Teaching with Cow Tipping Press

Sarah Richman ‘16

In an odd and lovely turn of events, I’m ending college as a teacher. More specifically, I’m ending college as an instructor with Cow Tipping Press, teaching a creative writing class for adults with developmental disabilities.

At Macalester, we often talk and write about diversity, inclusivity, and identity politics. However, too few of our conversations include or acknowledge people with developmental or other kinds of disabilities. That’s a problem, both on and off campus—in our media, in our culture, and even for us English majors, in our areas of work and study.

Writing is supposed to be a form of expression, but all voices are still not being heard. People with developmental disabilities are often spoken for or about. Cow Tipping Press works to change that by creating a space for people with developmental disabilities to share their creative voices and speak for themselves. Cow Tipping Press is a place for celebrating stories from all kinds of minds, not just neurotypical ones.

“The spark for Cow Tipping Press came from my brother,” says Cow Tipping Press founder Bryan Boyce. “He does a lot of humorous and imaginative free association, but spends most of his day doing assembly line work in a sheltered workshop exclusively alongside others with disabilities. I’ve learned and grown and developed such a nuanced worldview from exchange with him; it’s a loss to our whole society when most of us don’t get that kind of opportunity.”

Seeing the lack of interactive and creative opportunity, Boyce decided to make one. “Creative writing is a uniquely apt gateway for building more of that kind of exchange, because it often showcases the distinct, diverse assets of people with developmental disabilities. It also has this radical self representative character to it— many readers don’t credit this population with narrative capabilities in the first place.”

My training was thoughtful and comprehensive, but nothing could have prepared me for how wonderful the experience was. My students were inventive, funny, warm, and endless sources of fresh perspectives on the literary conventions I brought in to class each week. The small class size meant that I could get to know my students and personalize the lesson plans to them and to their interests. One student liked stories about football and family and another was interested in animals, for example, so I tried to bring in readings that related to those topics.

The class ran for five weeks. My students and I focused on a different form of writing each week, starting with creative nonfiction and following with fiction, poetry, and journalism before wrapping up with freewriting. I provided readings and writing prompts, but the creativity and writing was all theirs.

I helped to transcribe their work, making sure to read it all back to confirm that it was exactly what they wanted to say. “Only exact words,” as Boyce often said. Artistic integrity is always important, but it is especially important when people doubt the creative capabilities of the artist. Transcribing only their exact words honors the voices and creativity of Cow Tipping Press writers, and also ensures the perceived credibility of their work.

I loved seeing my students’ confidence grow from week to week. “I do good work,” said a student. “This is a nice class… a good class. I want to come back.”

We wrapped up our class with a community reading event on the snowy evening of Wednesday, March 23rd. Sencha Tea Bar on Grand Avenue hosted a gathering of Cow Tipping Press authors, teachers, support staff, friends, and family. The authors shared their work, published in two books entitled If You Believe in a Tiger and Landing in a Field of Flowers.

For the writing that I had not read yet, it was a joy to match the poetry and prose to the people behind them. Happiness emanated from behind the microphone as well. These talented authors had their voices heard, loved, and appreciated.

“I like writing stories. I’m going to miss the class,” said one of my students. “I hope I come back again. I had a good time. This is the best time I ever had.”

I certainly agree.

You can support Cow Tipping Press by donating or by taking or teaching a future class. To learn more about advocacy and integration for and by people with disabilities, check out the resources section of the Cow Tipping Press website. Best of all, you can get to know your peers with developmental disabilities. You’ll be glad that you did.