Abigail Drozek-Fitzwater studied Creative Writing and Latin at Ohio University. After working with an after-school writing program in Jackson, MS, she discovered the joy of leading children to discover their own creative outlets. This is her second year as a WITS writer.
Adrienne Perry grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the daughter of a rolling stone from Southern California and a mother whose family homesteaded outside of Gillette, Wyoming. Adrienne earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College, serves as the current editor of Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts, and is a Kimbilio Fellow at the University of Houston. Adrienne is currently at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. An excerpt of her story “Red Desert” was translated by Jean Guiloineau and appears in the French literary journal Siècle 21. An excerpt of her forthcoming novel is forthcoming from Tidal Basin Review.
Amir Safi is a graduate of Texas A&M University. While in school, he co-founded the poetry nonprofit Mic Check and the Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival. Amir is the founder of Write About Now Poetry, a weekly poetry slam and open-mic event. He is the 2013 Southern Fried Poetry Slam Champion, a 2013 National Poetry Slam semi-finalist, and a featured artist on Upworthy.
Andrew Karnavas is a fiction writer, songwriter, and freelance copywriter. He earned a B.A. in English and the Edith Garber Krotinger Prize in Fiction from Case Western Reserve University. Andrew has also written and produced six albums under his own record label, YAWP Records, and created the children’s music project AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse. AndyRoo has been featured nationwide, including the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. In 2015, Andrew released Color Your World with AndyRoo and the AndyRooniverse, his first children’s book and coloring app.
Angélica Hernández-Viera earned her B.A. in Spanish Modern Languages and Literature in Monterrey, México, and her Masters in Education from Sam Houston State University in 2013. Angélica, who joined WITS in 2013, is a bilingual teacher with 8 years of public school experience, teaching such courses as Latin American literature and English as a Second Language to high school students. Her poems, interviews, and short stories have appeared in various newspapers and university publications.
Anna Meriano graduated from Rice University with a B.A. in English and earned her MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Writing for Children from the New School in New York. Her work has appeared in The Rice Review, where it was awarded the George Williams Prize for Fiction. A certified teacher, Anna has been a teacher, mentor, and tutor for students of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.
Elizabeth Lyons holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston, where she served as a teaching fellow and senior nonfiction editor for Gulf Coast. Her first book, The Blessing of Dark Water, is forthcoming from Alice James Books.A recipient of fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and I-Park, she holds an MFA from Purdue University and a BA in English from the College of Charleston. She has worked with Writers in the Schools since 2011.
Brandie Minchew holds a B.A. in English Literature and an M.A. in Digital Media Studies. She specializes in fine art photography, and her wide range of professional interests includes magical realism and interactive and speculative fiction. A published fiction writer and poet, she has also had articles regarding alternate reality games and interactive fiction featured at ARGN.com and syndicated to Wired Decode. Her other interests include astronomy and physics, language/culture studies, popular culture, and technology.
Cait Weiss is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Poetry at the University of Houston. She earned an M.F.A in Poetry with a focus in Global Health from Ohio State University, and was a founder of The Writers’ Guild’s Community Creative Writing Workshops throughout public schools in Columbus, Ohio. She has been published in Field, Tupelo Quarterly, the Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere.
Cameron Dezen Hammon is a writer, singer, and songwriter from New York City who has made her home in Houston for more than a decade. Her essays and poems have appeared in NYLON Magazine, Gigantic Sequins, Columbia Poetry Review, Role/ Reboot, LOCAL Houston, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is at work on a memoir in essays and fragments about spiritual culture shock.
Carina Christensen is an artist and educator from Rosario, Argentina. She has a wealth of experience teaching art, writing, yoga, Spanish, and swimming. Because her interests are so diverse, she particularly enjoys working in a multi-disciplinary setting. Carina has exhibited her paintings at MECA’s “Mujeres Latinoamericanas” Art Festival. She joined WITS in 2003 and lives with her husband and two sons.
Artist and elementary school teacher Carmen Erna Jacobsen began her career in Mexico City, where she taught English as a second language at a private school while paying her way through medical school. She has published two collections of poetry: Saudade and Men of Fish, a collaborative project with an Alaskan photographer. She has been a featured poet at the Barnes and Noble Poetry Reading Series, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, and elsewhere. Her articles have appeared in the RICE University educational program blog, REEP. Carmen also created Aztlan, a small Ballet Folklorico group that combines the rhythm of poetry with the beat of Mexican “zapateado.” Carmen lives in Houston and is going into her tenth year with WITS. She believes every student carries a story waiting for its turn to be discovered.
Carolyn Bolton earned her M.S. in early childhood education from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. While pursuing her graduate degree, she combined her entrepreneurial spirit with her love of literature and opened a children’s bookstore in 2002. After a successful run, Carolyn sold her business to focus on her family, her writing, and her graduate degree. She joined WITS in 2006 to have the opportunity to share the excitement of reading and writing with children. She is currently working on her first novel and lives in La Porte with her husband of 18 years and their five children.
