by Jessica Carreras
Melissa Hasbrook wants to hear women’s stories. And not just stories told by women, but about women, for women and in celebration of women.
That, and a need to reconnect with her community after spending a year and a half in Belgium, is why the Lansing resident created HerStories, a series of four programs on Saturday afternoons in March at Everybody Reads Bookstore celebrating Women’s History Month.
The HerStories Project will feature writing workshops, storytelling, author readings and, to culminate the month of events, a benefit show and open mic fundraiser for the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing. The events will involve writers from throughout Michigan and into Ohio, including storytellers, poets, professors and novelists from all facets of culture and lifestyle. There will even be a few men sharing their stories about women.
“We’re looking at stories about women and by women, so I didn’t pursue specific communities within that,” Hasbrook explained.
“This is the first time I attempted this specific program, so my first thought was whoever can step up right now to make it happen in the time frame, great. My hope is that it’s a springboard for things to come.”
HerStories kicked off March 6 with storytelling with Jean Bolley and Lynette Brown of Lansing Storytellers and the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame, respectively. Brown even came in character as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, period costume and all. The session was followed by a workshop with Holly Makimaa of Oasis Wellness entitled “Journaling Through Change.”
The series will continue at 1 p.m. March 13 with more performances by Lansing Storytellers and workshops on using the senses to create poetry and finding a voice in fiction.
March 20 will feature a 1 p.m. reading by Andrea King Collier, author of “Still With Me: A Daughter’s Journey of Love and Loss.” Workshops on writing about women and creative non-fiction writing will follow.
The final event at 4 p.m. March 27 at the bookstore will be a benefit show for Lansing’s Women’s Center with performances by Words of Hope and Healing co-founder Nancy Allen, author Marilyn Mayer Culpepper, poet Tim Lane and many others.
The even will also include two openly lesbian performers, both of which have participated in the Women in the Arts Festival within the past few years. Lee Sayles is author of two chapbooks, “Year of the Phoenix” and “I Have Nothing to Say,” and is also the president elect of the Lansing Women’s Chorus, Sistrum. Christine Pereira is a doctoral candidate in teacher education at Michigan State University and has performed in the school’s production of the “Vagina Monologues.”
Hasbrook said that while she drew from her own pool of contacts in enlisting performers and workshop teachers, she tried to include people from all types of women communities – minorities, older women, younger women and women from the LGBT community – in hopes that all participants and audience members would have something to connect with.
“Something I have found in organizing events is that … whoever got up at the mic, people sitting and watching would feel like that represented them,” she said. “So I feel it’s really essential to have people visibly who are from various communities, because then the people who want to come and be a part of that see themselves represented. That’s always something I try to keep in mind.”
But more than just being represented or feeling connected, Hasbrook said she hopes to inspire more women to come up and tell their stories about themselves or the important women in their lives. “I’m always interested to support people getting out and getting their stories together that they want to share about themselves or other women in their life,” she elaborated. “My thought in having the writing workshops was to create a space where people could get some insight and interact with each other about stories they might want to present to the public or their families or however they might use them.”
And, hopefully, share them at the open mic session on March 27.
Hasbrook, who has organized several other readings and events at various venues throughout mid-Michigan, explained that a very strange thing happens when people share their personal work aloud: it inspires others to feel safe to do the same. She hopes that the concluding event is no different.
“I’ve just been blown away by the synchronicity of people emerging – women in particular – who were just waiting for that moment or invitation or space to open up to look at themselves and their stories,” she shared. “This is a place to share that and to realize how valuable they are, their stories and themselves.”
The workshops and events, she added, are what the participants make of them, and that outcome remains to be seen. “I really hope that the women who come, that it is whatever they want and need it to be; that it is for them and encourages them to take whatever the next step is in their journey,” she said. “I find that very often, the writing and the stories are very much the fabric of who we are, and it’s a very powerful affirmation.”
Spots are still available for the open mic session, and attendance to any of the events is free. To learn more, or to sign up to read, visit http://deyofthephoenix.com.
March 13, 20 and 27
Everybody Reads Bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing