Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Background and Instructions for Writers

Our project's book title is:
Until They Have Faces: Boulder
Stories of Resilience, Recovery and Redemption

The goal of this photographic coffee-table book project is to
• create connection with and reinforce the humanity of the homeless
• spotlight what is going on at the intersection of their lives and the mainstream community
• be a fundraising source for Project Revive in its support for the homeless community.

We want the book to be highly relevant to our readers/audience and address the questions that mainstream folks may be uncomfortable asking but about which they are truly curious.

For example, in a social setting I was recently told by a couple of friends, “We don’t come in contact with the homeless. We live in Boulder.” Our goal is to help them SEE the intersections and understand what’s behind the faces.

In addition to writing about the homeless individuals, interviews will include people whose lives regularly cross those of the homeless; e.g. police, emergency workers, shelter workers, people who have overcome homelessness and others.

Every story will be accompanied by a professional portrait and will be 750-1000 words in length. We will arrange the meetings, and would like to have them take place at the same time as the portrait. Bear in mind that the homeless are a transient population and you may not be able to follow up after the initial interview. We’re requesting a 10-day turn-around for the final version from the author.

The writer’s job is to give voice to the subject, to help them communicate whatever message they feel the need to communicate. It may be about how they became homeless, how they view their life, the prejudice they encounter, etc. We want to avoid a book of just “how I became homeless”.

Some of the recommended questions for the interviews are:
• What do you want people to know about you?
• What are the best aspects of living on the street? Worst?
• What is your dream? What calls you?
• Looking back, what one thing would you choose to do differently?
• How do you view the “man on the street”? What do you think when someone doesn’t give you a handout?
• What holds you here?
• Was there a “switch point” in your life?
• What thought is at the top of your mind each morning? Evening?
• What do you see are your personal strengths? Weaknesses?
• What opportunities do you have?
• What threatens to sabotage you?
• What do you fear?

The writers should be aware and plan for negativity expressed during the interviews. This will be true for both the homeless and the people who work with the homeless. We don’t want to be Pollyannaish, we also don’t want to give voice to pent up vitriol or specific political positions. This is to be informative rather than persuasive.

Writers should also be aware that the version of reality they hear may not match other people’s versions. They need to explore to draw out as much of the facts as possible.

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