The Standard is You: Lessons from World-Renowned Writer Chinaka Hodge

Posted February 8, 2018 & filed under Notebook.

On Saturday, February 3rd, students from around the Greater Houston area streamed into Queensbury Theatre to learn from poet, playwright, and screenwriter, Chinaka Hodge, during a free youth workshop hosted by Writers in the Schools and Meta-Four Houston. The author of three books, including the 2016 collection of poetry, Dated Emcees, Chinaka’s poems, editorials, interviews and prose have been featured in Newsweek, Poetry Magazine, PBS, NPR, Teen People, CNN, TED, and in two seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry.

Chinaka started the workshop by recounting her journey as a writer: from a thirteen-year-old girl from the Bay Area to working in the writer’s room for the upcoming NBC series, Rise, which premieres March 13. But before she arrived in Hollywood, she started writing and performing slam as a teenager. Her long-career as a professional writer has taught her four things:

  1. There are no wrong answers.
  2. The standard is you.
  3. Write in any language you want.
  4. Have fun.

Then Chinaka led a one-of-a-kind slam workshop that pulled from both her experience as a slam poet and as a screenwriter. Students worked intensively as they generated a logline and treatment for a script that could serve as the foundation of a poem, essay, or rap. By combining slam and screenwriting, students learned two central tools to storytelling: how to articulate a character’s desires and how to create tension by developing obstacles. Chinaka shared that she applies these narrative tools in all her writing. For example, in her essays, she utilizes a three act structure. In slam poetry, the poem usually ends at the climax, when the audience discovers whether or not the performer gets what he or she desires. Learning and understanding the structure of storytelling has been critical in her success. As the workshop neared its end, she reminded students of the key advice she carries with her—the standard for your writing is you, so keep telling stories only you can tell.

Spend Saturday mornings with WITS at Discovery Green!

Posted January 19, 2018 & filed under Event, free Houston event, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.

With fun and interactive writing activities to spark the imagination, the Young Writers Workshop helps children develop their language and creativity skills. Each workshop features two WITS writers. Each participant receives one-on-one interaction and feedback.

Held Saturdays at the Houston Public Library Express location at Discovery Green from 10:30 AM – 11:30 AM, the workshop is FREE. Space is first-come, first serve and limited to the first 25 students.


Meet the WITS Writers


Dottie Price taught for more than thirty years and was a literacy coach in the Houston Independent School District. She is ESL and GT certified, with extensive training and experience in writers and readers workshop and the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. 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 the classroom and beyond.


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.


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.

Texas Studio: Elizabeth Keel

Posted January 16, 2018 & filed under Classroom Reflections, Notebook, WITS People.



Elizabeth Keel. Photo by Natasha Nivan.

Congratulations to Writers in the Schools writer, Elizabeth Keel, for her feature in Arts & Culture Magazine. She talks acting, directing, grad school and why she loves teaching with WITS!


“Nobody’s worried about grades. Instead, we give the kids the time they need to interact with language and build their confidence. It is so important to me that my students see that it is safe and feasible to make changes.”

Check out the full article here >>




Posted January 5, 2018 & filed under Notebook, Public Poetry, Student Writing.

I am fire in the wind.

One little spark can ignite the entire world.

The air crisp and smokey,

the fire big and beautiful.

I am that wildfire,

spreading like gossip in teen girls’ hands.

My ways of life are dangerous; I lunge from tree to tree,

It takes 1,000,000 people to slow down my fiery reign of terror.

The outcome of my worldwide scare is poor.

I leave people with almost nothing to live on.

But with pain

comes beauty,

and I watch as friends and family, mountains and trees

gather together

to build the world up again.

I am not all bad

for my flames create opportunities

to get stronger, more powerful.

I can transform the weakest squirrel into the strongest lion.

When my destruction ends, I am exhausted.

I tell myself that my wildfire is a warning.

My silent, screaming message: stay alert.

Another fire is coming.

I am the fire in the wind, ready to ignite.


By Irene, 6th grade


>> Join us for Public Poetry this Saturday, January 6th, 2 pm at the Jungman Branch (5830 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77057) of the Houston Public Library. WITS student, Irene, will be reading alongside Robin Reagler, Corinna Delgado, Amanda Ortiz, and Miranda Mahoney. This event is FREE and open to the public. <<

Original post: 10/15/2017


Christmas Tree Tradition

Posted December 29, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.


The tree,


Standing in the corner

The middle of May

Five months past



My sister

Begging for the tree to stay

A bit more


It looks so graceful.

It almost feels as if

The tree

My family

We’re all glowing

A deep soft warm

Yellow shimmer

In the spirit of Christmas,

Of all the holidays.


So now in the Kim family

It’s a tradition to

Keep the shimmering


Spiritful tree

Until March

Or May

To keep the taste of

Christmas cookies

For the pine scent

To linger in the air

With us.


by Gayeon, age 10


Posted December 22, 2017 & filed under mentor text, Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.


A nine-year old girl

Face light and smiling

Yet a line of regret on her face

Rushing to hug her mommy

Laughing and laughing and laughing

Because she is so relieved

In the bright and beautiful

shine of the sun

A mother asking, shouting,

“Where have you been?”

In the familiar light

Of her home.


by Jiho, age 9

A Life Filled with Tenderness

Posted December 18, 2017 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

Dear friends,

What does it mean to live a life “filled with tenderness”? Is it opening a door for a stranger, sharing lunch, lighting a candle?

These grey winter days can feel overwhelming, as though we are being asked to do more than is humanly possible. And yet….

And yet I remember the days in Houston following the hurricane more clearly than yesterday. There was no time to ask why. We put aside our “to do” lists and did for our friends and neighbors what needed to be done.

At WITS we gathered at the convention center, where 10,000 evacuees waited for aid, and we connected with kids by reading, writing, and really listening to them. We used what gifts we had to help people begin to heal.

Here in Houston, everyone was giving. Friends and colleagues across the nation did whatever they could. Soon we were all wrapped up in the generosity surrounding us. It was as though our city became a WE in a powerful moment, linked together by an extreme need.

Today Houston continues to rebuild. WITS is providing creative writing programs for 52,000 children, including those in schools that were displaced by Harvey. A WITS education will feed these students’ curiosity, creativity, and desire to become active, articulate citizens. Please let us know if you can help us make a lifelong difference for these resilient kids.

All my best,






Robin Reagler, PhD
Executive Director


Posted December 14, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Student Writing.

Run. Run and hide from the world and reality. Run until you are free of this world, of this place of laws and truths. Run until you find a place where anything could happen: the Narnia in your closet. Escape from judgement and the restrictions that come with it.

Embrace the darkness, the morbidity. Let the shadows spill over the wet, black earth. Allow the wolves inside and let them rip up the house. Let the child run away, and then what? What next? Well, that’s your choice. My choice. Anyone’s choice.

Never lose hope. The sun always comes up, until it doesn’t. The world spins until it doesn’t exist.

No judgement, no limits. Not once the writing starts.


by Carson, 8th grade

On This Porch

Posted December 12, 2017 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing.


On my parents’ porch, I feel a gust of air as I walk out the screen door. Am I hot? Am I cold? No. I am just right.  But even here, there’s a twisted feeling in my gut, my long lost dog sits in ashes on the top shelf of my parents’ desk. The screen door separates me from the air conditioning and the wild weather.


I rest my arms and elbows on the eleven-year-old railing and look down at the ditch under our driveway.  I used to catch tadpoles there.  On this porch I hear the waves beating on each other, the waves I body surfed on all afternoon.  My childhood flashes before me. Blink! All the memories of my siblings, preschool, my friends and cousins.


I look behind and see the little gray table with the tall chairs where my parents come to talk. I could sit on this porch for the rest of my life, listening to the waves.  I feel at peace thinking of my first friend, my dog, my childhood, what I felt as a baby.


All the responsibilities which I have now will only increase in high school, college, and adulthood. I feel all my life again and again in a matter of seconds, though I have had ten long years on earth.


I may not be old, but I have seen more than I think is humanly possibly.  On this porch I am all I’ve been, all at the same time, even in my dreams.  It is nothing but a miracle.


by Ryan, 4th grade


Posted November 27, 2017 & filed under mentor text, Notebook, Student Writing.

The trees sway in the wind, dancing upon our eyes. The joy-filled kids swarm past us like a flock of angry geese. The mud bestows heavy layers of stains at the tips of my shoes, leaving them with a brown bumpy concoction. The blades of grass at my feet tickle my toes, while the mulch does its job and makes the grass disappear. The fresh air roars through my skin, making its way into the roots of my hair. The sweat forms on my skin like rain in a thunderstorm, the warmth of the sun works its way down to the tips of my toes, to the roots of my fingernails. The pasty wind runs through my nostrils, leaving me with a sudden surge of cold. The creaks of the monkey bars crack through my ears, as love-filled kids rock upon them. The shrieks of laughter reach my ears like a mighty roar of thunder. The teachers happily talk to one another as if just meeting an old friend. The birds chirp above us sitting on trees stuffed to the brim with leaves. The playground is a place that makes any visitor feel free.

By Ella, 4th grade

A Travel Guide to My Heart

Posted November 20, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem.


Welcome to hot, humid Houston. If you travel northeast, you might find a place I love most: my home. You can take a right and find a wonderful white house. It’s so special with my mom, dad, my 5-year old brother, Sam, my 8-day old baby brother, Shepard and my two dogs, Gus and Zeus. Also, two beautiful fish used to live there, but they died.

Come with me and travel west. You’ll find my most beloved grandmother and grandfather. You’ll find them in a red brick house. Please travel east. A candy shop awaits! I could eat all the candy. If I could, I would spend tons and tons of hours eating chocolate. Come up North, flying high in the sky. See clouds as you pass by. Then you’ll see a paradise where you can relax. I will play in the pool all day long. It is a place I call Florida.

by Nellie, 1st grade

How The Leech Family Invigorates the Arts in Houston

Posted November 2, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

The ninth annual WITS gala, Many Voices | One Houston, is coming up soon—November 9 at the Astorian. (Tickets and tables are still available.) As we anticipate this celebration of Houston’s resilient voices, we’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the accomplishments of this year’s gala honorees, The Leech Family.


The Leech Family has been dedicated to making art, music, and writing available to everyone. Perryn Leech serves as Managing Director for the Houston Grand Opera. Together with WITS, the HGO continually showcases Houston voices in a variety of forms including poetry, opera, and spoken word. After Harvey hit and floodwaters rose, the HGO was forced to temporarily close its doors. But, as Perryn Leech said in an interview with The New York Times after the storm, “Houstonians are robust. We’ll come up with something that gives them an opera season.” Before long, the HGO managed to continue its season at the George R. Brown Convention Center, dubbing the repurposed space “The Resilience Theater.” The show must go on.


The inspiring works of The Leech Family don’t stop there. Caroline Leech is an author whose YA debut, Wait For Me, was published by Harper Teen earlier this year. Her second novel, In Another Time, will be out next spring. (Read an interview with her here). The Leech children are also artistic forces: Jemma, Kirsty, and Rory are high school students at Lamar HS and HSPVA, and have been WITS students for more than a decade. The oldest, Jemma, is an award-winning poet and essayist who has garnered national attention. “Poetry fills my soul with delightful hues of life’s momentary escapes into bliss, and torment,” Jemma said. “Language is my paint and my keyboard is my brush.” She is living proof of the healing power of poetry and storytelling.


Gala attendees will be treated to a moving performance of “The Jemma Songs” by the Greenbriar Consortium quartet, featuring Julia Fox, soprano (Houston Grand Opera); Anne Leek, oboe (Houston Symphony); Daniel Strba, viola (Houston Symphony); and Paul Boyd, piano (Foundation for Modern Music). The performance will include poems written by the honoree, Jemma Leech, beautifully set to music by Houston composer, Mary Carol Warwick.


Together, the Leech family passionately promotes the artistic power of the written word. Their efforts to preserve the arts in Houston are inspiring to us all. Please join us in honoring them at the Many Voices | One Houston gala November 9, an evening where we’ll come together as a city and a writing community to celebrate the resilient spirit of Houston.

Inprint’s Cool Brains! Presents Newbury-Winner Katherine Paterson

Posted October 31, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Great news for readers both young and young at heart: As part of its Cool Brains! Reading series, Inprint presents an afternoon with Katherine Paterson, two-time winner of the Newbury Medal and the National Book Award. Paterson will give a presentation about her new middle grade novel, My Brigadista Year at Meyerland Performing & Visual Arts Middle School on Sunday, November 12 at 3pm. A Q&A will follow the talk, as well as a book sale and signing.


A beloved and bestselling middle grade author, Paterson is best known for Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins. Both novels have been adapted into movies within the last decade and remain celebrated parts of many school-reading programs. Paterson’s new novel, My Brigadista Year, tracks the efforts of the brigadistas, a group of mostly young women who sought to eradicate illiteracy in Cuba. Any WITS supporter will recognize the brigadista campaign as a worthy cause.


About the novel, Publishers Weekly says, “Through Lora’s naïve but openhearted perspective, Paterson weaves in details about Cuban history and the events that led to the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of Communism… Paterson’s story is without political agenda, focusing instead on an improbable (and successful) literacy campaign and how it dramatically expands the world of one sheltered but determined girl.”


WITS extends an invite to fans and families to come meet a living literary legend! This even is free an open to the public. Doors open at 2:15pm. For more information, visit Inprint.


