Notebook, pencil, coffee cup and keyboard on a rainbow background
Pride Week at Pitt

A writing workshop for LGBTQIA+ elders builds community and records history

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Erik Schuckers, a staff member of Pitt’s Center for Creativity, decided years ago to teach a writing workshop for LGBTQIA+ elders, but first, he wanted to turn 50.

Surviving the early years of the AIDS epidemic gave him a sense of responsibility, he said, to carry the stories of those who are no longer with us.

Once he reached that milestone, he began hosting In Our Own Write, a virtual bi-weekly gathering of local LGBTQIA+ older adults who chronicle their lives in poetry and creative nonfiction.

“It’s easy for us, as we get older, to feel invisible, especially in the gay community,” said Schuckers. “We begin to feel that our stories don’t matter, but I’m lucky enough to work on a college campus, and I know there are younger people who want to learn about our history and culture.”

The workshop, now in its second year, received start-up support and funding from Pitt’s Year of Engagement initiative. The 2022 workshop began in February and ends in May, culminating with a public reading and the publication of a chapbook of the participants' best work.

Mary Beth Guzzetta, one of the 12 writers in this year’s workshop, relishes the connections she’s making through In Our Own Write.

“I'm at the beginning of the Gen X generation, a generation that has lived through the entire spectrum of what it meant to be completely closeted [then] to marry publicly, and that's an amazingly huge jump to take in 30 years,” she said.

Though she is grateful for the gains LGBTQIA+ individuals have made both politically and culturally, she said she misses the tight-knit community that was necessary for survival when she was a youth.

“We've traded an intense sense of family and community for the ability to live freely in the world, and I wouldn't trade that back. But I have more than a small amount of nostalgia for that time and for the connections I had in the gay community. This workshop is an opportunity to be with other people who have the same sense of loss and gratitude,” said Guzzetta.

The In Our Own Write workshop features readings, writing prompts and guest speakers — fuel for the writers’ creative engines. So far, workshop learners have explored how memories can inform a story’s structure and the influence of place on writing.

For Schuckers, holding space for elder LGBTQIA+ writers is essential to preserving the community’s history for younger generations.

“Our history is not taught in schools, and even if you learn about important elements of it, like the Stonewall uprising, you may only gain an idea of the facts. Yet the feeling behind these events is also important,” said Schuckers, adding, “when it's done right, creative writing lets people feel what that experience was like. It connects readers on a different level; it connects them emotionally, psychologically and viscerally in a way that reading a dry history of something will not.”

Read the chapbook from last year’s cohort.


— Nichole Faina