Chris Cander is an award-winning author of novels, children’s books, screenplays, and more. Her children’s picture book, The Word Burglar, encourages young readers to acquire rich vocabularies and develop a love of reading. Her debut novel, 11 Stories, was included in Kirkus’s Best Indie General Fiction of 2013, and her most recent novel, Whisper Hollow, was released in March 2015 by Other Press. Her animated feature film, Germs!, is currently in pre-production. A former fitness competitor and model, she currently holds a 2nd dan in taekwondo and teaches Krav Maga-based self-defense workshops for women. This is her fourth year at Writers in the Schools.
Christopher Diaz is a Chamorro poet, freelance photographer, and U.S. military veteran. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 2009 where he received a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. While at A&M he served as co-president of Mic Check Poetry and during his military career founded a weekly open-mic night on a Honduran military base. After serving for six years as a U.S. Air Force Public Affairs officer, he hung up the uniform at the rank of Captain to pursue his love for poetry and photography. He recently represented Houston at the National Poetry Slam competition after qualifying for the 2016 Write About Now (WAN) Slam Poetry Team. He currently serves on WAN’s staff as a resident poet, photographer and video producer. His greatest writing accomplishment was in the fourth grade when his poem was published in his school district’s annual art anthology. Ever since then he has been in love with poetry and the power of words.
Christian Bancroft’s poetry, translations, and criticism have appeared in Callaloo, Borderlands, Cellpoems, Wolf, Asymptote, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Michener Fellowship and an honorarium from the University of Notre Dame for his poetry translations. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Literature at the University of Houston.
Claire Solak is from New York by way of Denver. She currently teaches Middle School English at a small private school in Houston. Though she is excited about having her own classroom, WITS is her first teaching home and she loves being able to help kids find their voices.
Clint Wilson III is a native West Virginian, having come to Houston by way of North Carolina, Scotland, and Philadelphia. He is currently a Ph.D. student studying literature and environmental criticism at Rice University. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh and an M.A. in literature from West Virginia University, where he also served as Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal Cheat River Review. His fiction, poetry, and essays have been published by Whisperings Magazine, Poetry Bus, Crack the Spine, Curator Magazine, among others.
Coreen Samuel is a graduate of the University of Houston, where she was trained as a literacy coach at the Harris County Department of Education. Coreen has over 30 years of experience working with youth, and currently coaches at the University of Houston Charter School. Over the years, she has continued her work with early childhood programs, including the Rice University Cultural and Literacy Project. During the summer, she assumes the role of Director and Founder of Young Writers Inc., a writing camp that uses the culture of Virgin Islands to promote and enrich literacy for island youths.
Dana Kroos earned her MFA in Fiction writing from New Mexico State University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Glimmer Train, The Florida Review, The Adirondack Review, The Superstition Review, Minnesota Monthly and elsewhere. She also holds an MFA in Ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design and an M.A. in Fine Art from Purdue University. Dana frequently uses visual arts in collaboration with her own writing and teaching. She has taught pre-school to adult students in the US and abroad, including three years at a charter arts high school in Las Cruces, NM. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student in creative writing at the University of Houston. This is her second year with WITS.
Deborah Frontiera grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and has lived in Houston since 1985. She taught pre-K-5 science in HISD for over twenty years and was part of the Project A.C.C.E.S.S. curriculum writing project. Deborah has held workshops for teachers and writers, and has published eight books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and writing for children. Deborah has been a WITS writer since 2008.
Dede Fox attended the University of the Americas in Mexico City and graduated with a BA in English from Washington University in St. Louis. She earned an M Ed in Supervision from SFASU. A former public school teacher and librarian, Dede is the Artist in Residence at the Bryan Federal Prison Camp for Women. She is very proud of her three school years and two summers with WITS. Her writing credits include The Treasure in the Tiny Blue Tin, a children’s novel, multiple nonfiction articles for Highlights Magazine, and two poetry books–Confessions of a Jewish Texan and Postcards Home. Her most recent manuscript is a YA novel in verse.
Dinorah Pérez-Rementería received a B.A. in Theater from the Higher Institute of Arts in Havana, Cuba, and an M.A. in Latin American studies from the University of Miami. As a teacher, she often considers how ethics and aesthetics can have a positive impact on youth education. Her articles have appeared in such magazines as Art Nexus, Arte al Día International, ArtPulse, and others. This will be her sixth year with WITS.
Dottie Price was fortunate to have teachers from her youngest years who encouraged her love of writing. During thirty-one years as a classroom teacher and literacy coach she has aimed to pass on that gift, inspired by training in the classroom storytelling project, writers workshop, and writing groups for teachers. Dottie created the Elders Songwriting Project, a 20- year collaboration between elementary school students and retirement home residents in which students have written 246 tribute songs for Elder interviewees. She enjoys writing songs as well as articles that share stories and ideas from classrooms and beyond them. Dottie is fascinated with the ways that developing the skills and habits of writing empowers people to realize and organize their thoughts and feelings and to communicate them with each other and the world.
