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Words flow from Golden Pen

Author, editor teaches weekly creative writing class focused on expression and publication

Posted: March 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Vernell Adams, left and Jane Hills listen as instructor Judith Cassis, right, leads a class discussion on haiku poetry at the creative writing class at the SCV Senior Center in Newhall on Tuesday.

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When most think of a creative writing class, they usually think of a high school or college course where the only creative and imaginative stories and poems being developed are by a younger generation.

Nevertheless, Song Yi, an aspiring writer and senior citizen, challenges the conventional thinking as he reads his story aloud to a room of his peers.

“Two steps forward in life means effort towards my goal. One step back in life means self-examination, meditation,” Yi reads from a short story he produced based on the week’s theme of “two steps forward, one step back.”

Every Tuesday and Thursday, seniors at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center meet for Judith Cassis’ Golden Pen Creative Writing Class, and each week they share their stories and life experiences, growing both as writers and as human beings.

Judith Cassis and her mission

The class is headed by Cassis — an author, ghost writer, and editor — who routinely brings together aspiring and recognized authors, some as old as 94, to explore the creative writing process, as well as expressing themselves through their work.

“Writing is my passion. I teach because I love nothing more than writing and want to support people in fulfilling a dream to write for pleasure or publication,” Cassis wrote in an email exchange. “I believe we heal and grow through the written word.”

Each week, she assigns a unique homework assignment that requires the class to reflect upon past experiences, confront present conflicts or situations, or explore any number of life’s joys or heartaches.

“Teaching this class is one of my greatest joys in that it allows for the connection of people from many walks of life,” she said.
“Writers, aspiring writers and established authors come together weekly to share their works and support one another in their writing. I love to see someone who’s held a lifelong dream to write contribute in our class.”

The class begins and centers on each individual sharing aloud his or her written work, so that the rest of the class can provide commentary on the narrative structure and its grammatical integrity.

It’s within the class’s ability to share and critique one another that stands out the most, and Cassis’ unique style of teaching allows for every senior to not only be comfortable with it, but also by benefit from it.

For instance, Cassis uses the term “I-ectomy” or “she-ectomy” to make some writers aware of their over usage of the words “I” and “she” in their writings. It’s a simple teaching technique that usually gets a few laughs, as well as expanding their storytelling potential.

Published or bust

Most of the seniors come to the class with a desire to be published, whether it’s through a publisher, the Senior Center’s own newsletter, The Mighty Oak, or by self-publishing. It is through the aloud readings and peer reviews that many seem to reach their printing goal.

“As a class we have published two books and are in the process of publishing a third book this spring,” Cassis said. And as far as individual publishing, “Five class members have come to self-publish books and two were published when they joined us,” she said.

The work speaks for itself

“Each week, we marvel at the creativity and depth of the writing that is shared,” Cassis said. “I offer a weekly challenge and writers are given the option to take up the challenge or write and share their own material.”

The weekly assignments vary from week to week and each one offers the class new themes and ways to express their creativity.

The challenges given to the potential authors, often they are universal throughout the class or individualized, enable each Golden Pen

Writer to create diverse work. It’s within their work where the payoff is seen for Cassis.

While writing on the theme of “two steps forward, one step back,” Anita Wiggins crafts a narrative reflection of her past political views.

“I wonder if my belief in the power of love, rather than the love of power, is too idealistic and naïve,” writes Anita Wiggins. “Only time will tell. I still feel patriotic and wise, but at the end of the day, I’m left with no idea of who to vote for in November.”

Her story was well received by the class; as she read aloud, most were inspired by her words. And after minor grammatical errors were dealt with by her peers, Cassis suggested she try to condense it by 85 words so it could be published in The Mighty Oak.

Each week, seniors attend Judith Cassis’ class in the hopes of becoming published authors.

Just like Cassis’ writing theme last week, “two steps forward, one step back,” many of them said they struggle with the complexity and limitless possibilities the English language has to offer, but this is seen as a positive step backward. Their ability to learn from each other and take their writing to new heights allows them to take “two steps forward” in their creative process, no matter the context.

It’s your “own unique flavor,” said Circe Denyer, another active Golden Pen writer.

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