Recording session as part of "Profiles in Blindness," the 2015 Washington Stories Fund project from the Jack Straw Cultural Center. Photo courtesy Jack Straw. Back To All Blog Posts

Announcing the 2017 Washington Stories Fund projects

Capturing the stories from a now-shuttered prison and a rapidly growing Washington State county are the focus of two Humanities Washington grants.

  • November 13, 2017
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  • News & Notes
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  • By Humanities Washington

After Lenore Rice Hale lost her husband of 56 years in 2008, she sought comfort in writing. The former social worker enrolled in a writing class at her retirement community. Though Hale was legally blind, she was so inspired by the class that she spent the next two years dictating a collection of her memories to a scribe. The book, Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant—its title taken from an Emily Dickenson poem—was published in 2012. But when it was finished, Hale set a new goal.

“She was so moved by the stories told by her writing group classmates that she was inspired to start a fund for other storytellers,” said her daughter Betsy, “one that would tell the little-known stories of marginalized groups in Washington State.”

Hale and her children approached Humanities Washington, and the Washington Stories Fund was created. Though Hale died while the fund was being developed, it was officially launched in 2015 with a grant to the Jack Straw Cultural Center.

For 2017, Humanities Washington is pleased to announce two Washington Stories Fund grantees: the Washington State Historical Society for their “McNeil’s Legacy” project, and WSU Vancouver for “Clark County Stories: How We Came to This Place.”

McNeil’s Legacy

Originally opened as a federal prison in 1875, the McNeil Island Corrections Center has a varied history. Within its high walls criminals like Charles Manson and Robert Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”) were held, but so were activists resisting the Japanese internment. It was shuttered in 2011, but its long history provides a way to examine the nation’s evolving views on incarceration through a single location. Told through the personal stories of inmates, staff, and island residents, McNeil’s Legacy will provide insights into the lives of the diverse people who have been affected by imprisonment. In an era where mass incarceration has taken on new urgency, McNeil’s Legacy will bring this national issue closer to home.

A project of the Washington State Historical Society, McNeil’s Legacy will consist of a six-part podcast that takes an intimate look at the lives of those who lived at McNeil Island. The podcast will be released concurrently with an exhibit, “McNeil: Washington’s Infamous Island Prison,” at the Washington State History Museum. Additionally, a scholarly panel discussion at the WSHM will address the ethics of incarceration and its impacts on families.

Clark County Stories: How We Came to This Place

Clark County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States. At 500,000 residents, this number is double that of 1988. Among those who live in the county are the descendants of early settlers as well as the new arrivals from other states and nations—each with their own stories of “how we came to this place,” but not always mutually understood.

Clark County Stories: How We Came to This Place is a series of outreach and community-building workshops and conversations featuring residents whose experiences have been under-represented in past Clark County history exhibits: urban Indians, Latina/o, African American, Asian, Muslim, LGBTQ, blind, and deaf communities. The workshops will train participants to explore their histories, encourage conversations between Clark County residents about the changing landscapes of the region, and develop a new exhibit to open in October 2018.

Individually, everyone has a story about how, when, and why they arrived at the place they call home. When melded together, those stories create community. By exploring shared narratives of growth and change in Clark County in recent years, WSU Vancouver and the Clark County Historical Museum will create a new, shared vision of the emerging community and the challenges it faces together.

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