workshop, you wrote that past instructors have included poets, journalists, playwrights, screenwriters, and writers of fiction and creative nonfiction: “No two have run their workshops quite the same way; all have found it rewarding.” How have you found it rewarding?

Writers over the years have been so generous with their art. There is always something new to hear, something surprising, something moving, something human. Attendance goes up and down; writers come and go. We also have writers who’ve been coming for a decade. But whenever I teach or attend a reading, I always feel I’m on fresh ground. It’s an expansive group, a tolerant group. They make room for one another and for the instructors, they tell the truth in beautiful ways, and it’s just a rare and rather wonderful project to be part of.

Q: What do I need to do to get involved in Writing Outside the Fence, either as a teacher or a writer?

To join as a writer, you would simply walk in the door. If you forget your pencil, we’ll lend you one. Anyone interested in teaching can contact me at writingoutside@aol.com. Instructors tend to be published, working writers, and many, though not all, have teaching experience.

Q: Less about the program itself, and more about you: what’s the relationship between your writing and your film work?

Film examines the world very closely. It makes its own reality out of the common reality. The camera frame selects and excludes; cutting creates very particular continuities and juxtapositions. It can be a narrative medium and/or a poetic medium. I’m not a filmmaker; I teach analysis. But I’m compelled by the filmmaker’s way of looking–and of showing. Good movies remind me to see with new eyes.

Q: What new projects are you working on?

Time will tell. I’m pretty much full up with existing projects right now. I’d like to teach my dog to behave. I doubt I will.

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