The Teen Appeal

Giving truth to Memphis youth

Poet lights spark in young Memphis writers

By Kira Tucker (Central High School)

Award-winning poet, teacher and literary activist Heather Dobbins is inspiring youth in the local community to “find their best” while making discoveries about themselves and the world around them through words.

Dobbins, a native Memphian, does not boast an affluent upbringing but said that growing up she was “wealthy in imagination.”  Between reading flash cards, polishing her skills as a young flutist, and being noticed for her creative writing in school, Dobbins began to develop a passion for knowledge and artistic expression at an early age.  

After studying both locally and internationally and seeing her work published in numerous journals, anthologies and her premier book of poetry, In the Low Houses, these passions still remain an essential part of her work in the Memphis community.

Dobbins believes in the power of the educator.

“Your first teachers are your parents,” she said.  As a teacher herself, she appreciates the insight that working with young people offers into her own craft.

“I’m always a student,” Dobbins noted..

In her classes, students are required to not only push themselves and their peers to learn and grow; they also encourage their teacher to develop artistically as well.

“Teenagers are so open to change,” she said.  “I always feel like I’m learning with my students.”

One powerful result of sharing her wisdom with young minds, Dobbins noted, is her ability to work alongside her students.

“If I ask you to do it I have to do it too.  There is something magical that happens when creative people are sitting together and working together in silence.”

Her program ‘River City Scribes’ hosts both week-long summer writing camps and Saturday sessions throughout the school year, held at St. John’s United Methodist Church.  In interactive creative writing workshops, Dobbins presents students with original prompts and exercises in exploring the techniques of modern poetry and short fiction.  River City Scribes provides middle- and high school students with a unique learning environment and “safe space” for sharing ideas and constructive feedback, strengthened by essential encouragement and support.

Central High School junior Elise Seinard said, “I have been coming to River City Scribes for three years now and I love it.  I greatly look forward to coming, meeting other writers, and creating new works. I always feel renewed in my passion for writing after spending the week at River City Scribes with Ms. Dobbins.  She devotes herself to her students and writing, and I am so grateful to have worked with her.”

Young writers learn to develop their skills both on paper and on stage with public readings and group discussion of their work.  The experience also stretches beyond the classroom, as Dobbins provides scribes with personal journals for detailing everyday encounters, recording quotes, brainstorming, and individual artistic pursuit.

White Station High School junior Emily Burkhead feels she has benefitted from her participation in the workshops.

“It was very productive, because with the low student-to-teacher ratio, I was easily able to get helpful feedback on all sorts of aspects of my writing that I would never even think to consider.  It’s also great because you learn from each other’s writing, and you get inspired,” she said.

Dobbins’s innovative workshops, alight with fresh flowing ideas, impel learners to carry their skills beyond the formal academic frontier and approach other avenues of writing with a new perspective.  Many of her talented pupils have gone on to win writing contests and publish their works in numerous student literary journals and magazines.

Dobbins praised the creative process for its transformative abilities.

“It’s no longer about the creator; It’s about what is created,” she remarked.  “Once words are on paper, like paint released from tubes onto a canvas, the creation is freed from the inhibition of the mind, no longer within the boundary of the body.”

Dobbins urged students who experience an artistic beckoning to tune in to their inner artist and begin to unlock their creative potential as early as possible.

Visit for more information on the River City Scribes workshops. 


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