Elizabeth A. M. Keel is a native Houstonian and the author of Running Into Trouble and Life After Myth. She attended the Iowa Young Writers Studio and earned her B.A. from the University of Houston, where she studied under Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, and Mark Medoff. Her plays have been produced by UH, the Phoenix Theatre, This Is Water Theatre, the Nova Arts Project, Scriptwriters/Houston, Bootown, Mildred’s Umbrella, Fresh Produce’d (NYC) and 14 Pews. She has also served as an Artist in Residence for 14 Pews and is currently a teaching artist for the Alley Theatre and Stages Repertory Theatre, helping local teens write and produce short plays. This is her fourth year with WITS.
Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean was ranked 9th in the Individual World Poetry Slam in 2012 and appeared at TEDxHouston in 2013. His one-man show “Converse” went to Theatre Row in New York City in November 2013, as part of the United Solo Theatre Festival. Bean coaches the WITS youth poetry program, Meta-Four Houston. He recently co-authored a peer-reviewed article on performance poetry in Children at Risk’s Journal of Applied Research on Children. Bean has taught with WITS since 2010.
Emilie Koenig received her M.A. in English Literature and Graduate Certification in African American Studies from the University of Houston, where she is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. At UH, she teaches the “Creation and Performance of Literature” and a hip-hop themed composition course. Emilie has presented her research on hip hop literacies and African-American rhetoric at the National Council of Black Studies and the Rhetoric Society of America. She is a participant in the #HipHopEd collective and the Houston ambassador for Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S.—an urban science initiative created and run by GZA/the Genius, Dr. Christopher Emdin of Columbia University, and Rap Genius. Emilie is also a sought-after choreographer and the director of the annual Space City Tap Fest.
Emily Bludworth de Barrios is the author of Splendor, a book of poems from H_NGM_N Books, and Extraordinary Power, a chapbook from Factory Hollow Press. Her poems have most recently appeared in Sixth Finch, Jellyfish, The Nervous Breakdown, and New Delta Review. She received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and also holds degrees from The College of William and Mary and Goldsmiths College. Find Emily online at emilybludworthdebarrios.tumblr.com.
Erika Jo Brown is from New York. Her debut poetry collection, I’m Your Huckleberry, was released by Brooklyn Arts Press in 2014. Her chapbook, What a Lark!, was published by Further Adventures Press in 2011. She graduated from Cornell University and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston, where she is a poetry editor at Gulf Coast.
Fern Brady is the CEO of Inklings Publishing and the Houston Writers Guild, a local nonprofit. A former foreign correspondent for the Mexico City Daily Bulletin, Fern taught for 15 years in Alief ISD and is now a full-time realtor. Her children’s book, The Smiley Face Blatoon, won 1st place in the Texas Author’s Association’s Contest for Best Picture Book for All Ages. Her short story, Todd, won 1st place in Sci-Fi with the Texas Author’s Association and is now featured in their compilation of stories by Texas authors. She has published several short stories in various anthologies, and served as co-editor of Spider Road Press’s anthology, Eve’s Requiem.
Florence Miyamoto is a wife, mother, retired teacher, and writer. A graduate of Fresno State College with a B.A. in Social Science, she later received Texas Lifetime Certification in Elementary Education (EC-8), Early Childhood Education, and English as a Second Language (ESL). Reading Recovery-trained through the University of Houston-Clear Lake, most of her teaching experience has been with the young, struggling reader and writer, working as an Intervention Specialist in Humble ISD and Spring Branch ISD. Florence is the author of Easy-to-Make Books That Target Specific Reading Needs (Pre-Kindergarten-1st Grade) published by Scholastic. She joined WITS in the fall of 2012.
Gigi Airheart has taken part in the summer Creative Writing Camp for the last six years. She always looks forward to this camp as part of her own vacation. She says, “I enjoy finding avenues for students to express themselves through visual arts and the written word. Facilitating a means of connecting with a student’s own ideas, feelings, and imagination by playing with words and art is exciting. We learn much from one another as we share an environment Where Words Fly!” With a Bachelor of Science in Education degree from Baylor University and a Master of Education in Counseling degree from the University of Houston-Victoria, Gigi currently teaches Foundations of College Success at San Jacinto College South. In her spare time, she paints, draws, and writes poetry.
Gloria Alvarez is a novelist and freelance writer. She has worked with WITS for 13 years and is a member of the Authors Guild and Novelists, Inc. Gloria holds a B.S. in Spanish from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Linguistics from the Ohio State University. Her novel Desert Kiss won a Latino Literary Hall of Fame award. In her spare time, she enjoys pottery, knitting, scuba diving, and travel. She lives in Houston with her husband.
