By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Monday, April 15, St. Francis College will present “The Rainbow Bridge of Light: Voices From the Universe,” featuring poetry and prose by members of Professor Mitch Levenberg’s senior citizens writing class.
The senior citizens writing class is one of several programs hosted at St. Francis College; other classes and events include swimming, yoga, tai chi, and lectures taught by St. Francis College professors. Each of these programs is free and open to all members of the senior citizen community.
Both novice and experienced writers will participate in the April 15 reading, which is held annually. The event will take place in the College’s Founders Hall, and Professor Levenberg, Director of the College’s Academic Enhancement Center, will read some of his own work. “It’s an exciting place—really a microcosm of a real writing community—filled with respect, talent, and inspiration,” Levenberg told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The senior citizen workshop began meeting over 10 years ago.
In a piece titled “Notes on My Seniors Class: The Warmth of Memory,” Levenberg describes a cold November morning on which his senior citizens class met in a classroom where windows had been left open. “I felt like I had happened upon the remaining survivors of a lost expedition to the Arctic,” Levenberg writes, “…But these people were not to be deterred or denied. They had stories and poems to read. I think they believed that if not central heating, then these poems and stories would keep them warm, huddled together in words and memory.”
The writers, who range in age from 60s to 90s, are among the most eager students Levenberg has worked with. They seem most excited to share their memoirs, or their “life stories finally written down,” Levenberg told Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “They write of growing up during the depression, of their own parents arriving at Ellis Island.”
Levenberg assigns three prompts per week, but students are not required to follow the prompts; they are merely meant to guide and inspire the writers. While some students are initially hesitant to share their work, Levenberg says, they tend to warm up to the idea once they realize they are surrounded by supportive and open-minded their classmates. Ellen Press Scott, who has been studying with Levenberg for several years, says that the class offers a “congenial, relaxed, safe environment and [Levenberg’s] imaginative prompts are both facilitating and inspirational... The writing class has added dimension to my life, my voice—the craft of writing—with meaning and purpose.”
Levenberg describes a few of his students, including 85 year-old Rose Fontanella, who still performs stand-up comedy at bars in Manhattan and at senior citizen centers. Two of Levenberg’s students – Press-Scott, who “writes wonderful monologues and lyrical poetry,” and Joe Davis, “a master of the macabre” – have read with the professor in different Brooklyn cafes.
This year’s reading is dedicated to one of Levenberg’s late students, published poet Sybil Kollar, who passed away in December.
Levenberg says that he looks forward to several more years of working with these students: “They have taught me far more than I could ever teach them.”
The April 15 event, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Francis College’s Founders Hall (180 Remsen St. in Brooklyn Heights). Please note that this is the rescheduled date.