Literacy is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Writers in the Schools (WITS) welcomes your support this #GivingTuesday (December 3, 2019).
Literacy is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Writers in the Schools (WITS) welcomes your support this #GivingTuesday (December 3, 2019).
I was in Beeville for a five-day stay in May to cast the WITS magic in the sleepy south Texas town. Driving down the main drag, you become familiar with the population count (approximately 13,000), clearly marked as you enter then leave the city limits.
Along with writers Autumn Hayes, Matty Glasgow, and Dinorah Pérez-Rementería, I was assigned a micro-residency for the last week of school. I was placed in the fourth-grade classrooms of RA Hall Elementary, one of six schools in the school district, while my fellow writers were assigned to lower elementary and middle schools. The week before, two other writers brought WITS to the high school. In a minute way, we had magnificently spellbound the district.
Most schools are mayhem during the last week of school, but not RA Hall. Upon entering the classroom, I found the students quickly harnessed the energy inherent in the final weeks of school into creativity. Fresh off the constraints of state testing, they were keen to push the boundaries of the expected and dive into the playfulness of poetics. They constructed persona poems, authored odes and wandered among campus greenspace to create nature poems.
One classroom, filled with forty-five students, listened intently to the mini-lesson, then silently took pen to paper to let their imaginations soar. A student whose sleepy head initially rested on his desk sprang into action to praise the ordinary yet awesome nail. Others found the voices of baseballs and bananas, iPhones and fans, tapping into their objects’ innermost desires and greatest fears. They were unstoppable and inspiring. They were writers on fire.
Thanks to the Joe Barnhart Foundation for bringing WITS to Beeville!
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.
Visitors can visit H-E-B locations in Montrose, San Felipe, Buffalo Speedway, and Bunker Hill for a chance to see these special pop-up poetry installations during the entire month of April. Written by WITS students, these poems celebrate the everyday, from the dreamy quality of eating a pizza to the softness of flowers. The next time you’re shopping at any of these locations, go on a scavenger hunt with your family to see if you can find them all!
If you’re at H-E-B San Felipe location, check out the “poet-tree” where you can add your own words to the tree. This is a DIY version of the poet-trees at Eleanor Tinsley Park created in partnership with artist Nicola Parente and The Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Be thanks to Meagan, Community Coordinator at San Felipe for the DIY poet-tree. It looks beautiful!
Thank you to Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, and Copy.com for your in-kind support of our pop-up poetry. And thank you to H-E-B Tournament of Champions for supporting public poetry for National Poetry Month!
Open to young Texas writers, from rising 7th grade through rising 12th grade! Free to apply. Deadline to submit is May 18, 2018.
Hosted by the Texas Book Festival (TBF), the Fresh Ink Fiction Contest encourages middle and high school Texas students to submit a piece of original fiction, no more than 2,000 words in length. This year’s theme is “What Really Happened.” Submitted entries are judged by Texas Book Festival authors, local educators, and leaders in the publishing industry.
Winners receive a cash prize: $250 for first place, $100 for second, and $50 for third. In addition, winners are awarded a plaque, have their stories published on the TBF website, and are invited to participate on a panel during the Texas Book Festival weekend. The Texas Book Festival and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement provide accommodations for the first place winners and their family for one night.
In order to enter, students must reside in Texas and enter in one of the three divisions: Grades 7-8, Grades 9-10, or Grades 11-12. All entries must be an original piece of fiction. No fan fiction or works containing any plagiarism will be accepted. Entries must be 2,000 words or less, 12-point type, double-spaced, and related to the 2018 Fresh Ink Fiction Contest theme: “What Really Happened.” Judges will look for excellence in use of dialogue, imagery, character development, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. Each student may only enter one submission and there is no entry fee.
Read past winners work here.
Enter the 2018 Fresh Ink Fiction Contest here.
A perfect opportunity for high school students to work one-on-one with a professional writer! Deadline to apply is May 1st.
Now in its sixth year, The Adroit Journal’s Summer Mentorship Program is an entirely free and online program that pairs experienced writers with high school and secondary students (as of the current academic year) interested in learning more about the creative writing processes of drafting, redrafting and editing. The 2018 program will cater to the literary genres of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The aim of the mentorship program is not formalized instruction, but rather an individualized, flexible, and often informal correspondence. Poetry mentorship students will share weekly work with mentors and peers, while prose mentorship students will share biweekly work with mentors and peers.
We are very proud of our alumni. Students have subsequently been recognized through the National YoungArts Foundation & United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts designation, the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Awards, among a plethora of others.
The 2018 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program will last from June 24th until August 4th. Applications for the 2018 Summer Mentorship Program will be open until May 1st.
Learn more about the Adriot Journal Summer Mentorship Program here.
Apply to the Adriot Journal Summer Mentorship Program here.
