OBITUARIES: Decatur | Shoals | Huntsville
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Boxcar Voices gives Shoals area avenue for self-expression
By Bobby Bozeman -
Alison Carter/TimesDaily
Laura Yes Yes, left, responds to Malisa McClure's, right, writing Thursday at the Stone Lodge for the Shadowboxers Anonymous Writing Workshop as Kim Johnson finishes up her poem. Yes Yes and Johnson directed the workshop.

When Chelsea Root walked into her first Boxcar Voices poetry reading, she felt immediately at home.

So at home, in fact, she did something out of character and read her work.

And Boxcar Voices, a poetry, spoken word and storytelling group founded by students at the University of North Alabama, has been giving both students and community members a place to express themselves in a different kind of way.

“You get bogged down with all this work, and this provides people a way they can express themselves, a place you can go with no judgement and say whatever you need to say, however you need to say it, and that’s OK,” said Root, a sophomore at UNA.

Root said students and members can relax and get whatever they need to out of the group.

“It started as a stem off of what were the old poetry slams that another poet used to do back in the day at Rivertown,” said Andy Thigpen, co-founder of Boxcar Voices. “They kind of died out when he went away.”

Thigpen said that he and co-founder Juliann Losey had a creative writing class together and decided to start a poetry group.

“The Shoals is known for its musical history and there is a lot of visual arts and culture like that, but there hasn’t been a lot of literary culture come out of here,” Thigpen said. “ ... We just wanted to start doing this group that gave students and the community an outlet for their writing and we’ve had some good success. We’re coming up on our second birthday and it has been a pretty cool experience.”

Thigpen, who is leaving to teach in China, is in the process of handing leadership of the group off to Root.

He said it’s important to hand off the group to a student to keep their student dynamic.

“It’s very welcoming,” Root said about the vibe she feels from the group.

“You’re sitting there and everyone is very involved in it and nobody is really judgmental about it. They’re all very respectful of each other’s writing,” she said. “It’s a very relaxed, at-home feeling.”

Boxcar Voices has conducted workshops with the help of the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library and other authors. They also have done writing and poetry interpretation workshops. “The events, they are all open mic so people just come and bring whatever they have to the table, so you always get this wide spectrum of stuff,” Thigpen said.

He added, “people just get up and read. It’s a pretty cool thing in a lot of ways.”

Other things Boxcar Voices is trying to do is bring in professional poets. They recently brought in poetry group Shadowboxers Anonymous to UNA with the help of other campus groups.

“That brings us a really cool outside prospective on what people see as a really dull art,” Thigpen said. “A lot of people don’t like poetry so it’s really cool when you can bring in people who make poetry exciting and are actually making a living doing poetry.”

Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or

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