The Missoula Writing Collaborative has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1994, when poet Sheryl Noethe launched a creative writing pilot program at 5 Missoula schools. The pilot program aimed to teach kids to love to write through poetry. With its focus on music, imagery, storytelling, and voice, Sheryl found that poetry worked as a terrific way to teach children about the power and potential of language.

During the year-long pilot program, writers visited classrooms for one hour each week. During that hour, the writer presented a poetry exercise for twenty minutes, the students wrote for twenty minutes, and the students read aloud for the last twenty minutes. This particular combination of listening, writing, and then reading aloud proved magical: children who, at the beginning, were reluctant to put a pencil to paper, proudly walked to the microphone to read poems about Ice Princesses, Odes to Pickles, Wolf Poems, and poems about the Clark Fork River, the Bitterroot, and the Mission Mountains.

Now, in 2021, this pilot program has grown into a thriving network of creative writing classroom residencies taking place in rural, tribal, and city schools all over western Montana. 2021 marked the addition of Lincoln, Seely Swan, Alberton, Superior, and St. Regis Elementary Schools to the growing number of schools served by MWC – bringing the total to 39 schools! That’s 5 to 39 schools in 27 years, and well over 42,000 students who have learned to love to write through the transformative power of poetry.

Among those 42,000 voices are rural kids, tribal kids, Missoula kids. Kids from all walks of life learning to express themselves. In his almost 20 years teaching for MWC, Montana Poet Laureate Mark Gibbons has observed that “Good poetry comes from who we are, and we are all unique. That’s what makes this program so important. It allows students the freedom to be themselves and share that voice with the world.”

We are honored for the opportunity to do this important work, and look forward to reaching more students than ever in the coming year. Cheers to 29 years!