Abigail Drozek-Fitzwater hails from Ohio, but spent most of her formative years abroad in Central America. She returned to the United States to study Creative Writing and Latin at Ohio University. After working with an after-school program in Jackson, MS, she discovered the joy of leading children to realize their own creative outlets. She now works with refugee youth in Houston schools and is beginning her fourth 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.
Amy C. Evans is an artist, writer, educator, and documentarian based in Houston, Texas. She built the documentary program at the Southern Foodways Alliance, headquartered at the University of Mississippi, where she served as their lead oral historian for more than ten years and taught an annual documentary workshop. Amy has served on the editorial board of Mississippi Folklife since 2015. Her writing has appeared in Saveur, The Bitter Southerner, The Local Palate, and Cornbread Nation 5: The Best of Southern Food Writing. Amy’s paintings have appeared in Southern Living, Southern Cultures, and on CNN’s Eatocracy and the Oxford American blog. She holds a BFA in Printmaking from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MA in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. Amy is a teaching artist with Literacy Through Photography, joined WITS as a teaching writer in 2017, and has been represented by Koelsch Gallery since 1997.
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.
Baylea Jones holds an MFA in fiction from Western New England University. Her short story “The Girl from Montana” was a finalist for the 2017 New Letters Prize for Fiction, and her story “Dad & I” received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train‘s Family Matters contest. Publications include Autostraddle.com, Leur Magazine, and Cactus Heart. She enjoys bourbon, brunch, bow ties, and spending time with her wife, Britney.
Ben “Kaj” Tanaka holds degrees in creative writing from Emerson College and the University of Arkansas. He is currently a PhD candidate in Fiction at the University of Houston and a writing workshop instructor at the Harris County Jail. Kaj’s short stories have been featured in Longform, selected for Wigleaf’s Best (Very) Short Fictions, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is an assistant nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast.
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.
Bill Moran is a performance poet and a former EMT. He was the 2012 & 2013 Austin Poetry Slam Champion, president of poetry non-profit Mic Check, and has an MFA in Poetry from Louisiana State University. He has toured regularly since 2011, performing and lecturing throughout Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, and the US. His work has been featured on Button Poetry, University of Hell Press, Alien Mouth, and Pressure Gauge Press. He became a proud WITS Writer in 2017, and his solo debut book Oh God Get Out Get Out is now available through Write Bloody Publishing.
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.
Brendan Stephens received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Central Florida and Master of Arts in Teaching from Frostburg State University. His prose and poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming in the Southeast Review, Carola Quarterly, and many others. Currently, he is a PhD student at the University of Houston.
Brooke Bailey is a puppeteer and storyteller and founder of the story and creative play class SunBee Circle. She studied storytelling and puppetry at the Sunbridge Institute in New York and has worked as a teacher for years at preschools and for Air Alliance Houston’s Ozone Theater program. Brooke has taught and performed with Young Audiences, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston Theater District Day and Earth Day Houston.
Brooke is fascinated and awed by the creative capacity of young children. She uses stories and puppetry to inspire kids to develop their inner imaginative world and tell their own stories.
Brooke Summers-Perry grew up in the woods in Kentucky and reconnects to these roots through contemplative looking, listening, and responding in poetry and visual arts. She holds degrees in psychology and architecture and certification as a spiritual director. In 2005, halfway through her 20 year career in architecture, she founded itscool2care. By managing peer lead teams in grades K-12, this community service group engaged youth in designing and executing advocacy and fundraising projects. Inspired by the fruits of the itscool2care team, in 2015 she shifted away from design to become the founding director of the Hines Center for Spirituality and Prayer. She is the author of four children’s books and a book of compassionate practices, Transforming Habits. She is currently illustrating the latest version of her children’s book, Made of Stardust, and is working on the essays Architecture of Spirituality and a memoir piece, How to Burn Out.
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 and musician living in Houston. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and her essay “Infirmary Music” has been named a notable in the Best American Essays 2017. Her essays, poems, and stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Rumpus, Ecotone, Guernica‘s “The Kiss” series, Houston Chronicle, The Butter, The Literary Review, Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, Columbia Poetry Review, The Brooklyn Review, Literary Orphans, and elsewhere. Her music has been featured on Houston Public Media KUHF, Houston Pacifica Radio KPFT, as well as the PBS television programs Skyline Sessions and Oxford Sounds. She is the host of “The Ish” podcast, and her memoir about religious and romantic obsession is currently on submission. Follow her @camerondhammon.
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.
Carol Denson is excited to return to the WITS after spending the last 11 years teaching 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade in Austin, Texas. She earned an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and has published poems in The Adirondack Review, Gulf Coast, J Journal, Literary Mama, among other journals. Her essay “Transfertle the Plum” on poetry and parenting was published in Rattle. Her chapbook, Across the Antique Surface, was published in 2013. Her work has been supported by the Jentel Foundation and The Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County. She has lived in Bhopal, India, Mexico City, Chicago, Columbia, Missouri, and Austin, before returning to her hometown of Houston. She writes poems, stories, and essays.