Gretchen Cion received her M.A. in Education from Hunter College in New York City. While teaching in NYC, she was involved with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which ignited her love for creative writing. Thanks to her profession as an educator and literacy specialist, she has written countless stories to help teach the craft of writing. Currently, she is working on a screenplay and picture book collaboration with her artist husband. When she is not immersed in writing, she can be found fort building with her two young boys or seeking serenity with knitting needles in hand.
Harriet Riley is a freelance writer focusing on creative nonfiction. She has had four articles published in Teachers & Writers Magazine in the last few years. Harriet recently had a personal essay in Mississippi Magazine and had a piece selected for publication with Telling Our Stories Press. Before moving to Houston in 2007, she taught undergraduate writing classes at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. She has also worked as a non-profit director, hospital marketing director, and newspaper reporter. She has her M.A. in Print Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and her B.A. in English and Journalism from the University of Mississippi. She joined Writers in the Schools in 2008.
Jacqueline Del Villar is a former National Hispanic Scholar and a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso with a B.A. in English and Secondary Education. As a native of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, her bi-cultural identity is her foremost conflict and strength. After hearing the slam poet Anis Mojgani recite his poem Shake the Dust in a dusty El Paso café, she decided to begin teaching, hoping to use literature and poetry as a means for young students like herself to explore and embrace their own bi-cultural duality. She is currently in her fourth year teaching Academic and Pre-AP English for Spring Branch ISD, where she also presents workshops to teachers in order to help them embrace social media and technology as a pedagogical tool in their classrooms. This is her first year as a teacher for WITS.
James Hershberger is an award-winning writer, comedian, musician, slam poet, and actor. He graduated with honors from Texas Tech University with degrees in Creative Writing and Political Science. He has performed live all over the U.S. as well as in Europe and Asia. In 2013, he was a member of the Houston V.I.P. Slam Team, winning 2nd place in Group Piece Finals at the National Poetry Slam in Boston. James is a volunteer teacher of a weekly creative writing workshop for the homeless.
Jann Jackson is a writer and artist whose teaching career began in New York City, where she combined her love of the arts with children’s theatre and playwriting. A native Houstonian, she returned to teach at Mark Twain Elementary where she specialized in the school’s magnet program, the Literary Development Center. She has participated in many Summer Creative Workshops through the WITS program.
Jasminne Mendez is an award-winning author, performance poet, and educator. She received her B.A. in English Literature and her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. Mendez has performed her poetry in venues all around Houston, including Rice University, the Alley Theatre, the Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Houston, and Barnes & Noble. She has shared the stage with respected writers and poets such as Sandra Cisneros and Taylor Mali. Mendez has been published both nationally and internationally. Her multi-genre memoir Island of Dreams was published by Floricanto Press and was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015.
Jonathan Meyer was born in Texas. In addition to writing and teaching, he has spent time as a bookseller, journalist, rock musician, and oilfield worker. In 2009, he earned a BFA from Emerson College in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston, where he is an Assistant Editor at Gulf Coast. His work has appeared in Gauge, The Emerson Review, Microchondria, and The Boston Phoenix. He is at work on a novel-in-stories set around the Texas oil industry.
Josh Inocéncio is a playwright and performer who focuses on queer and indigenous reclamations within Latina/o and Euro-American cultures. After graduating with his Bachelor’s at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi in 2012, he pursued and completed his Master’s degree in Theatre Studies at The Florida State University. While writing and defending his Master’s thesis on cultural memory, Josh independently wrote, performed in, and produced his solo play, Purple Eyes. Now that he’s returned to Houston, Josh is touring Purple Eyes across Texas to theatres, cultural centers, and universities. He has since performed at ProyectoTeatro in Austin, at Fresh Arts and the University of Houston in Houston, and at South Texas College in a partnership with UT-RGV in McAllen. Alongside his playwriting endeavors, Josh is a Teaching Artist at The Alley Theatre, a creative writing teacher at W.I.T.S., and he writes on culture and politics for Houston’s LGBT publication OutSmart Magazine.
Joshua Nguyen is an alumnus of the Meta-Four Houston Youth Slam Team (2008-2012) and competed in the international youth slam, Brave New Voices. An alumnus of UT Austin, Joshua was a member of their Spitshine slam team (2014-2016), where he served as co-president and led weekly writing workshops for the public. He placed #1 in the nation in 2014, won ‘Best Writing as a Team’ in 2015, and was the 2015 CUPSI Haiku Champ. Joshua also participated in the Word Around Town Poetry Tour (WAT) in Houston. In 2016, he traveled to Washington D.C. as a member of Future Corp to organize the Brave New Voices International Poetry Festival. Joshua was a judge for the 2016 Houston Youth Poet Laureate, and has been published in Freezeray Poetry and Button Poetry. His work was nominated for ‘Best of the Net’ in 2016.
