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New Seminole writing group strives to inspire

Participants in the first Seminole writers group pose for a photo after the first meeting Dec. 8. From left are Gordon “Ollie” Wareham, Elgin Jumper, Cypress Billie, Wilson Bowers, Crystal Bowers, Marcella Billie, Tucomah Robbins, Quenton Cypress, Michael DiCarlo and Morgan Frank. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — A group of Seminole writers convened for the first time Dec. 8 to discuss their passion for writing and how a group of like-minded people could be inspired by one another.

Led by Elgin Jumper, the group shared stories of why and how they write. Jumper, who says he writes every day, started by reading classic novels by Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway.

“Books took me away to different places,” he said. “I want to write like that.”

Jumper also reads a lot of poetry, which puts him in the mood to write poems.

“I write one or two poems a day,” he said. “When I get to 200 poems, I go back and edit. Writing is about rewriting and revising.”

Young starters

One common aspect shared among the group is that everyone began writing at a young age. Crystal Bowers started writing at age 12. She bound the first book she wrote. As an English major at the University of Miami, Bowers enjoyed her creative writing classes. Ultimately, she earned a master’s degree in biology and started doing technical writing.

“I’m trying to get back into creative writing,” Bowers said. “It’s hard to do without a deadline.”

Wilson Bowers, who is also a visual artist, writes hip-hop. He is working on a graphic novel. He took creative writing classes at Broward College.

“I structure verses and words as a visual,” he said. “This is good because it lets me see things and gets my mind working in another way.”

“I also took fiction and poetry workshops at Broward College,” Jumper said. “I didn’t know the rules until I took them. It’s helped me a lot.”

Morgan Frank (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Michael DiCarlo started writing rhymes at age 9, moved on to hip-hop and developed a style.

“I wanted it to be read, not just a song,” DiCarlo said. “I love writing, it was an outlet for me when I was young. I like being around other people who like to write.”

Morgan Frank, who also started writing as a child, writes music and loves to sing. “Writing has always saved me,” he said. “In order for me to tell my story to my children, writing is all I have. It’s about expressing myself and my feelings.”

“Writing is a way to get that stuff out,” said the tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resource Office’s (HERO) community engagement manager, Quenton Cypress, who hosted the meeting at the To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne Community Center in Big Cypress. “It’s therapeutic.”

Gordon “Ollie” Wareham’s writing stems from his storytelling. He started writing down Seminole legends and wrote some from his own experience. One was about a 15-mile walkathon that, because of an injury, took him and his companions five and a half hours to complete. When they reached the finish line, people were waiting for them.

“I turned the characters into their clan animals,” Wareham said. “A bird, a panther and a deer. The story is special to me; writing our history and what it means to us is special.”

Cypress Billie started writing songs when he was 13 and still writes and performs today.

“I view them as a picture, a moment in time, that helps me deal with my emotions,” Billie said. “I just leave them in the song instead of carrying them with me. That’s how I cope with things.”

Ready to grow

Crystal Bowers (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Marcella Billie doesn’t consider herself a writer, but she loves to read. She believes reading will help her become a better writer.

Jumper, Frank and diCarlo read some of their poems and stories.

Crystal Bowers suggested a writing prompt. Each of the 10 participants in the group gave a random word. The words were corn liquor, atrocious, shiny, existential, euphoria, tremendous, pencil, hat, responsibility and imagery. The writers had 10 minutes to incorporate those 10 words into a story or poem. Furious writing ensued. When time was up, they all read what had been created.

The group departed the first meeting optimistic that their writing skills will continue to improve with ensuing gatherings.

“This is a start and it can only get better,” Jumper said. “Let’s come back and share our writing, books and techniques.”

The group shared ideas for future meetings. Jumper would like to have professional writers attend as guest speakers. Crystal Bowers would like to create a writing workshop and critique each other’s work. Wareham suggested the group could publish a book in the next year or so.

They agreed the meetings would be open to anyone who is interested and can be moved from Big Cypress to other
reservations. They said the next meeting will likely be in mid-January.

Cypress Billie writes a short story with 10 words given by the group. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Elgin Jumper, with laptop, reads poems he wrote to members of the writers group. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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