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I was worried that the third incarnation of The Invictus Writers would lose something.

For the first time, this project wouldn’t be an independent group of writers. Instead my department chair convinced me to turn this into a traditional class. In the most basic sense, that transition would bring an end to our long, meandering Saturday conversations held as we ate pancakes and drank coffee. These introspective conversations would be replaced by regular, weekly meeting times and assignments. My free flowing writer group would be transformed into just…another…class, which was exactly what I hoped to avoid when I started this.

I agreed to the experiment, but I wondered if the class might crumble because of the structure.

On our first day, I asked each person to tell us a story of his or her life. There were no instructions or rubrics to guide anyone. I just wanted each person to tell us a snippet of life. In those stories, I hoped I would hear the essence of the narratives those young writers would eventually tell. As Kaleigh M. Sheahan began talking about her family and her life, she used the words “normal” and “messed up” as if they had some meaning. She spoke confidently about those two conditions, never considering that we each might have a different take on what those concepts meant.

When she was finished, I asked her to explain what those two ideas meant to her.


There was a long pause, which was followed by an even longer pause. It was the long, uncomfortable silence that teachers too often fill in with answers. Eventually, a single voice chimed in. Then a second writer followed up.. Before long there was a chorus of strangers sharing intimate details about their lives — details of great sadness, and of great happiness – each who rejected the notions of normal and messed up.

I knew in that moment that The Invictus Writers project would survive this classroom experiment. I wasn’t sure what it would become, but I knew the young writers would be okay. We didn’t have a “normal” classroom, but as we would come to find out that was okay. After all, we’re all a little messed up, and a tiny bit broken.

We are Invictus.

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