Each year, the WITS Alliance travels to a different city to highlight the importance of creative writing in the classroom and in civic life at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, a gathering of over 12,000 literary professionals. From March 7 – 10, the WITS Alliance sponsored six panels, one meeting, and a booth to build opportunities for writers to find support, discover resources, and foster community.
Here are a few highlights from the conference:
Executive Director, Robin Reagler, closing out the AWP Gala, where poet Erin Belieu was presented with the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature.
“The work that I do at the Dodge Poetry Festival is to try to create environments where people can engage with poetry through a personal connection with no judgment.” – Martin Farawell
Moderator Meggie Monahan from Writers in the School Houston leading a conversation on “Poetry in Public Places” with Scott Cunningham of O, Miami Festival, Martin Farawell of Dodge Poetry Fesival, Laurin Macios of Mass Poetry, and Tyler Meier of the University of Arizona Poetry Center.
“I’m happy when people are reading poetry because it is a form of resistance.” – Kaveh Akbar
Moderator Analicia Sotelo of Writers in the Schools Houston with “Literary Twitterati” panelists Kaveh Akbar, Eve Ewing, Dorothea Lasky of Astro Poets, alongside WITS Executive Director, Robin Reagler.
“It’s important to be vulnerable, to remind students that we should be playful and silly.” – Karyna McGlynn
Moderate Jack McBride from Writers in the Schools Houston alongside current and former WITS writers, Ramon Isao, Nicky Beer, Karyna McGlynn, and Niki Herd at the “WITS Alumni Reading: The Unfiltered Imagination” panel. Each speaker shared student work, read from their own writing, and offered funny and thoughtful stories about being in the classroom and how teaching young students brings playfulness into their own work.
“Most people prefer a linear path. I firmly believe that if you see your career as an exploration, you really get a great opportunity to craft your own narrative, even if it’s not the one you imagined.” – Giuseppe Taurino
Led by Community-Word Project’s Michele Kolter, panelists Thomas Calder (journalist at Mountain Xpress), Martin Rock (Associate Director at Exploratorium), Giuseppe Taurino (Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston), and Abby Travis (Editor at Milkweed Editions) discussed their journeys to their current jobs with helpful tips and thoughtful stories at the “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” panel.
“Have a plan and surround yourself with people that see your dream.” – Kima Jones
Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Alicia Craven discussed diversity, inclusion and changing the literary landscape with “Small Experiments with Radical Intent” panelists Janine Joseph of UndocuPoets, Kima Jones of Jack Jones Literary Agency, Ramiza Koya of Literary Arts, and Desiree Dallagiacomo of Forward Arts in Baton Rouge.
“I find empathy to be infectious, and it’s amazing to see how much people in your own community can accomplish. Your community is your greatest resource.” – Erin Belieu
Britt Udesen (Executive Director of The Loft Literary Center), Amalia Kruszel (Arts Action Fund Program Manager at Americans for the Arts), moderator Tina Cane (Executive Director of Writers-in-the-Schools, Rhode Island and Rhode Island Poet Laureate), Erin Belieu (co-founder of VIDA and Writers Resist), and Diane Luby Lane (Executive Director of Get Lit) revealed their thoughts on literary activism, social change, and community building at our “Loud Because We Have to Be” panel.
Robin Reagler helped close out the conference by introducing Jen Benka at the Academy of American Poets event featuring Layli Long Soldier, Khaled Mattawa, and Mark Doty.
Our WITS booth is where we talked with emerging writers and educators about the alliance. WITS Houston writers Paige Quinones and Dan Chu discuss opportunities for writers to engage with their community through Writers in the School programs.
Our booth was a popular space! We held daily raffles and gave away swag. Poet Danez Smith gets a “Because Writing is Revolutionary” temporary tattoo from Mohamed Sheriff.
Cultivating relationships with writers at AWP is essential to ensuring that we continue to place writers in the classroom and work toward our mission of giving every child the opportunity to tell their story.
This Spring Break, join WITS as we offer fun and innovative programming throughout the week!
Writing Workshops at Spring Break at Discovery Green
Writing Workshop at Let’s Be Friends
WITS Youth Advisory Council’s Story Slam
Young Poet Laureate, Rukmini Kalamangalam, at Inprint Cool Brains! Spring Break Fest with Juan Felipe Herrera
The Texas Teen Book Festival brings nationally known YA authors from across the nation for readings, writing workshops by WITS’ sister program Badgerdog, and even a literary costume contest. Participants in the FREE event will get to meet Renee Watson, Jason Reynolds, Marie Lu, Adam Silvera, Jennifer Mathieu, and many more.
Join us at the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin, Texas, on October 7th, 2017. Yup, that’s this weekend, so I suggest that you get packing.
You will not want to miss this glorious occasion that The New York Times calls “life-changing and more fun than Wisconsin’s annual cheese-eating contest.”
(Editor’s note: The New York Times never said that and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be sued now.)