Joshua Foster holds MFAs in Fiction and Nonfiction from the University of Arizona, and is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Houston. He is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University and a grant from the Idaho Commission on the Arts. His essay, “Bring on the Spins” (Tin House #62) was listed as a Notable Work in Best American Essays 2015, and his work has appeared in Fugue, South Loop Review, Hawk & Handsaw, and elsewhere. Josh is an editor for Gulf Coast, TheDiagram.com, and Terrain.org. He draws much of his material from life in rural southeastern Idaho, where he worked as a laborer many years on his family’s farm and ranch.
Native South Carolinian, Julie Poppell spent seven years as a zookeeper prior to completing a B.A. in Environmental Studies with a minor in Anthropology at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She then worked as an archaeologist all over the southeastern United States before returning to Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia, where she received an M.A.T. in Early Childhood Education. Julie taught second grade in Georgia for four years before moving to Houston. She has also worked at a camp in South Carolina with adolescents and at a Montessori school in Houston with preschoolers. She has been writing poetry and short stories since childhood. She also enjoys nonfiction writing. Julie is a passionate teacher, writer, and nature enthusiast.
K.C. Sinclair is a fellow in Fiction and Screenwriting at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. Her short works have appeared in the Texas Observer and the New Guard Literary Journal. She has been a finalist for the Master’s Review New Writers’ Competition, the Glimmer Train New Fiction Prize, and New Letter’s Short Story Award. Before her MFA, she was an elementary school teacher and vice principal for ten years. She left that beloved career to pursue a lifelong dream to write. Now, she lives in a Mont Belvieu with her husband, adorable dog, and self-absorbed kitty, and is working on a novel set in Houston about a group of four friends who have dreams of becoming astronauts. K.C. also teaches writing at Lee College in Baytown.
Karie Buss received her B.A. in English from the University of Iowa and her MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston. In addition to WITS, she’s taught with Project Row Houses, the University of Houston, and Houston Community College. When not writing or teaching, she enjoys collaging, baking, and walking her dog at the Arboretum. She joined WITS Creative in 2012 and WITS Collaborative in 2014.
Katherine Elliott grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and received a B.A. in Literature and Art History from the University of Virginia. She attended the University of Houston’s MFA program in Creative Writing. This is her sixth year with WITS.
Kathryn Peterson a.k.a. “Doctor Kat” holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature and an MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston, where she received a Barthelme and Glenn C. Cambor Fellowship. She also has an M.A. in playwriting from the University of Cincinnati, where she won the Elsie B. Westheimer Award for Playwriting and the Graduate Prize in Fiction. Originally from Virginia and trained as a journalist, Kathryn is a columnist for the Houston Chronicle’s online blog, Gray Matters. When she is not teaching for WITS, you can find her offering manuscript consultations, managing social media and blogs for business, or working on her novel.
In the early days of WITS writers sat around a table and brainstormed all the places WITS could go, all the ways WITS could change the world for young writers. Kiki Przewlocki was part of that broad conversation and has remained a part of WITS long enough to see those dreams become reality. Her passion for writing songs and performing fuels Third Ear Caravan Band www.thirdearcaravan, her dramatic nature nurtures an after school theatre troupe, and her art has been displayed on the walls of the Jung Center, in Santa Fe, NM, and in her upcoming line, Blue Raven Designs. This year she’s immersed in editing her novel, La Mia Sorella, My Sister, and in her playfully therapeutic card deck/book, Soul Dusters. Inspiring writers is as much a part of her as breathing.
Kristi Pewthers is a fiction writer who received her B.A. in English Literature from the University of Houston. After college, she returned to her alma mater, Sharpstown High School, to teach high school English and AP literature and composition. While there, she created the literary club and produced Follow the Fire, Sharpstown’s literary magazine. Kristi’s debut novel was published in March, and she is hard at work on its follow-up. Her manuscript Tracing Ursa is a finalist in the LERA 2015 Rebecca Contest. In her spare time, she’s a music geek and tabletop gamer. This is her third year with WITS.
Leah Madof is a seasoned educator, writer, and parent. Originally from Chicago, Leah holds a B.A. in English and Journalism from the University of Iowa and an M.A. in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Certified to teach English and ESL in K-12 classrooms, Leah developed much of her teaching skills at an international high school in Queens, NY, where she created curriculum for 9th and 10th grade Humanities classes and developed a writing center for struggling writers. Leah looks forward to developing the future writers of Houston. This is her first year with WITS.
Lesa Boutin is a children’s author who loves every aspect of a book’s life, from concept to completion. Consequently, Lesa started her own publishing company, Boot in the Door Publications, in 2006. Then in 2007 and 2008, the first two novels in her AMANDA NOBLE series were released. Book 2 of the series, AMANDA NOBLE, SPECIAL AGENT, was nominated for the Texas Lone Star Reading List. In the spring of 2014, Lesa, writing under the pen name Lesa Howard, brought Boot in the Door Publications into the twenty-first-century with the release of her new novel PHANTOM’S DANCE in both print and ebook formats. As a writer for Writers in the Schools, Lesa enjoys sharing her imagination and passion for storytelling with her students.