*Please note that the book signing will be conducted on a first-come, first-served basis. Upon entering the theater, people wishing to have books signed will be given a number, and the book signing will take place in numerical order after the on-stage presentation.

Call for Submissions: The 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Posted October 25, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Here’s a great opportunity for young writers and artists to get recognition for their hard work. The 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are open for submissions from all students in grades 7–12. All middle and high school students are invited to submit original writing and works of art and writing in 29 categories of visual and literary art, including essays, drama, fiction, humor, journalism, poetry, and more. All submissions are blindly judged based on: originality, technical skill, and the emergence of a persona, vision, or voice.

Teen poets whose work receives a Gold Medal have the opportunity to receive scholarships and awards, to be published, and to be selected as National Student Poets, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work, selected by the U.S. Poet Laureate and other amazing jurors. Graduating seniors may submit Portfolios.

Scholastic Awards recipients earn opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships. In 2017, the Scholastic Awards distributed more than $250,000 in direct scholarships and more than $5 million in scholarships was offered to Scholastic Awards participants by colleges and universities across the country. Visit to learn more about the submission process.

Submission deadlines vary by region. The Harris County submission deadline is Monday, December 4, 2017. Visit to create your profile.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens. The early promise of some of our nation’s most accomplished and prolific creative leaders has been identified through the Awards, such as Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Charles White, Philip Pearlstein, Sylvia Plath, Kay WalkingStick, Luis Jiménez, Ken Burns, Stephen King, Lena Dunham, Richard Linklater, and Zac Posen. Will you be next? Submit your work and find out!

Questions? Contact

Nadiyah’s Island of Cats

Posted October 20, 2017 & filed under Fiction, Notebook, Student Writing.

If I had my very own island, it would be near Hawaii. What makes my island special is the fact that it has all the cats in the world. My mom, sister, grandparents, aunt and baby cousin live there. (No boys allowed, except for my grandfather.)

My island has crystal blue water and white beaches. Coconut trees, pineapple trees, palm trees, and banana trees cover the island. Cat toys and cats cover the island. The island is 1,000 miles long and 1,000 miles wide (so we and the cats have enough space.) We each have our own two-story house. There is a 100 miles long and 100 miles wide island connecting to our island. It has plants growing. All the types of fruits and vegetables in the world grow on them. A large cellar under the ground stores all the food. There is also a pool if we get hot.

Gardeners collect ripe fruits and vegetables every day. Then, chefs cook a meal with the bountiful harvest. They set the table in the dining hall and serve us our meal. We also have a garden filled with all the flowers in the world and a smaller garden filled with herbs and spices. We have a tiny spa just in case we strain our backs or our nails get damaged, especially for our gardeners. There are vets if the cats get sick. We have our very own hospital if we get hurt, too. My island is awesome.

by Nadiyah, 4th grade

(photo from

Minute Maid Park

Posted October 13, 2017 & filed under Event, Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.


Minute Maid


Five forty five  A.M.

Screaming, booming

Jose Altuve, Orbit, Carlos Correa

Play games, eat ice-cream

Two months!


by Anthony,  2nd grade


Posted October 6, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem.

Love cries out with joy.

Infinity multiplies forever.

The Earth gets dizzy from spinning.

My friend loves me.

All of these ideas make my heart zoom!


by Isabelle, 1st grade


Posted September 22, 2017 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing, WITS People.

Summer melting

into Fall

a perfect morning

letting the wind

wash over you

on the porch.

Lime Ice

reminds you

that the sweaty

days are over.

You enter

the realm

of cool breezes.

Gleeful children

run through

the streets


returning home

to dinner,

garden fresh.


by Lila, 5th grade

The Shelter of Imagination

Posted September 11, 2017 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

Meggie with Armoney, age 6,
at George R. Brown Convention Center

Days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, WITS Program Manager, Meggie Monahan, volunteered at George R. Brown Convention Center, reading, writing, and playing with children who had been displaced by the storm and floodwaters. Meggie reflects on the power of imagination, the generosity of listening, and the resilience of children. Read an excerpt from “The Shelter of Imagination,” which originally aired on KPFT 90.1 FM’s “So, What’s Your Story?”.

When I was a child, our sticky Pennsylvania summers were filled with “make-believe” games. My siblings and I strung stage curtains out of old Sesame Street bed sheets. We wrote new & improved scripts for our favorite Disney movies, and we choreographed music videos for Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album. Then one summer, our parents got a new refrigerator. And in the weeks to follow, that huge empty box in the garage became pure and total magic. It was our special hideout: a dark and cool refuge from parents and chores, an escape from mosquitoes, and a ticket to a bigger world.

