Inspired Minds: All Nations Creative Writing

Photo credit: Dorian Geiger, 2012. Inspired Minds class with Cree author Tomson Highway

Inspired Minds (IM) is a creative writing program for men and women who are incarcerated in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Over the past 10 years, we have offered IM classes at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, Pine Grove Correctional Centre, and the Edmonton Institution. Each IM class runs for eight weeks and takes place once a week, usually for an hour and a half. Classes are generally small (8-10 participants max) and are facilitated by professors and/or graduate students. There is no tuition and anyone who is interested can attend. 

Classes provide participants with the opportunity to learn about and practice different modes of storytelling, including oral tradition, poetry, short stories, autobiography, songs, and visual art. Participants strengthen creative and critical thinking skills through in- and out-of-class readings, discussions, and exercises. The program also aims to provide an important outlet for participants to express themselves and their experiences.

We take a participant-centered approach, which means that classes are designed around and driven by the interests of the participants. During the first session of each eight-week class, participants brainstorm the topics and genres that they are interested in learning about for the next seven weeks. Following this brainstorming, participants vote on their top choices and facilitators proceed to select readings and exercises that correspond to participant interest, as well as drawing from the facilitator’s strengths and interests. We embrace the idea that it is those who are incarcerated (rather than outsiders) who know most about which topics and kinds of stories are important.

A Certificate of Completion from either the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta or the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan College is provided to participants who complete at least six of the eight classes.

For more on Inspired Minds, see this podcast and article about the program.