The Herald-Times

Beloved teacher advises students: Just keep writing

Writing class can be therapeutic for students

By Jessica Williams
331-4352 |

October 28, 2012

BLOOMINGTON — Memories echoed off the walls in a downstairs classroom of the downtown Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center as students shared their assignments in Ferne Stout’s “My Life Stories” writing workshop course earlier this month.

Stout has taught 12 writing classes in five years. The Nebraska native also has two published books about growing up in the 1920s and 30s in the Cornhusker State.

It’s not a genealogy course; it’s teaching how to write life stories, she said. She encourages her students to put family memories on paper for their families.

“What do you want your children to remember about you? Maybe your children are asking about grandma because the grandma or grandpa might be gone but they’ve heard a lot about them and they might want to know more about them,” Stout said. “So that’s what I’m encouraging them (the students) to do.”

And it doesn’t need to be perfect, Stout said; there are no writing rules, she stresses in her courses.

“You can’t follow rules when you’re writing memoirs,” she said.

One general class rule, however, is that students must share what they write.

Susie Graham, executive director for Ivy Tech’s Center of Lifelong Learning at the Waldron, said Stout’s classes are always filled to capacity.

“Ferne is a treasure trove for us,” Graham said in a recent email. “She’s a committed instructor and takes her role mentoring new writers very seriously.”

On an aggregate rating scale of instructor attributes, Stout scores highly among students.

“I have been wanting to learn how to write my life story for a couple of years, but no classes were available in my town,” one student evaluation read. “This class is the answer to my prayers.”

Some of Stout’s students have written of World War II memories and experiences. And sometimes her students are reminded of their own memories when hearing from their classmates.

“That’s what makes it so interesting,” Stout said of the varied personal histories.

It gets “very personal” in her classes, she said. If her students want to see it as therapeutic, it can be, Stout said. They’re encouraged to be natural, leaving in curse words and memories of abuse.

This fall, the class is all women. Overall, her students tend to be age 50-plus, but one student was in her early 90s.

“So you see, you’re never too old,” Stout said.

Her advice to her students is fundamental.

“Don’t quit writing,” she said.

Copyright: 2012

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.