National Writing Project

On the Experience of Writing The Muses Among Us

By: Kim Stafford
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 2
Date: 2004

Summary: Kim Stafford shares some thoughts on the process of writing and publishing The Muses Among Us.


By the time I graduated from college, my grandparents were gone: Ruby and Earl, Lottie and Harrison. I had been imprisoned in the company of people my own age from kindergarten through college, and when I returned to the world I was lonesome for the very young and the very old. So I found work with young writers through the artist-in-the-schools program and with my elders through an oral history project. It was the 1970s, and I sat in classrooms listening, listening to the sprightly banter of children in little Oregon towns like Fort Rock and North Powder. My bag was filled with their scribbling, which I pored over at night. And I sat in the parlors of Forrest Francisco, Lyndall Ellingson, Ernie Funk, Belle Dick, and dozens more. Listening. Writing down what I heard. Transcribing. Feeding on the sweet, tough eloquence of ordinary people.

I'm a bird as blue as blue. When I walk I walk like mice.

I see as a owl. Do you see as I see? I dream as I like. . . .

—Adah, fourth grade

There ain't much difference, yes, between a square and a round dance.

There ain't much difference. I used to call 'em. I ain't called one in probably

twenty years: "All to your places and straighten up your faces! Promenade away!

Swing 'em if you love 'em, and cheat 'em if you don't!"

—James Cole, age 92

When I became a teacher of writing I did not feel alone. My people were with me. I could not conceive of the act of writing as a matter of solitary genius. Some form of listening had to be available. So I wrote a book about it—many of the chapters begun in class where my muses and my audience were with me in the room as I wrote: young writers, Elderhostel students, teachers, friends.

About the Author Kim Stafford is the director of the Northwest Writing Institute and the Oregon Writing Project at Lewis and Clark College.

See related book review by Richard Louth.

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