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 most recent novel, The Weight of a Piano, will be released by Knopf in January 2019.
Chris serves on the Inprint advisory board and stewards several Little Free Libraries in her community. A former fitness competitor and model, she currently holds a 3rd dan in Taekwondo and teaches Krav Maga-based self-defense workshops for women. This is her sixth 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.
Cristina A. Kindred is a former Creative Writing and Literature teacher from the Alief Independent School District in Houston. She has published poetry in Spider Road Press and recently she has had her art commissioned for two upcoming children’s books.
Currently, she is working on the art for her two commissions as well as her own children’s book and she is finalizing her first novel, an arcane punk YA debut.
She lives on a ranch in San Jacinto, Texas with her fellow author (and husband) Julian, their two fur babies, Caspian and Oberon, along with a myriad of ranch animals.
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.
David LaDuca, a native of Buffalo, NY, has enjoyed a professional performing career for more than 30 years. He has starred in film, television, Broadway, Off-Broadway, national tours, regional theatre, as well as voiceover, industrial film and commercial credits. Mr. LaDuca holds a BA in Professional Studies in the Performing Arts, with a concentration in communications. Mr. LaDuca teaches voice, acting and audition techniques, and has served as Artist-in-Residence for Arts Access, teaching storytelling and improvisation at Pugh Element and Hamilton Middle School. He has written and produced several plays and theatrical presentations for businesses, and is a winner of Theatre Week’s Straw Hat awards for his musical production of “The Open Door.” David also enjoys his work as an executive speech coach, and his efforts with Every Child Counts in the Bahamas, helping special needs children express themselves through music. He currently serves on the Board of Directors at Express Children’s Theatre and is an advisory member of the Board of Directors for the Houston Arts Alliance.
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 playwright, director, actress, and novelist. She participated in the Iowa Young Writers Studio as a teenager and obtained her BA at the University of Houston, where she studied with Lanford Wilson, Mark Medoff, Mark Bly, and Edward Albee. Her plays have been produced by METDance, The Landing Theatre, Cone Man Running, This Is Water Theatre, Mildred’s Umbrella, the Nova Arts Project, Scriptwriters/Houston, Bootown, Fresh Produce’d (NYC), and 14 Pews, among others. She has published two novels, Running Into Trouble and Life After Myth. She also served as the 2013 Artist in Residence for 14 Pews, and more recently as a slam poetry coach for Houston’s fiery teenage team, Metafour, at the Brave New Voices Festival in DC. She currently works as a teaching artist and coach for Stages Repertory Theatre and Writers in the Schools, and previously taught through the Alley Theatre’s Education department for seven years. She was named as Ambassador for the Houston Dramatists Guild in 2017. Elizabeth is currently completing her Master’s in Theatre Studies at UH, focusing on Arts Leadership, new play development, and science fiction onstage.
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.
Erika “Mizz E.Free” Freeman is a screenplay writer, director and poet. A native of Houston, TX, her love of the written and spoken word was discovered after her elementary teacher introduced her to the Harlem Renaissance writers. Erika’s affection for fine arts have taken her from stages as a young actress and poet to pages as a screenplay writer. Penning her first short film Man Enough in 2009 propelled her childhood dream of being a filmmaker. After touring film festivals she accepted a role teaching students the art of cinematic storytelling with On The Set Summer Film Camp based in Birmingham, AL. Since 2010 Erika has written and co-produced seven short films in diverse genres for youth and teen audiences. Her latest film Top Ten, a comedy about the plight and pressures of middle school acceptance, will premiere this fall. Erika’s other passion is empowering youth and mentoring girls. This love leads her to travel rural towns in the south to our nation’s capital facilitating workshops and engaging girls on issues of self-worth, character development and bullying. Her creative and philanthropic motto is “Whoever we are beneath the surface, let it rise to the top and shine, shine, shine!”
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 taught WITS Summer Creative Writing Camp for several years. 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!” She has earned a Bachelor of Science in Education degree from Baylor University and a Master’s degree in Counseling from the University of Houston – Victoria. She holds teaching certificates in Counseling, Art, Spanish, Elementary – K through 8, Secondary Art and Spanish, Special Education and English as a Second Language. This will be her third year to work with WITS as a writer at The Menil Collection. In her spare time, she paints, draws, writes poetry, and has recently begun to play violin.
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 holds a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and a 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 of 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 collection of essays and an umpteenth revision of her screenplay, Good Liar. When she is not writing, she can be found compiling the perfect mix for her rise-and-shine dance parties. She lives in Houston with her artist husband Ian and their two wildly cool boys.
Harriet Riley is a freelance writer focusing on creative nonfiction. She publishes primarily nonfiction pieces in magazines and on-line publications. Before moving to Houston in 2007, Harriet 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 MA in print journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and her BA in English and journalism from the University of Mississippi. She is in her tenth year with Writers in the Schools and is honored to teach in a variety of settings with 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.
Hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas, Jonathan Meyer holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston and a BFA from Emerson College in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. He was the recipient of the 2017 Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize in Fiction and his work has appeared in Gulf Coast, The Switchgrass Review, The Boston Phoenix, and elsewhere. In addition to his work for WITS, he teaches writing and literature at the University of Houston.
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.
Lajla Cline is a writer and teacher from Houston, Texas. She received her BA in English from Rice University and then completed an MA in literature at the University of Houston and an MFA in creative writing at the University of Arizona. Lajla taught writing to college students for seven years at the University of Houston, San Jacinto College, and the University of Arizona, where she was an adjunct lecturer in creative writing. She has received residency grants from the Vermont Studio Center and Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. She is at work on a novel.
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.
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.
Lynn Reynolds grew up in Houston and began dancing and writing in the third grade. Dance became her life’s work as a professional dancer and choreographer. She taught dance in Houston ISD for 20 years, finishing her teaching career with secondary English and reading study labs. Reynolds’ writing has been published in two Houston Poetry Fest Anthologies, as well as the Poetry at Round Top Anthology 2017. Her poems appear in Untameable City (Mutabilis Press), Bearing the Mask: Southwest Persona Poems (Dos Gatos Press) and the 2016 Texas Poetry Calendar (Dos Gatos Press). She lives in Houston with her beautiful dog, River, and continues to write and choreograph poetry in motion.
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 Huckabay has a BA in English and a Bachelor of Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin. She is a freelance writer, playwright and poet who formerly worked as an award-winning health and environment reporter for a group of daily newspapers on the Texas-Mexico border. She went on to work as a writer and editor in university, nonprofit and corporate settings before becoming a high-school English teacher and then joining WITS. Melissa’s short plays have been produced by Pandora Theatre and Playhouse 1960, and her work has also had staged readings locally. This is her second year with WITS.
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.
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.
Paige Quiñones is currently pursuing a PhD in poetry at the University of Houston while serving as a graduate fellow with the Center for Mexican American Studies. She earned her MFA from the Ohio State University with a focus in Latinx Studies, where she continued teaching as a Senior Lecturer the following year. Her work has appeared in Barrow Street Review, McSweeney’s, Southeast Review, and elsewhere.
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.
Sara Ahmed has an M.A. in Mass Communications from the University of Houston. She is a freelance writer who covers beats in parenting, the Muslim-American identity and the South-Asian diaspora. This is her first year working with Writers in the Schools.
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 is a teacher and writer originally from Charlottesville, Virginia. Sarah has been teaching writer’s workshop for over 10 years and is passionate about exposing her students to powerful language and challenging them to find their inner voice as writers. In addition to her work in the classroom, Sarah conducts research on instructional strategies related to writing. She has presented numerous times at national conferences such as NCTE and is currently working on her next research proposal. Sarah holds a Masters degree in teaching from the University of Virginia. Prior to moving to Houston, Sarah was a fellow for the National Writing Project in Central Virginia. Sarah writes poetry, memoir essays, and is currently working on her first novel.
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 first fell in love with Reading and Writing in the 5th grade, and hasn’t looked back since! She earned a BA in English Literature from Trinity University followed by a Masters in Education, specializing in Literacy and Language Arts, from the University of Texas at Austin. After teaching Readers/Writers workshop for 11 years at Lanier Middle School in HISD, including one year as Literacy Coach for the school, she moved over to the WITS world, where she shares her passion for language and stories at schools all across Houston. Summer has worked in some capacity with WITS since 2006, and currently serves as a Writer within the WITS Collaborative cohort as well as the Creative placements. She has led professional developments for large school districts including Pearland ISD and Houston ISD, and she loves engaging students and teachers alike, renewing their love for authentic and unique writing practices, and seeing them come alive on the page. When she is not teaching, she enjoys spending time with her husband and children, and her not-so-well-trained Airedale puppy, Ivy Bear, as well as scouring the cheese section at her local grocery store.
Treva McKissic is a WITS Writer and art teacher who holds both a B.A. in English and a M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction for Reading and Writing from the University of Houston. With over 17 years experience in education, she has worked with students in PK-8th grades, junior college students, and undergraduates as a teacher, literacy coach, writing specialist, teacher trainer, and teacher development specialist. Treva’s educational philosophy and motivation is to stimulate autonomy in children and create a path for them to discover their own gifts and individual genius through reading and writing. Her winding educational journey has led her to copyright and self-publish her first poetry book, Erratic Epiphanies. In Treva’s spare time, she can often be found in her family room, on the chaise lounge, writing spontaneous poetry and doodling, all while watching her daughter dance ballet, paint masterpieces, and make hand-crafted jewelry.
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.
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 Sugar House Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Texas Poetry Calendar, and Literary Mama. In 2012, she was the featured poet for the first annual Emerald Isle Writing Conference in Kodiak, Alaska. In 2014 and 2016, 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 pet 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.