The Documentary Studies program used interdisciplinary frameworks and multiple modes of storytelling to explore individual lives and diverse cultures in the past and present. In these classes, participants became writers and documentarians of their families, cultures, communities and workplaces.
Coursework explored documentary methods that included writing, photography, digital story, film, and audio-recording to support cultural inquiry, ethnography and creative expression. Participants also learned to navigate ethical concerns that came with telling community stories, including the exploration of race, class, ethnicity, gender and social justice issues.
While the Certificate in Documentary Studies is no longer offered, the Northwest Writing Institute offers several courses and workshops that invite students, teachers, counselors, and community members to document untold stories and explore new ways of understanding culture.
“Writing Culture” was a pillar of the Documentary Studies Certificate Program. In these imaginative writing courses, students wrote to discover their thinking, to shape their cultures, and to develop new ways to teach cross-cultural understanding. The idea of Writing Culture is a path into our hidden stories, a place to translate and interpret culture, and an opening to new voices.
The Writing Culture Summer Institute, directed by Joanne Mulcahy from 2002 through 2005, brought together poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, students, teachers, and workers from anthropology, psychology, social service, and related fields. Four workshops ran concurrently for a week. Participants attended short afternoon sessions in memoir, poetry, and other genres, offering a chance to explore a second area of interest. Faculty readings and other evening events rounded out the schedule.
Faculty included nationally and internationally recognized writers Judith Barrington, Marilyn Bowering, Ted Conover, Francisco Goldman, Philip Graham, Natalie Handal, Ruben Martinez, Luis Urrea, Wang Ping, and Evelyn White as well as ethnographers Alma Gottlieb, Kirin Narayan, and Paul Stoller. In 2006, the Institute shifted topics to local culture with “Let Us Now Praise Portland.”
NWI faculty Joanne Mulcahy and Kim Stafford worked with Portland State University faculty member Steve Johnson and writer Wendy Willis to shape a week of collecting and writing the stories of diverse Portlanders. Mulcahy, in collaboration with poet and translator Paul Merchant and writer Susan Fletcher, taught the 2007 Institute on literary and cultural translation, culminating in “The House of Translators,” a gathering of more than forty local translators.
Certain “Writing Culture” offerings are still offered by NWI during the fall and spring semesters.