I haven’t thought about that refrigerator box in a long time. But last week at the George R Brown Convention Center, I recognized it from across the room as Davion and Abu led me by the hand to their special fort. We snaked our way through a sea of cots and blankets and belongings, and there was this beautiful empty box— a space that could be anything at all, anything they wanted it to be. There, smack-dab in the middle of noise and need and exhaustion and loss, these boys had chosen to stand on the shoreline of their imaginations and create a new, more hopeful world.

I came to Houston to study creative writing, and I stayed in Houston because of Writers in the Schools, an organization that believes in the life-saving power of the imagination. We believe that every child has a voice, that every voice is valuable and deserves to be heard— and that the act of sharing our stories is what makes us human, and what connects us to each other. When talking about WITS, I like to say that “wherever kids are, that’s where we want to be,” and that includes inside a cardboard box in the middle of the 4th largest city in the nation.

In the aftermath of Harvey, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with some of our city’s children at the GRB and the NRG and listen to their voices. And it has reminded me and affirmed in me two things: one, that kids are kids wherever they go. And two, that playfulness, imagination, and creativity are trustworthy tools for healing. Even after being displaced by a hurricane, kids want to sit in your lap and wear your sunglasses. They want to pretend to be tigers and practice their super hero moves with you, cover you in stickers, and braid your hair. Most of all, when they believe you are truly listening, kids want to talk. They are natural storytellers, and they want to tell you about their pets and their best friends and their dream vacations, and what they want to be when they grow up. And at WITS, our most important job is to listen— to really listen— and to celebrate and encourage and elevate children’s words at every level.

And that’s what I love about WITS: that we as a community of writers are committed to excavating and elevating the stories of our young people, and emboldening them to use their words to create a more just and beautiful world. And one day these kiddos— the Davions and Abus and Tianas and Bobbies and Anthonys and Nathans and Christiannas and Zias— all of these children are going to tell stories to their children about what happened when it rained for days and days they needed to leave their homes and live in a new and unfamiliar place. And it’s my hope that peppered within their stories and their families’ stories, there might be some small, treasured moments of play, lightness, and getting to be a kid, even in the midst of tragedy.

There is an Irish saying that “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live,” and I would expand upon that by saying, “It is in the stories of each other that the people live.” When we take the time to sit and listen to the story of another person, especially a child, they may not know where to start— but the act of listening is powerful and invites generosity and willingness in the speaker. And when children know they are being listened to, they can’t help but fill empty spaces— air and pages and cardboard boxes— with all kinds of magic. Their giggles bounce across poured concrete floors. Their litanies of favorite foods transform phrases like “shrimp with garlic butter” into prayerful syllables in a crowded convention hall. And their Red Ninja lava super powers are, somehow, enough to defeat the Blue Ninja’s endless waves of water.

WITS Student Writes Poem of Hope to the City of Houston

Posted August 30, 2017 & filed under News, Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.

This morning, we received a touching gift – a poem written by one of our Writers in the Schools (WITS) students, Eshaan.

Eshaan, a 6th grader, crafted this poem during the course of his family’s journey through Harvey, and offers it up to the city of Houston as a way of bringing everyone together with words of hope.

Starting this week, WITS is volunteering at shelters to help more of our young neighbors tell their stories, because storytelling is healing, and we are #houstonstrong.

Hurricane Harvey: A Terrifying Tempest

Daily gales gossip of terror,
And tornadoes clone as if in infinite mirrors,
God watches over us though,
And as the winds blow,
He oversees,
Cities turning into seas.

I feel helpless,
As I pray for victims’ wellness.
Distraught and crying,
Kin of victims sighing,
Why is Mother Nature so cruel?

One minute there is sunrise,
The next moment you hear cries,
Young babies,
Old ladies,
All trapped in this haplessness.

A second Noah’s Ark,
God tells us to hark!
Batten down the hatches,
And as He snaps trees like matches,
Remember we are all one.

As bombs explode,
And tears flow,
Those on cloud seven,
Come down from heaven.
As barrages fire,
All unite in this horrid quagmire.

As we come together,
We will remake Houston for the better.
Resurrection is impossible,
But together we make it possible.
Harvey left distraught in his wake,
Many a person who stay awake.
If we unite as one,
We can get rebuilding done.

Neighbors help neighbors,
And the common man labors.
The hand hardened from oaring,
Helpful souls soaring.
911 is overworked,
As residents do their tornado homework.

We must pray,
And not stray,
Stay calm and strong,
For I believe God will see us through this storm.

By Eshaan