Linda Riehl is a native Houstonian, and lives in Cinco Ranch South Lake Village with her husband, Michael and their rescued Weimaraner, Luder. She began her teaching career at Brock Elementary in Houston ISD and later opened Grady Middle School as an English Language Arts and English Second Language (ESL) instructor for grades 6-8. Linda, recently retired, was selected as the first Teacher of the Year for Grady Middle School and represented the District’s West Region as ESL Teacher of the Year for two years. The Rotary Club honored her with the Outstanding Achievement Award, and in 2014, she was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow. Linda holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Houston. She has worked with WITS since she started teaching 24 years ago.
Lorena Alvarado is originally from Huntington Park, CA, a city and space that has been her muse since she began writing. She is currently a visiting scholar at Rice University, and is writing a book on the performance of Mexican popular music. Lorena is an essayist and poet, and the author of the chapbook, Red Line Lullaby.
Loyce Gayo is a Tanzanian born slam poet, singer, teaching artist and activist who is currently based in Houston, TX. Gayo is profoundly influenced by her experience in the African Diaspora and uses her craft to celebrate the journey of a people dispersed. She also uses her voice to advocate for the empowerment of marginalized people by supporting local efforts and organizations. Gayo was the slam champion of the UT Spitshine poetry slam team, which won the 2014 Collegiate Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). Her work has been featured on Button Poetry, Write About Now, Badilisha Poetry, and PBS.
Marcia Chamberlain earned a B.A. from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Rice University. She has taught with WITS for 16 years. In addition to receiving an Envision Grant from Rice University, she also has won a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Practicum Fellowship, a Teaching Tolerance grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Emerging Filmmaker Grant from the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County (now Houston Arts Alliance), and was a finalist for the 2009 Bechtel Prize. She has published essays about medieval nuns and Chicano revolutionaries and is working on a collection of nonfiction.
Matthew Krajniak was born and raised in Cleveland, OH, and after ten years of working in social services, he returned to school to pursue his love of literature and creative writing. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at the University of Memphis in 2016, and is currently a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. He has published work in The Avalon Literary Review and elsewhere.
Melanie Malinowski earned a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston, where she was a recipient of a C. Glenn Cambor Fiction Award. She also holds an M.A. in English from the University of New Mexico, where she won a D. H. Lawrence Fellowship, and a B.A. in English from the Pennsylvania State University. Melanie has taught at WITS since 2000 in various elementary, middle, and high schools as well as at M.D. Anderson and Texas Children’s Hospital in the Renal Dialysis Unit, where she is currently in residence. A spinning instructor, she won Houston Spinning Instructor of the Year in 2010. She is the author of an unpublished novel entitled Water Blindness, and her essay about Steven Tyler, Stone Cold Fox, appeared this summer in Hippocampus Magazine. A native Delawarean, Melanie now lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Andy, and her daughter, Echo Mariposa, pining for Steven Tyler and counting the days until the next Aerosmith concert.
Melissa McEver Huckabay has a B.A. in English and a Bachelor of Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin. Formerly an award-winning health and environmental reporter for three newspapers on the Texas-Mexico border, Melissa went on to work as a writer and editor in university, nonprofit, and corporate settings, and also taught high school English. Currently, she is a part-time freelance writer and full-time mom to a precocious toddler. Melissa’s scripts have been featured in staged readings locally, and her short play The Waiting will be produced by Pandora Theatre.
Miah Arnold is the author of Sweet Land of Bigamy and a number of short pieces of literature. Her essay, “You Owe Me” (originally published by Michigan Quarterly Review) appeared in Best American Essays 2012. She holds a Ph. D. in Writing and Literature from the University of Houston, and teaches adults and children throughout Houston in university and nonprofit settings. She has served as a Fiction editor at Gulf Coast and a Poetry editor at Lyric Poetry Review. Her work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Nanofiction, Confrontation, Painted Bride Quarterly, Story Houston, and the South Dakota Review. She has received a Barthelme Award, an Inprint/Diana P. Hobby Award, and an Established Artists Grant from the Houston Arts Alliance for her work. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two children.
Michelle Oakes is a poet who recently received her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Houston. She is a Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast: a Journal of Literature and Fine Arts and has taught at the Boldface Conference. Michelle earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Central Missouri, where she was Associate Editor of Pleiades: a Journal of New Writing. Her work has appeared in The Laurel Review, and RHINO. Michelle joined WITS in 2012.
Mischa Enos Fry is in her ninth year with WITS. She holds a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Binghamton, an M.A. in English Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an Ed.D. from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has worked as a journalist, literacy researcher, educational consultant, and teacher of composition and ESL at the college level. Mischa also consults on literacy projects at the Children’s Learning Institute. Far and away, her most fulfilling time is spent with her two sons, Elias and Nathaniel, her husband Larry, and their three eccentric cats.
