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Power trip


October 21, 2011

Everybody has a story, says Milwaukee writer and poet Dasha Kelly. Through her Still Waters Collective, she is helping children, teens and adults not just tell their tales, but find their voices.

Kelly, who started out as a fiction writer, was teaching creative writing in classrooms as an artist-in-residence. As demand for artists in the classroom grew, she saw the chance to place fellow poets and writers in those positions, and founded Still Waters as a clearinghouse for effective presenters.

Now, 10 years later, Still Waters nurtures writers of all ages and genres, but Kelly says it’s not just about putting words on paper or speaking one’s personal truth behind a microphone. It’s about that moment of discovery, when, during an exercise or a performance, a new writer realizes that what they have to say matters. And, she says, "proving to them that they’re brilliant."

"I think, ‘This is another person who, through these goofy exercises, these random challenges, has turned on a tiny little light and is capable of one more thing,’" she says. "And sometimes that ‘little thing’ is that we can do anything."

For those who find the space to create at Still Waters Collective, the medium is words. The product is power.

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Writing’s Reach

Still Waters Collective has fielded teams in the Brave New Voices spoken word competition, taught kindergartners to tap their imaginations and showed executives how to use fairytales to jump-start strategic planning.

But founder Dasha Kelly says some of her best experiences have come while working with prison inmates in Racine. She says nobody expected the response.

"They’re hungry," she says. "I heard one guy say he never knew that words could be so strong. I’ve literally heard a brilliant poem about oatmeal."

Kelly still drops in to visit.

"I came down one month and they had created a tribute to Langston Hughes and Mark Twain," Kelly says. Writing, she adds, "automatically creates a community."



This story ran in the September 2011 issue of: