The following is Cassandra Richardson-Coughlin’s review of her time spent as an intern at Teachers & Writers Collaborative.
The journey leading up to getting an internship within Teachers & Writers Collaborative was bumpy and full of unexpected surprises. I had spent the summer prior applying to numerous internship positions and summer employment and sadly got no responses. I was discouraged, as an English major, with a bachelor’s degree, that I was unwanted by the employment field. Echoes of that dreaded question I had defended and answered many a time throughout my college career: “What are you gonna do with an English degree?” rang in my mind. I had learned so much, yet what I learned did not specifically fit into any specific title. Spring 2013 is my last semester and I knew that I needed an internship- some type of experience in the employment field. I bit the bullet and prepared for the corporate world considering titles such as: human resources, copyrighting, administration work, underwriting. I was prepared to momentarily put my love of creative writing, open communication and “safe spaces” to the side in order to get experience in a field that would pay my rent, put food on the table and provide the means to pay back the loans to go to college that will kick in six months post-graduation. Reality trumped passion; or so I thought. In my search, which consisted of thoroughly combing through the postings on the St. John’s Career Link web page, as well as the subscription St. John’s has to Internships.com I found myself pleasantly surprised to find a number of internship positions that had job descriptions within companies that I had never heard of or knew existed. One of those positions was within Teacher & Writers.
Two days a week from 9am to 5pm I take the subway to 42nd street Time Square and walk to a large building on 8th avenue. I take the elevator to the 20th floor where the headquarters of Teachers & Writers is located. I work mainly with 3 women, who are all poets/writers themselves. Teachers & Writers was founded in the 60’s by a group of poets/writers who wanted to keep creative writing and art accessible and present in the classroom. T&W independently contracts authors/writers who are assigned a class in NYC and create an anthology, usually poetry, around some theme with the students. T&W also publishes a quarterly magazine that features articles on different experiences teachers and writers have in the teaching of creative writing. I have been able to be a part of numerous projects. One of those is proofreading/editing anthologies of poetry before they are published. I closely read the poems of the students and make suggestions on the wording/placement/grammar usage in order to attempt to best translate what I think the poem is trying to do, within the loose structure that T&W requires. I have also proofread the articles that were just published in the spring edition of the magazine, looking for typos, grammatical changes or confusing sentences. I have also been a part of the moving of articles onto the digital resource center, creating mini-blog posts that branch off of individual articles as well as getting permissions to avoid copyright issues. There is pressure to do the job seriously, because the articles will be published to the public audience, but there is also a friendly enough environment that allows space to ask questions and learn. There is another intern as well, and the both of us are included in the staff meetings and aware of the goals of the organization. It really feels like the work I am assigned is important to the company and that gives the position a “real world” feeling.
But the best part of this job, is that I get to spend my days, reading article after article and poem after poem that at times bring tears to my eyes, that give me ideas and strategies for my own writing, that give me ideas on how to teach writing and that show me a different way to write about things for a larger, non-academic audience. I am so moved by the stories of people and writers who are using writing to help people, for example I proofread and found royalty-free images for the Writing through Trauma edition, the title of the last magazine published, which featured experiences of writing with children with cancer, war veterans, children in Haiti post-earthquake, and a class of students reflecting on the Newtown tragedy. Pictures of Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman and Elvis hang on the walls around me, along with a poem about the moon, a sign with the word “censorship” crossed out and a wall full of books and anthologies which I am free to browse and sometimes take home. The feeling I have from finding and being at this internship is very comparable to the feeling I had when I switched my major in my sophomore year from science to English: Hey I can actually do what I like, and I can be good at it! Finding T&W has been like a breath of fresh air and has given me hope for future employment. I’ve found a number of other organizations that are similar to T&W and even though they are small and usually non-profit, it has given me hope that I can continue to practice and learn what I love in a community of similar people where the things I have learned to do well as an English major. Whether I will be able to be a part of an organization like T&W immediately upon graduation is something I am skeptical of, but it has certainly given me practice doing things that many companies need to do, and has given me something to move towards.