Nancy Barnhart recently earned her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston, where she currently teaches. She had the great fortune of blending WITS with her academic studies, as her doctoral research focused on the effectiveness of the WITS organization through the writers’ perspective. Before becoming a WITS writer, she attended the Greater Houston Area Writing Project and taught at Kids’ U Summer Writing Camp (UH-Clear Lake), where she taught writing through filmmaking. She has published journal articles in Teachers and Writers, The Ohio Journal of the English Language Arts, The English Record, and RDH National Magazine. Nancy joined WITS in 2008.
Natasha Carrizosa is a poet, writer, and spoken word artist. In 2013, she won the National Poetry Award for multi-cultural poet of the year. Raised as the daughter of an African-American mother and Mexican father, her writing reflects the dichotomy of those two rich cultures. Natasha is a published author of several projects – including heavy light, mejiafricana, and Of Fire and Rain (co-authored with Joaquin Zihuatanejo). She has performed her work and conducted workshops for audiences in Madrid, Paris, St. Lucia, New York, Chicago, Houston, and elsewhere, appearing at over one hundred schools, colleges, and universities. Her love for the arts inspired the creation of natty roots & rhyme. Since 2009, she has hosted one of the most dynamic poetry open mics in the country.
After being thoroughly inspired by a WITS writer in her classroom, Rachel Odom joined the WITS team in the summer of 2015. She is a native Houstonian, a former teacher, and a mother of three enthusiastic children. She earned her degree in Early Childhood Education from Texas Tech University and promptly launched her teaching career. She later received her Master’s in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University. Rachel spent 13 years as a teacher in Spring Branch ISD. A lover of education, Rachel has taught students in grades 2-5 as well as adult professional development classes, and serves on the school board for Memorial Lutheran School. Rachel and her husband, David, can be found enjoying the outdoors around Houston and trying to keep up with their children, Emmet, Albert, and Edie.
Rama Yousef graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in Creative Writing. While at the University of Houston, she wrote for the opinion column for The Cougar. She also holds teaching certification in English and ESL for grades 7-12, and has taught English at the middle and high school levels. She currently works as a teaching assistant at the Arabic Immersion Magnet School in HISD. She writes short fiction, but would like to explore personal essay and memoir writing.
Reyes Ramirez is a Houstonian, educator, and writer. He has taught creative writing to underserved youth in Austin, Houston, and Lockhart, TX at universities, community centers, libraries, and detention centers. In addition to having an MFA in Fiction, Reyes received the 2014 riverSedge Poetry Prize, the 2012 Sylvan Karchmer Fiction Prize, and has presented at several conferences, including NACCS- Tejas Foco and UT Institute of Latin American Studies Student Association Conference on topics such as creative writing pedagogy, grass roots activism, and Latinos in professional wrestling. He is a graduate of Harvard University Kennedy School for Public Leadership’s Latino Leadership Initiative and is currently working on a novel.
Sam Dinger is an MFA student in Fiction at the University of Houston, where he is an Assistant Editor at Gulf Coast Literary Magazine. Aside from his work with WITS, he teaches workshops for Inprint. Originally from Arkansas, Sam enjoys baking his own sourdough bread, fly fishing for trout, traveling, and hosting writing salons at his apartment.
Sara Cooper received her MFA in poetry at New Mexico State University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, BorderSenses, Puerto del Sol, HYSTERIA: A Feminist Anthology of Poetry and Microfiction, and Mutabilis Press’s Houston Nature Anthology. A chapbook of poems, Mis—, was published in 2014 by Grandma Moses Press. She teaches writing at the University of Houston, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Composition, and Pedagogy. Since becoming a Writer in Residence with WITS five years ago, she has introduced alternative media to the writing classroom, including digital storytelling and multi-genre writing. She frequently works with HISD teachers on professional development projects, most recently through WITS Collaborative and the UH Honors College Common Ground Teachers Institute.
Sara C. Rolater is a graduate of Rice University and received her MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston, where she taught composition and creative writing and served as an Assistant Editor in Fiction for Gulf Coast. Sara has written for Citysearch Houston and offcite.org, and is the recipient of fellowships from the Writing Immersion Retreat in Bali and the Byrdcliffe Artist in Residence program. She has taught for Inprint, Writespace, and is a fiction consultant at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where she has also taught creative nonfiction, journalism, and textual collage. Her work has appeared in Ghost Town and Gulf Coast.
Sarah Jerasa has been a teacher for over 9 years, and is passionate about exposing her students to the power of language and challenging them to find their inner voices as writers. She received her B.A. and MAT degree from the University of Virginia and was a fellow for the National Writing Project in Central Virginia. Prior to moving to Houston, she taught at The Project School, a project-based arts-infused charter school, in Bloomington, Indiana. Sarah has conducted research such as Teachers as Writers and Integrating Content Units Through Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops, presenting her findings at the NCTE National Convention in 2010 and 2013. After teaching for a year with HISD, Sarah led professional development workshops on differentiation for local Houston schools. When she is not teaching, Sarah enjoys cooking, laughing with her husband, and writing about her many misadventures as a new mom.
