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.

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