Writing in the Gardens: Volume 1 is an anthology of stories, essays, and poems by residents of Council Gardens, an apartment complex in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, that provides quality affordable housing for low to moderate income seniors. The writing, much of it created in Literary Cleveland workshops from 2019-2021, is detailed, moving, humorous, complex, insightful, and as full of life as the residents themselves. Like the plants and flowers that make up a garden, the individual stories of these residents combine to reveal the vibrant community that is Council Gardens.
For the past two and a half years, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the group of writers who have participated in the Council Gardens memoir writing workshop provided by Literary Cleveland and Council Gardens. I don’t need to teach these folks how to write. They’re all really remarkable writers. Each is committed to telling her or his stories, many serious, sometimes very funny, always insightful. It has been a great delight for me to work with these individuals who have become a family of friends and fellow writers.
They all have abundant and greatly varied life experiences underscored with a strong sense of narrative flow combined with the ability to leverage colorful details, humor, perceptions, and hard-earned observations about life. All of their writing consistently demonstrates the earmarks of compelling poetry, essays, and memoir pieces. Each week, they read their most recently crafted pieces, and we engage in some excellent discussions about the individual and shared experiences or consider what else they are working on or would like to write.
In addition to the joy and delight, the sorrow and tears of these life experiences, we as a group had an opportunity to share the energy and heartfelt life of the late Carol Fordham. She joined the group shortly after moving into Council Gardens, and we all quickly warmed to her intriguing stories of a challenging but always treasured life. Struggling with severe arthritis in her hands, she was initially only able to share them orally, until we enlisted the typing skills of Janice Hirshon, our invaluable partner and volunteer from the National Council of Jewish Women. Fortunately, shortly before Carol died, Janice was able to capture four of her stories that you will find in these pages as our small memorial to her.
I am truly honored to work with this inquisitive, loveable, gifted crew to help them uncover and generate their wonderful stories onto paper for themselves and for their families and friends – and now the whole world! We hope you enjoy these poems and essays as much as we have throughout our Tuesday afternoon sessions in the incomparable Council Gardens!
—Christopher Johnston, Writing in the Gardens Instructor