Ore. college opens first community college writing residency in U.S.

W. Vandoren Wheeler, composition and literature instructor at Portland Community College (Oregon), polishes a table in the Carolyn Moore Writers House. (Photo: Justin Rigamonti)

A first-of-its-kind program opened this fall at Oregon’s Portland Community College (PCC).

The Carolyn Moore Writing Residency is the first and only writing residency that is hosted by a community college in the United States. Located in Tigard near PCC’s Sylvania Campus, the residency program offers emerging writers time to focus on developing a written work while also providing students the opportunity to meet and interact with talented writers from across the country.

Established and emerging writers of all genres will be offered variable-length stays (typically three to eight weeks) at the house to complete their projects. Writers will have the opportunity to visit a class or two per stay, as well as give a reading to the PCC community. In addition, there are plans to integrate the recently launched PCC Writer/Artist-in-Residency Program for college faculty with the Carolyn Moore Writers House programming.

“This residency is completely unique,” said Justin Rigamonti, who serves as the house’s coordinator and is a writing instructor at the Cascade Campus. “Usually programs like these only exist at elite universities.

“This will be a game-changer for our vibrant creative writing program, which is full of highly-skilled and innovative writers who often lack resources and connections to the larger literary community,” he continued. “This will change that.”

Since PCC is in a “sustained reopening” phase, all class visits will be virtual during the pandemic. Students and faculty will not be invited onsite for the fall and winter terms, except for the invited writers-in-residence, who will virtually visit one to two classes per visit, as well as provide a reading for the entire PCC community. Rigamonti hopes to hold a launch event in the spring of 2022 for students and staff at the house once college operations are back to normal.

Ready for the writers

In 2020, the 2,500-square-foot residency was gifted by the estate of award-winning poet and educator Carolyn Moore to the PCC Foundation and the college’s Humanities and Arts Council. The house features two wings and each has a bedroom, a living space and a kitchen. There is also a large octagonal great room, all wood, in which small groups of students will gather to speak with visiting writers post-pandemic.

“Moore’s interdisciplinary legacy as a creative writing, literature and critical-thinking instructor with an interest in science, along with her passion for social and environmental justice, are in keeping with PCC’s own focus on creativity, equity and sustainability,” Rigamonti said.

This fall, programming begins with the first cohort of writing residents — National Book Award winner Justin Phillip Reed and poet Taylor Johnson, winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award and the 2021 Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging Writers from Lambda Literary, as well as a Lambda Literary Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. In January, current Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani will have a short stay at the house.

Rigamonti runs the residency’s operations, selecting visiting writers, making improvements to the house and supervising the PCC Press, which will release Carolyn Moore’s collected works, “The Great Uncluttering,” in spring. He has taught creative writing and publishing courses at PCC for the past decade.

Rigamonti is also assisted by the Humanities and Arts Council Carolyn Moore Writing Residency Steering Committee members.

“Nothing like this has been done at PCC, so we’re working together to carve out a new reality here,” he said.

Construction on the house finished up on October 1, followed by the Humanities and Arts Council members hanging artwork around the house — all created by PCC faculty.

“This is an incredible development at PCC and not just in terms of the size of the gift, but also in terms of the opportunity it presents for students,” said Andrew Cohen, chair of the council and English instructor at PCC. “Opportunities that community college students typically don’t have access to.”

About the Author

James Hill
is public relations manager at Portland Community College in Oregon.