Stonecoasters Unite: Writing and Working for Social Change

by Elizabeth Searle

Ellen Meeropol and Ruthie Rhode leading the Social Change seminar this summer.  photo courtesy of Elizabeth Searle

Ellen Meeropol and Ruthie Rohde leading the Social Change seminar at the Stonecoast summer residency.

In describing her own commitment to activism, Stonecoast alumna and author Ellen Meeropol quotes Alice Walker: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.”

Fellow SC alumna Ruthie Rohde has spent years helping homeless and other disenfranchised people tell their stories.  Ruthie quotes author Pat Schneider to explain that not knowing how to put stories together can be a “learned disability.”  Ruthie says she helps her students realize that they all have “treasures waiting to be brought to the surface.”

Elli and Ruthie have both stepped up to the plate this summer to lead a seminar about uniting Stonecoast students, faculty, and alumni who are interested in writing and working for social change.

“My goal for the initiative is to jump-start discussion about writing and social change into the Stonecoast curriculum and culture,” says Elli.  “I want people to consider these issues as they write, critique, publish, and develop their writing practice and writing life.”

photo courtesy of Elizabeth Searle

Discussion during the Social Change seminar.

Stonecoast MFA has always encouraged a proactive approach to social issues.  In its early years, the program developed a writing “track” for students interested in focusing on social change. Many Stonecoast students have created “social change” projects during their third semesters.  Through the years, Stonecoast students have taken on projects ranging from teaching memoir classes for the elderly to working with “at-risk” teenagers to leading dance and movement therapy classes at a women’s shelter.

Many SC faculty members are active on social issues as well.  I served on the executive board of PEN/New England for more than a decade, where I focused on children’s literacy projects.  Suzanne Strempek Shea has led writers’ workshops for those who have experienced trauma, including cancer patients and victims of recent tornadoes in Western Massachusetts.  Suzanne and I were both happy to take part in the Writing for Social Change seminar and discussion led by Elli and Ruthie at the summer, 2013 SC residency.

Elizabeth Searle and Kristabelle Munson

Elizabeth Searle and Kristabelle Munson

Among the students gathered for the discussion was a current student interested in working with fellow military veterans to tell their stories and a first-semester student, Kristabelle Munson, who has taken on the role of New York’s Stoneocast “regional coordinator.”

With the advent of Stonecoast MFA’s regional communities in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West, Elli and Ruthie are helping to spearhead the effort to bring together information and support for Stonecoasters nationwide involved in a wide range of issues.

“Ruthie and I are working on making the resources section of the Writing for Social Change page on the Stonecoast website more robust,” Elli explains.  “And, at the discussion circle, there was talk of creating some kind of community discussion forum on this subject.”

Elli and Ruthie are seeking information on ongoing social change activities that Stonecoasters are involved in, to add to the list.  Also, they are seeking SC volunteers who might take on the role of “moderating” the proposed online discussion forum.  They invite all Stonecoasters to visit the Writing for Social Change page on the Stonecoast website, which already contains a preliminary listing of some major projects involving SC students and faculty.  Plans are afoot to expand this list to include projects from our national network of alumni.

Both Elli and Ruthie have years of experience in working for social change.  Generously, they are willing to field questions or advise on ideas from Stonecoasters interested in joining the fray.  Check out the SC Writing for Social Change webpage as a start for getting connected to the growing SC network of activist authors, paying their “rent” for living on this planet by working and writing for causes of their choice.

To get involved or to get more information, please contact Elli Meeropol at Ellen Meeropol at or Ruthie Rohde at


Elizabeth Searle is the author of four books of fiction, most recently Girl Held in Home.  She is librettist of Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera (produced on both coasts and showcased in NYC in 2013), a show that’s drawn national media attention.  She’s taught at Stonecoast for 10 years.


8 thoughts on “Stonecoasters Unite: Writing and Working for Social Change

    • I second that emotion Suzanne– Elli and Ruthie are great. Plus we’re lucky to have you and other SCers joining the fray, each in their own way. Cheers– E

  1. Excellent post, and work. I think it’s important to remember that writing for social change includes not only the straightforward activities (facilitating writing for at-risk or other people, for instance), but also writing about issues that affect us all – social inequities, racism, jingoism, environment, violence, cruelty, and other evils. We can do this in all genres, at all levels. Change minds and we change the world.

  2. PS: thanks to Roz on Facebook for adding that our SC website also has a link to:
    Resources: Writing for Social Change | University of Southern Maine
    MacCurdy, Marian Mesrobian, “From Trauma to Writing: A Theoretical Model for Pra…See More

  3. Thank you Elizabeth for writing this and thank-you Suzanne Strempek Shea, Deb Marquart,(Stonecoast faculty present at the community discussion) and Annie Finch (Stonecoast Director and faculty member) and the amazing Stonecoast students present and past, involved in both enacting social change through their writing or their work or both!

    One spelling error I noticed that I must correct – Pat Schneider’s name was misspelled Schreider – I just don’t want folks interested in her amazing work to lose out on finding her! Pat Schneider is the author of Writing Alone and With Others and most recently How the Light Gets in: Writing as a Spiritual Practice.Be sure to see the resource list on the social change Stonecoast website cited in this article for a growing list of books and articles on the subject.

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