Makah poet headed to Florence, Italy, in spring thanks to donations
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Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News
Makah poet John Pritchard III is headed for Florence, Italy, this spring after raising the money for his trip.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — He made it.

John Pritchard III, Makah slam poet from Neah Bay, began an unusual journey last year when he applied for the American Institute for Foreign Study's program in Florence, Italy.

The Peninsula College student dreamed of traveling to the birthplace of the Renaissance to spend the spring academic quarter learning about art, culture and history.

Pritchard, 23, is the only tribal member who Peninsula College study-abroad coordinator Val Conroy has seen try for this or any foreign exchange program.

Needed $10,000

He was accepted — but not funded. Pritchard needed to raise at least $10,000 to pay for tuition, airfare, food and lodging in Florence.

A payment of $8,319 was due Thursday, and that was just for the program costs.

In late 2014, Pritchard received a $344 grant from the Bill Hennessey Native Bridges Fund, established in honor of the late Dr. Bill Hennessey of Port Angeles and administered by the Peninsula College Foundation.

He used the money to publish a slim volume of his poetry, WOLF: We Only Love Freedom, as a fundraiser. He gave a reading Dec. 29 and began selling the books and gathering donations but by last week had reached only the halfway mark toward the sum needed.

But the word got out — and spread, from the college in Port Angeles out to Neah Bay. As of Thursday, more than $12,000 in donations had come in from donors across the North Olympic Peninsula, said Jennifer Santry of the Peninsula College Foundation.

Santry has been part of big fundraising campaigns before, but she's never seen anything like this, an effort “so grass-roots, so community-driven,” she said.

One anonymous donor gave $5,000; several others wrote checks for $100 to $500.

“People came to our office or they called” to make credit-card donations, added Santry.

In Neah Bay, a GoFundMe campaign brought in another $500. Pritchard's books sold out — 150 copies.

On Tuesday night, Pritchard gave a poetry reading ญญญ— a recitation, really, as he knows the verse by heart — and received still more support from about 50 people in attendance.

“I'm still in disbelief a little bit,” Pritchard said after learning he'd met the goal.

Racing heart

“My heart has been racing all night and day. I just feel joyous . . . proud to be where I'm from. Knowing that we have supporting communities is amazing,” he said.

“I know I'll work hard because a lot of people are looking up to me to succeed now.”

To celebrate, Pritchard put on his favorite music: Sam Cooke, especially “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and James Brown's “Try Me.”

He'll depart for Italy on April 2 and stay till early June. Meanwhile, he's got plenty of schoolwork till the end of winter quarter and more money to raise for excursions outside Florence.

Kate Reavey, a Peninsula College English professor who taught in Florence in 2010, plans to connect Pritchard with her friend, the Italian poet Giusseppe Moretti.

Another printing of WOLF will be done, Reavey added, while Pritchard plans poetry readings in Port Townsend and, of course, Neah Bay, where the people he grew up with have cheered him on.

“I want to give back to them,” Pritchard said.

Come April, the poet will set up a new Facebook page “so people could follow me,” he said, “and I'll be able to showcase Italy to all the supporters.”

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 05. 2015 5:36PM
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