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    Meeting one of the founders of New Orleans’ Neighborhood Story Project inspired Darcy Thompson. The program had put together a series of books featuring New Orleanians telling stories about their neighborhoods. “I was just blown away by how these were really of the community,” says Thompson, 38.

    He wanted to give people in Louisville a way tell their own stories to a wide audience. (And before any funding came in, he knew he wanted to pay the writers. “I think that the work…is important for our community, and that merits some compensation,” he says.) A grant from Vernon Robertson Urban Charities and a contribution from local entrepreneur Gill Holland got the Louisville Story Program off the ground.

    Having taught high school, Thompson decided to work with students on the first book. Keith Look, then the principal at the Academy at Shawnee High School, agreed to let Thompson and early partner Joe Manning, a writer, pitch the idea to students in April 2013. They offered $500 to students who wanted to participate in writing/interviewing workshops over the summer and fall, then put their stories on paper. In November 2013, a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to help with printing and other production expenses raised $10,379, almost $1,900 more than the original goal. The book, titled Our Shawnee, came out in May and has sold 2,000 copies. (The Louisville Story Program is currently working with another group of contributors, who are telling stories about the Dirt Bowl, a long-running basketball tournament in Shawnee Park.) 

    Callie Comer was one of the eight students who participated in the Our Shawnee project. Each writer has three stories in the book, accompanied by photos of the authors and the places they’re talking about. Comer’s first is a vignette about Lytle Street in Portland, where she lived at the time. In another, she describes life growing up with a mother who, by Comer’s description, was fun and loving but had a drug addiction that made life chaotic. Comer quotes her mom in the story: “I’m not no Betty Crocker cookie-cutter mom.” Comer’s mom died from an overdose in October 2012, and Comer says writing about it was therapeutic. “It let me get some memories and emotions out that I felt I needed to,” Comer says. “A mother’s a pretty important person in your life, whether they were the best mom or not. I just felt lucky that I got a chance to openly express myself in that way.”

    Images courtesy of Chris Witzke

    This article appears in the December issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here.

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    Piscean. INFJ. Cat person. Runner. Mediocre housekeeper. Excellent cook. Scours the sleaze on Craigslist so you don't have to.

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