If Voices of August were a child, she would be in kindergarten by now.
VOA, as this annual guest blog project is called, debuted on August 1, 2011, at a time when I was working at The Oregonian as a web editor focusing on community engagement. I had taught a couple of introductory communications classes (weekend mini-courses) at Portland State University that prompted me to start a personal blog and led to the subsequent birth of this project.
Fast forward to October 2016 and consider how things have changed or come full circle..
I’m no longer at The Oregonian, having accepted a buyout offer at the end of 2015.
I’m back at Portland State, this time teaching a full-fledged, upper-division class that meets twice a week.
Meanwhile, Voices of August just notched its sixth year. A week ago Saturday, about a dozen of us bloggers, along with spouses and other supporters, came together at a Northeast Portland brewpub to celebrate a remarkable collaboration: a month-long feast of writing, reading and reacting. (Yes, this is one place where you actually can read the comments and not have to take a shower afterwards.)
Click on images to view captions:
Each day, I post a guest blog that’s been written by a friend, neighbor, relative or former co-worker on a subject of their choice. Many of us are professional writers but most are not. And that’s the beauty of this thing. The variety of topics and writing styles flows from the fact that people write from the heart as much as their head, from their personal experiences and professional perspectives.
Since VOA began, about 70 people have participated as guest bloggers. Among them: teachers, professors, musicians, lawyers and documentary filmmakers. Contributions, totaling nearly 200, have come from several states and even a smattering of foreign countries: Vietnam, France, Slovenia, Poland and Texas. (Kidding. Just kidding.)
Looking back at my initial entry on 8/1/11, I launched VOA with three reasons in mind.
- I expected it would be fun. Boy, has it.
- I thought it could be a teaching tool. Indeed, I’ve learned much about online communication that I’ve applied to my work and social media.
- I knew it would bring more diversity to the site. Duh. When you invite people of different ages, races and ethnicities, people who represent different generations, bring varied life experiences and a constellation of passions, well, you wind up with something pretty special.
VOA is like opening a new gift every day. You never know if you’ll read something light or heavy, funny or sad, something universal or deeply personal — but you know it’ll engage you. This year, people wrote about their mothers and their cats, about politics and immigration, about love and loss, about pregnancy and a years-ago fishing trip gone bad.
Call me biased, but I think this year’s batch was the best ever. (I know, I know. I said that last year too.)
At month’s end, bloggers and regular readers cast votes for three favorite pieces — whatever resonated with them for whatever reason — and five were judged the most popular. In no particular order, they are:
“The memory keeper” by Gosia Wozniacka, writing from Poland.
“Rhubarb summer” by Jennifer Brennock, writing from Orcas Island, Washington.
“Night on the Kahawai” by Tim Akimoff, writing from Salem, Oregon.
“American internship in the shadow of Yellowstone” by Aki Mori, of the Portland area, and “My visit to Heart Mountain” by his 12-year-old daughter, Midori Mori. Both reflected on their family’s summer visit to two historical sites in Idaho and Wyoming where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II.
A tip of the cap also goes to first-time VOA bloggers Anne Saker, Elizabeth Lee, Sue Wilcox, John Killen, Michelle Love, Maisha Maurant and Gosia Wozniacka.
Final word: Last weekend’s gathering at McMenamin’s on Broadway meant renewing friendships and making new ones between sips and bites and much goodwill. It was great seeing friends from Washington, Oregon and California.
For me, though, the best takeaway from VOA 6.0 was the thank-you note I received from Midori the day after our gathering. In it, she said she had always imagined that the only way to innovate for future generations was as a top government official such as senator or president.
“But the fact that I was given much positive acclaim in my essay moved me to a new perspective I have never once perceived,” Midori wrote. “It was the fact that such a small action, as to writing a blog entry, had moved and altered many people and their way of thinking. I, only being 12, have much to discover in this universe. However, I am grateful to know that my writing was just the beginning.”
If you missed Midori’s piece or want to re-read it or any of the others published this year, visit the VOA 6.0 index page.