Sharon Ferranti is a member of The Director’s Guild of America and The Writer’s Guild of America, and is a published playwright. An MFA graduate of The California Institute of the Arts, Sharon’s first film, A Thousand Miles, was seen in over 80 film festivals world-wide, and received the award for Ten Best Shorts of 2000 from American Cinemateque. Her first feature film, Make A Wish, won Best in Fest at The Paris Women’s Film Festival in 2002. As an editor, she won the Platinum AVA award for editing on Living Proof, in the category of religion and spirituality. Recent commissions include Telling The Truth in an Imaginary Place, and We Are In The Business of Changing the World: documentaries about the sculpture and public art installations of Houston artist, Tara Conley. Sharon is comfortable in both narrative and documentary genres and has created hundreds of projects for corporations and non-profit organizations in the South Texas region.
Summer Magee has been a literacy teacher at Lanier Middle School in HISD for 11 years. She currently serves as Literacy Coach, helping support teachers write curriculum for grades 6-8. She earned a BA from Trinity University in English Literature and a Masters in Education from the University of Texas with a specialization in Literacy and Language Arts. This will be her seventh summer working for WITS Writing Camp, and she is very excited that her son is finally old enough to attend the Kindergarten class.
Tamara Fish has taught at the middle, secondary, and university level in Michigan, Utah, and Texas. For sixteen years, she was an English professor at the University of Houston, where she taught courses in writing, pedagogy, and middle and secondary school English Language Arts. She has supervised graduate Teaching Assistants and coordinated TA training programs for the Department of English and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Science, and served as Coordinator of TA Resources for the University of Houston’s Center for Teaching Excellence. She received an M.A. from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, both in English with emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition.
Treva McKissic holds a B.A. in English and a M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction for Reading and Writing from the University of Houston. With over 15 years’ experience in education, she has worked with PK-8 grades, junior college, and college students. Treva also presents professional development seminars to help teachers refine their teaching crafts and methods. Her winding educational journey has led her to copyright and self-publish her first poetry book, Erratic Epiphanies. Treva is immensely excited to guide and mentor young writers in their own creative writing and artistic journeys. Her educational philosophy is to create a path for children to discover their gifts through reading, writing, and the arts. In her spare time, she can often be found in her family room on the chaise lounge, writing spontaneous poetry while watching her daughter practice ballet and paint masterpieces.
Trevor Boffone is an educator and scholar with over 9 years of teaching experience with middle school, high school, and college students. He currently teaches at the University of Houston and with Writers in the Schools (WITS). Trevor has also recently judged the Alley Theatre’s Bayou City Teen Slam. In addition to his experience in education, Trevor is a writer, producer, and has worked as a dramaturg for the following playwrights: Mercedes Floresislas, Magdalena Gómez, Josh Inocéncio, and Jasminne Mendez. He is the founding editor of the 50 Playwrights Project and a proud member of the National Steering Committee for the Latina/o Theatre Commons. Since moving to Texas from his home state of Louisiana, Trevor has become a huge supporter of WITS and looks forward to encouraging the inspirational work of young writers in Texas.
A native Texan, Tria Wood is a writer and educator who has worked with WITS for over a decade. In addition to her M.A. in English, she holds an M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction with a specialization in Art Education. Her poetry, short fiction, and essays appear in a variety of publications such as The Texas Poetry Calendar, The Mom Egg, Literary Mama, and Sugar House Review. In August 2012, she was the featured poet for the first annual Emerald Isle Writing Conference in Kodiak, Alaska. In 2014, she was selected as a juried poet for the Houston Poetry Festival. She currently lives in Houston with her husband, their son, their rescued miniature schnauzer, and two lizards.
Weezie Mackey works full time as Associate Director of Communications at the business school at Rice University and has been a writer and editor with Webster’s Dictionary, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Tootsietoy, Rotary International, and the Williams College Museum of Art. She earned a B.A. in English from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and an MFA in Creative Writing from American University in Washington, D.C. Weezie is the author of the novel, Throwing Like a Girl, nominated as Best Young Adult Book by the Texas Institute of Letters in 2007. She has taught with WITS since 2008 and lives in Houston with her husband, two sons, and three dogs.
Zachary Caballero is a Mexican-American poet from Texas. Over the past four years, he has slammed for They Speak Youth Poetry Slam and Austin Poetry Slam. He co-founded the University of Texas’ only poetry organization, Spitshine Poetry, and co-coached their 2014 National Slam Team, who took first place at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational. He has toured nationally and taught writing and performance workshops throughout Texas. Currently, he attends South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas. Every poem he writes is the performance of his life. He has one heart, and it is a homemade tortilla. Ask him yourself.