Lit Counts: Discovering Passion and Family at Lighthouse

By Riley O'Connell

Lighthouse became my writing home in middle school, when my mom asked a Tattered Cover employee to recommend writing workshops for teens in the area. Although I’d been writing for years already, Lighthouse quickly became a space of complete free expression for me; a place to which I couldn’t wait to escape for workshops, where I was surrounded by equally enthusiastic and artistic peers—“my people,” as I referred to them to my parents after my first day of the Young Authors Collective (then called Teen Council) in high school.

The friendships I made at Lighthouse—with Aubin, Emma, Zoe, Abby, Maureen, and Sam—were and are completely irreplaceable. Knowing them gave me a writing family for the first time, one I had struggled to find before. Writing had always been a sort of therapy for me, but the relationships I built molded the hobby into a passion I could not wait to share and explore with others. Lighthouse gave me the confidence to share my thoughts and the assurance that other linked-minded were listening. From summer camps and In the Along to winning the California-wide Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize and interning in college, I never tired of making my voice heard inside and outside of the Lighthouse community.

I am a senior now at Santa Clara University majoring in English, with minors in communication and creative writing. I have plans of going into public relations and project management. My freshman year at SCU, I started the university’s first quarterly poetry slam and music open mic, the Bronco Slam&Jam. Inspired by my being a finalist to be Denver’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate in 2015, the Slam&Jam has now been hosted for over three years by Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, Mike McGee, and put on by my student club, the Slam Poets of SCU. Most proudly, I am Chief Editor of The Santa Clara Review, an international literary magazine established in 1869 run entirely by SCU undergraduates—a position which reminds me of Lighthouse because of the team of passionate, intelligent, and deeply empathetic peers with which I work and share in our love of the creative arts.

Alongside The Review, I also have a Canterbury Fellowship through the SCU Department of English teaching creative writing therapy at Stanford Children’s Health/Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Through this fellowship, I work directly with high school-age patients in the hospital school, Department of Palliative Care, and Healing HeARTS magazine. The latter gives students the opportunity to have their art and writing published. I have, since childhood, recognized the therepuetic role reading and writing can have, and this work allows me to actualize Lighthouse's mantra that "lit matters," for all ages, communities, and life circumstances.

I am forever grateful for the foundation that Lighthouse built for me. It gave me not only the desire but the confidence to pursue these opportunities to make a difference however I can with my passions. No matter how far removed in time I am from my years at Lighthouse, the people and the experiences will always be at the forefront of my mind and heart. Thank you.

Editor's Note: Lit Counts is an essay series in which readers and writers from our community express why they believe in supporting and elevating literary arts—the mission of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. The series will countdown toward Colorado Gives Day on December 4, the annual statewide fund drive for nonprofits. For 2018, Lighthouse has set a goal of $90,000, to support the continued growth of our literary programs. If you believe in the mission of Lighthouse, consider scheduling your contribution today

Riley O'Connell is a senior at Santa Clara University studying English, communication, and creative writing, and is as Chief Editor of The Santa Clara Review. A Littleton native, she spent six years writing at Lighthouse, and graduated from the Young Authors Collective in 2015.