This May marked the second year in a row that I participated in the NYWC Write-a-Thon. More than one hundred writers gathered in The Small Press Center to raise funds for the programs of The New York Writers Coalition. Each of us participants got friends and family to sponsor us to commit to an entire day of writing, going to writing workshops, and listening to other writers read. The funds raised supported creative workshops given throughout NYC by the NYWC staff. The participants of their year-round workshops are generally members of unheard segments of the city’s population – at-risk young people, adult residents of supportive housing, the formerly incarcerated, seniors, and others. This year, the Thon generated nearly $30,000 towards these efforts.
The Write-a-Thon was the brainchild of Aaron Zimmerman, who is also the Founder of the Coalition. He got the idea from a friend who had planned to run miles to raise money for a charity. Aron felt that a write-a-thon was a fundraiser that would match the philosophy of his organization: everyone can write.
Aron, like his staff of workshop facilitators, is adept at getting others to tell their stories through writing. He himself has an interesting tale to tell about his own life path. In high school, Aron liked the writing he did in English classes. He also loved acting. In college, he studied film an ended up taking script-writing classes. For the final project, where most students made a film, Aron wrote a screenplay. It was a way of combining his interest in acting with his passion for constructing story through the use of language.
In graduate school, Aron focused on creative writing and began to lead writing workshops on his own. The Prince George, a supportive housing community for low-income, formerly homeless and special needs populations, asked Aaron to lead a writing workshop for its residents for National Poetry Month. The workshop was such a hit that Aaron stayed on to lead a weekly writing group. As more opportunities rolled in for Aaron to lead such workshops, he developed the idea of starting his own non profit organization. Aaron trained other people to lead workshops like the ones he had been leading at Prince George – gatherings that gave voice to typically unheard-from people in a safe, judgment-free setting.
Aaron describes the work of The Coalition as being three-pronged – to get people writing; to get people to connect to each other as writers, and to connect the writing with the world. One of the ways that the writing is shared with a larger audience is through a NYWC anthology called If These Streets Could Talk. Streets is a compilation of fiction and poetry from the formative years of Coalition workshops.
In terms of sharing one’s writing with a wider audience, Aaron has an interesting perspective: You don’t have to have a big audience to make a big difference. In a celebrity-obsessed society where fame is celebrated unto itself, we forget the power of moving one person with our writing. The person who listened may walk away with a new perspective on some aspect of life.
To keep his own creativity fueled, Aaron immerses himself in the visual arts. He also likes to play poker, hang out with his Beagle, spend time with his girlfriend, travel, and take walks. “Because of my work running the coalition, I have less of a need to be a published writer,” Aaron shares. “I am more focused on writing for myself.”