I Am Montana: New student anthology reflects youth experience
In educational facilities across Montana, a creative transformation has unfurled. During the fall of last year, young people in juvenile detention centers, high school classrooms and alternative learning facilities dove into a semester-long exploration of Montana’s history, culture and literature with a special focus on the ways our home places shape our identities. The project, titled “I Am Montana,” asked students to reflect on their own lives while crafting honest and thought-provoking responses through poetry and prose.
The resulting anthology of student work, I Am Montana: Student Reflections on Identity and Place, is a mosaic of meditations and questions sprung from adolescent life that illuminates both the universal and unique aspects of growing up in Montana. Through these young writers’ eyes, the state comes alive as they take their readers on a journey through their home places.
From the “trap houses” to a “one Walmart kind of town,” students share pieces of their lives: their memories, their wisdom, their hopes and fears, their experiences of home. As one student from Pine Hills Youth Correctional Center writes, “Montana is not perfect. Drugs are sold, guns are held in the palm of the unknown … But the people, we the people, know that Montana is a place of beautiful land … [a] place to walk, a place to see, a place to feel your emotions flow through your body.”
Born from the desire to include Montana youth’s voices in the greater narrative of our state, “I Am Montana” is a collaboration among organizations and individuals working in the Billings area. Claire Compton and seven teachers from the Missoula-based nonprofit, Free Verse, teach literature and creative writing to students in juvenile detention centers across the state.
Reno Charette and Second Season work with Northern Cheyenne youth and families to promote development grounded in the Northern Cheyenne way of life. Writers Dave Caserio and Tami Haaland bring poetry workshops to students in Billings Public Schools.
Together, these collaborators worked to bring Montana’s cultural legacy to life in classrooms across the state. By bringing together youth from a variety of backgrounds, the project gave students across the state the opportunity to share their experiences, to break down social barriers, and to creatively express themselves while educating their communities.
To learn more about this project and about Free Verse, visit www.freeverseproject.org or find the organization on Facebook @freeversewritingproject. For information about Second Season, visit www.wolfstarpr.wixsite.com/secondseason or find them on Facebook @northerncheyennesecondseason.
Copies of the book may be purchased on Amazon or from This House of Books, 224 N. Broadway in Billings. All proceeds benefit the I Am Montana project.