Homeless writers find meaning, sense of self

Jan 8, 2012

If you walk around downtown Ann Arbor you may have spotted people selling something called Groundcover News. The paper is what’s known as a street newspaper. That means homeless people sell the paper for $1 and they make a profit on every issue they sell. 

Groundcover News has articles about all kinds of topics written by the staff and other volunteers. But a growing number of the articles are being written by homeless people.

La Shawn Courtwright sells the paper and she writes for it.  She said she wants to share her life experiences so that she can inspire others. Courtwright said the best part about being published is that people hear what you have to say. 

“If nobody hears what you have to say or knows how you feel then you can’t help yourself and you can’t help anybody else,” Courtwright said.

Susan Beckett is Groundcover’s publisher. She said she’s overwhelmed at the number of people who have approached her saying they want to write for the paper.  (In fact, Groundcover has begun to offer journalism workshops to help meet that demand.)

For a group who often feel invisible, having their words and stories published has become a respected way to communicate with the world at large, according to Beckett.

Beckett said the desire to be seen as a multi-dimensional, valuable human being is more important to homeless people than making money.

In her wildest dreams, writer La Shawn Courtwright wants to write thirty books and get published in all kinds of languages. But she admits a more realistic goal would be to publish four books that become popular and well-read. She said her books would combine the styles of memoir, fiction, and creative writing.

Courtwright already has a fan base that follows her writing. She says when people hear what you have to say, they begin to understand who you are.

Support for arts and cultural reporting on Michigan Radio comes in part from a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.