by Kris Parfitt
– The Capitol Hill Times –
“After graduating from the University of Washington’s Creative Writing program, I looked for a local writers group that offered a similar structure and discipline as my classes,” explained Seena Denham, founder of the First Hill Writers. Denham added, “I couldn’t find one, so I decided to start my own.”
A late-blooming writer, Denham entered college in 1994 at the tender age of 51. While she came up with an idea for her first story in 1974, she didn’t write it down until years later.
“I didn’t consider myself a writer,” confessed Denham. “But when the idea of the story hit me, I knew I had to write it down.” That story was the beginning of her creative writing passion. “I look at life, at people and who we are. The façade is the face we show everyone, and our inner life is more of who we are. I like writing about the inner life of the people who pass through mine.”
World traveler by choice, Denham found herself in Seattle after first traveling east. “In the late 1960s, I was young and restless. Living in Greenwich Village, I consistently read the Village Voice, and continued to see advertisements for freight ships that took passengers to Yugoslavia. I whittled down all my worldly goods to two suitcases, bought a one way ticket and off I went!” remembers Denham.
Traveling throughout Northern Africa, Europe and countries along the Mediterranean, Denham settled in Israel so that she could explore the culture and country. After three years, she left the Middle East and traveled through Southeast Asia and Australia until her money ran out. “I put away my passport and read the want ads in the Sydney Harold.”
Denham then applied for a position as a candy counter clerk at an adult movie theatre, and got the job. “It was really perfect for me. I only had to work thirty minutes out of every two hours,” she laughs. “The porn movie was an hour-and-a-half long, and the customers bought their snacks and soda’s between movies. I’d lock up shop and go explore Sydney for 90-minutes several times a day!”
“I made one hundred and forty-five Australian dollars a week and my room cost only fifteen a week, so in less than four months I was off again, this time exploring the rest of Australia, and island hopping my way up to Hawaii. However, it was my experiences at that job that inspired my first story.”
A year later, Denham landed in Los Angeles with a more respectable job, and wrote more about her travel adventures, but only for herself. “I didn’t publish any of it,” she said.
During this time, Denham vacationed in the Pacific Northwest and declared that she would come back to live there someday. “After my mom’s death in nineteen eighty-one, I settled her estate and drove to Seattle. I’ve been here, more or less, ever since.”
During her exploratory period in Seattle, Denham was inspired by a conversation she shared with a UW student at a café on campus. Fueled by her passion to write, she entered the UW creative writing program, not knowing that it was the best in the nation. Denham said, “I picked it because it was geographically convenient.”
“The program requires each student to have a writing mentor, and my mentor was the scholar and award-winning author Charlie Johnson,” recalled Denham. Johnson is a local author who is well known for his essays, short stories and novels, such as “Dreamer” and “Middle Passages,” which he won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1991.
“Charlie said something to me that was very interesting,” said Denham. “I was applying for my masters when he asked me, ‘Do you want to teach or do you want to write?’ It was a watershed moment for me; I wanted to write more than teach, but I wanted to teach too.”
Denham did not finish her application process, and instead, years later, founded the First Hill Writers group. “The workshop allows it all. It’s a gain for everyone, I think. Teaching stimulates writers with writing and creativity. It gives me an opportunity to get in touch with certain aspects of my writing that may be problematic for me. It’s a wonderful outlet for helping others, and in the process, helping myself.”
Denham expressed that it is important that the workshops are successful. “The weekly workshops provide a congenial and constructive atmosphere where writers can write and participate openly and with confidence while stimulating creativity and improving their writing. The curriculum and exercises are similar to the New York Writers Workshop. The students give and receive feedback on each other’s work. When you are just writing, you are your own critic. You need the feedback of others to really shape good writing. There are certain standards students need to meet for good writing, and I want my students to meet them.”
Denham explained that she created her own exercises and instruction from her experiences in the University of Washington’s writing program. “The fundamental rules, principles and exercises are designed to encourage the stimulation of creativity. It has been successful right from the get-go! The writers who have attended have gotten so much from the instruction. In fact, one student who is my age has already written eight installments of her memoir.”
Workshops are held weekly and cost only $10, and there will be a free open house for interested writers from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, October 8, at St. James Cathedral. The glass door entrance is between 803 and 811 Terry Avenue, on the left side of the walkway between the two buildings. Look for the awning over the entrance and a sign on the door for the First Hill Writers. Cookies and coffee will be served. Even though drop-ins are welcome, please RSVP via 206-623-1353 or firstname.lastname@example.org