Libby Mislan enjoys getting to know her neighbors.
A performance poet and a resident of Norman Street in Ridgewood, Mislan sought out folks living on her block recently for a project called “Inside Norman Street,” which integrates dance, writing and storytelling.
“I’m very interested in neighborhoods and communities and how we build them ... it’s perplexing that we can live in these compact spaces and still remain strangers for years,” Mislan said.
The project incorporates the writing of a diverse group of 12 residents, who previously did not know one another. The group’s members represent homelands from Poland to Kyrgyzstan, and their ages range from 17 to 74.
They participated in eight creative writing workshops in October and November. Each session had a theme, which was usually a memoir, with attendees writing on topics from overcoming fears to sharing what they hold sacred.
The 10-week project comes together with a live performance at Outpost Artist Resources at 1665 Norman St. in Ridgewood on Friday, Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m. The suggested donation for the event is $5.
Additionally, professional street and stage dancers, led by dancer and choreographer Zoe Rappaport, will perform alongside the reading of the works, Mislan said.
The poet reached out by going door-to-door, leaving a box outside her residence for interested parties to drop their requests to join.
She said it was “extremely exciting” when the applications started to arrive.
“I’m a performance poet and a teaching artist, so this project is what I considered to be a marriage between my experience performing and my experience teaching poetry,” Mislan said.
One woman involved in the group is Marta Danielewicz, who teaches at a Polish school in Brooklyn. She said she built up her confidence through the experience.
“Every story was very personal,” Danielewicz said. “I wouldn’t share this story with anyone else, but the atmosphere she created in that project, the prompt she gave us, made us write really personal things.”
Her memoir ranged from a crush she had on a man on the train, to the more metaphorical way of taking a shower, washing away thoughts and feelings.
Another neighbor in the group involved is Anara Myrzaly, who is originally from Kyrgyzstan, but has lived in New York for 18 years and on Norman Street for the past eight.
This was her first time writing poetry in English, having previously been poetic in Russian. She wrote on the topic of time in her work, mentioning how she views it as infinite.
“It’s always right behind you,” Myrzaly said. “It’s always with you. You cannot see time, but you feel time. Everything that’s happening, everything that happened, is time.”
She mentioned how Mislan encouraged her to branch out by writing in English. In seeing others open up about their life experiences, she also found confidence in sharing her own stories, and in the end, found pride in herself, she said.
She said she has made longtime friends through the experience, and that she wants to see more projects like the one Mislan brought about come to the community.
A community arts grant from the Queens Council on the Arts made the project possible.
Each participant will receive a $100 stipend.
“It’s a really fascinating place to have done the project,” Mislan said.
In addition, the book of the writers’ works will be available for purchase at the event on Friday.
To learn more information, check out outpostartistsresources.org.