Notable writers visit RCC club

Members of the Stay Classy Creative Writing Club were unable to hide their excitement last week as published writers Donna Hilbert and Chiwan Choi visited Riverside to share their poetry and speak with students.

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By Jeremy Fuerte / Staff Writer

Stay classy (Kristin Kamoto / Special to Viewpoints)

By Jeremy Fuerte / Staff Writer

Members of the Stay Classy Creative Writing Club were unable to hide their excitement last week as published writers Donna Hilbert and Chiwan Choi visited Riverside to share their poetry and speak with students.

“It’s this mixture of awesome admiration but at the same time you can connect with them on a personal level,” Jazzy Smith said of the writers. “Seeing them in person is like seeing a celebrity.”

Smith is the president of the club at Riverside City College and she isn’t the only one who appreciates meeting with published writers.

“It energizes us as a club and connects us with the literary world so people see we aren’t just sitting around and daydreaming,” Brennan Gonering said. “We’re actually involved in the community.”

Instructor Jo Scott-Coe makes much of this possible by asking her contacts in the literary world to come and speak to the club.

“You have to pay attention to what you like, go to other readings, meet people and talk to people, buy books, and just follow up and continue contact,” she said.

As an instructor, Scott-Coe believes it is important to students to be able to interact with writers.

“It’s incredibly important because it gives students an opportunity to see that literature is alive,” she said. “It’s not dead on the street.”

On April 19, Scott-Coe put her connections to work asking Hilbert to visit RCC to show a screening of “Grief Becomes Me: A Love Story,” and read some of her poetry to a packed audience.

“It was really fun,” Hilbert said. “As a writer, if you ever want to sell a book you have to come out to these events, but it was really fun to come out and speak to this group.”

Hilbert has been writing for over 30 years and her latest work was published in the fall of 2011. She was a college dropout but went back to school through a community college, eventually earning her master’s degree. The community college system holds a special place in her heart.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school if it hadn’t been for the community college system, and some of the best professors I’ve ever had were at the community college,” she said. “I love going to speak to community colleges.”

On April 20, Chiwan Choi made the two hour long trip from Los Angeles to Riverside in order to share his poetry at Back to the Grind and was pleased with the turnout.

“I was really surprised on a Friday night, on a hot day like that, to see a whole bunch of college aged people packed in a coffee house for a poetry reading,” he said. “That was fantastic and a couple of the open mic people were really good.”

Like Hilbert, Choi believes it is important to connect with students and aspiring writers.

“For a group like Stay Classy you need to connect with people that are passionate about what you do,” he said.

Choi’s essays and poems have been featured in numerous journals and magazines. His first major collection of poetry was published in 2010.

He now owns a small publishing company with which he aspires to help other writers become known.

“My wife and I started this publishing company because we just felt writers weren’t being respected or printed enough,” he said. “We just happened to know a bunch of talented writers who weren’t getting published so we wanted to do our part to get their work out there.”

Under the leadership of Smith, the Stay Classy Creative Writing Club is going to publish some of its members’ poetry in a chapbook. She said she hopes the club continues to grow and is known for being a safe place for writers to express themselves.

“Our goal is to have a safe place for written expression and to help people find themselves in a safe community, it sounds a little like therapy,” she said, laughing.

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