Poetry, prose and applause: UMSL Writers Group draws eager crowd to open mic night

Open Mic Night fall 2016

Ibrahim Shabazz was one of 12 students to brave the Pilot House stage in UMSL’s Millennium Student Center during the Oct. 27 event. (Photo by Evie Hemphill)

“i cried the first time i saw the pridefest parade…”

Zachary Lee’s voice sounded confident and clear as he spoke aloud the words he’d written, words for which he no longer required a script for reference.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis student’s poetry filled the quiet space – a striking contrast to the enthusiastic applause and cheers that would follow it.

“He truly brought the house down,” said UMSL faculty member Kate Watt, who was in attendance as Lee and 11 of his peers each took to the stage during an open mic night in the Millennium Student Center Oct. 27. “As a poet myself, I am always impressed by the talented student poets we have on campus.”

In addition to poetry readings, the event featured standup, a short story set during World War II, an original piano composition and more as UMSL students made the most of the evening – both as performers and audience members.

Upperclassman Amber Scholl, who moderated the event, said she was delighted to see so many different performers attend, participate and encourage each other.

“UMSL has so much talent to offer, and it’s such a diverse group,” she said. “You’ve got people with experience performing on stage, and you’ve got others who might be sharing their work with others for the first time, but the great thing about our open mic night is everyone is in it together, and everyone cheers everyone else on.”

This was the third such gathering organized on campus by the relatively new UMSL Writers Group, a student organization in which both Scholl and Watt are heavily involved. Open to students in any major, the group aims to provide a variety of avenues for campus writers to share their work, learn and celebrate the written word.

And in Watt’s view, the open mic events are particularly important toward that end.

“As much as we all like to see our work in print, liberating those words from the page can be an incredibly exhilarating experience for a writer,” said Watt, who is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of English. “Opportunities like this are invaluable to students – not only for writers but for audiences, too. So much of the writing we produce in college courses is read silently by our audiences.

“Events like this give audiences the opportunity to feel the breath of the author, hear their inflections, see their facial expressions, body language and all that brings the words on the page to life – to feel the power of that voice resonate throughout the space.”

Scholl said that based on the strong turnout last month, which included both new performers and some familiar faces, she hopes open mic night becomes a tradition that continues at UMSL long into the future.

“Our goal with these events has pretty much been to create a comfortable space for performers to share their work and connect with other creative people on campus,” she said. “I think what’s been really important for our group is that sense of community. It doesn’t matter if you’re a grad student who has maybe done poetry readings at large events before or if you’re a freshman who has never shared a poem with another person in your life: Everyone has a place at open mic.”

For more information about the UMSL Writers Group, contact Watt at katewatt@umsl.edu or Geri Friedline, a faculty member in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, at friedlineg@umsl.edu – or connect with the group through TritonSync or Facebook.

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