This festival features all your favorite YA authors! Some of them came willingly, and some of them we had to smoke out of their houses with firecrackers. We’re going to show these authors some Texas love, which means slathering them in barbecue sauce and putting them on a mechanical bull while they read opening lines from their books. Get ready for some fun!
In addition to lots of readings and book signings, there will be a literary costume contest and free writing workshops. The grand finale will be a Lord of the Flies inspired pig-hunting contest where the winner gets $10,000 cash!
(Editor’s note: This is why we shouldn’t let teens write for our blog. Seriously, I have no idea what this kid was thinking.)
By Pearl R
Dear WITS Family,
Finally the rain has ended in Houston. The storm has affected each of us in some way, even those of us lucky enough to avoid flood waters.
After five days of mad precipitation, the deluge transformed into mist and disappeared. That’s when I noticed my Instagram feed was populated with hundreds of sky photos—not dramatic sunsets or hyperbolic clouds, just pale blue sky. Here in Houston, we have never appreciated blue sky as much as we have this week.
When we asked the WITS Writers if they wanted to volunteer to work with flood-affected families, all 30 spots filled in less than an hour. I am humbled to work with such talented, authentic, and generous poets and writers.
Thousands of evacuated families are living in the George R. Brown Convention Center. Although many of the children have experienced trauma, we are not asking them directly about their experience. Instead WITS Writers are bringing joy and playfulness to these kids, telling stories, building houses out of blocks, and pretending to be cars or frogs. As we’ve discovered in the classroom, the stories we most need to share come through, regardless of the subject matter. Humans are storytellers to the core. We connect with one another through language. Through poetry. That’s what makes WITS a powerful part of the healing process.
I have been moved beyond belief by the spirit of generosity demonstrated here in Houston this week. Our Democratic Mayor and our Republican County Commissioner are working as a dynamic duo. It seems as though everyone who remains unscathed is pitching in, helping to feed, clothe, and support those in need. Even the pop radio station that my cynical teens like best has been sharing tales of human kindness, ending with the refrain: “We are all neighbors. We are all family. We are #HoustonStrong.”
Nothing has brought our city together like this moment. It is truly inspiring. It makes me want to work harder than ever to bring the healing power of storytelling to every Houston child.
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,
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,
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.
At 7 p.m. on Sunday, half an hour before the Meta-Four Houston vs. Houston VIP Send-Off Slam was set to begin, the performance space at Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH) was already nearly full of families, friends, and fans awaiting an evening of pulse-pounding, breathtaking poetry.
The Send-Off Slam, part of a yearly slate of events leading up to Meta-Four Houston’s journey to Brave New Voices International, is more family reunion than competition. It’s a chance for Houston V.I.P., the nationally acclaimed adult slam team, to give their blessing and best wishes to the youth of Meta-Four. With many former members of Meta-Four going on to join Houston V.I.P. as adults, the collaboration serves to cultivate the next generation of gifted slam poets and grow Houston’s poetry scene year by year.
When all the performing team members and judges were in place, Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, head coach of this year’s Meta-Four team and the DJ/emcee/scorekeeper of the night, kicked off the event with an introduction to the roots of slam poetry and an explanation of the slam’s format before volunteering himself as the “sacrificial poet,” the first performer of the night to brave the judges’ evaluations and the audience’s reactions.
After a joking round of all ones (with a single nine) for the sacrificial poet, the competition began in earnest. First up was Meta-Four, performing a searing group poem about school shootings and America’s seeming indifference to gun violence. Next, Houston V.I.P. sent up a single team member whose voice trembled with emotion as she performed a poem comparing black lives ended too soon to flowers ripped from the ground before being given a chance to fully bloom.
With each round came individual and group poems from both teams that covered a wide range of personal and political themes: “problem kids” in school, human trafficking in Houston, fears and phobias, and self-defining success in the face of personal challenges. The collection of performances had viewers in spellbound silence, peals of laughter, and most of all, full of shouts and snaps.
The judges were tough, and as is tradition in the slam world, audience members were quite vocal in reacting to the judges’ scores. Only one poem received not just one, but multiple scores of ten out of ten: MetaFour’s “Kill Bill,” a haunting poem about the daughter left behind in the wake of Philando Castille’s murder, and the irony of fictional characters receiving justice that real-life victims do not. The final tally was close, with only seven-tenths of a point difference, but Meta-Four emerged victorious.
This year’s send-off held a special significance, coming at the ten year mark for Meta-Four. The youth slam team was founded in 2007 by Shannon Buggs, a member of the WITS Board of Directors, after her first visit to Brave New Voices International. In the ten years since, the program has grown and evolved with collaboration from WITS Executive Director Robin Reagler, Houston Poet Laureate and former WITS Special Programs Manager Deborah DEEP Mouton, Meta-Four Coordinator Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, and Sixto Wagan. Director of the University of Houston Center for Art & Social Engagement. In addition, Brave New Voices International celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and in the slam’s inaugural documentary-style podcast, Meta-Four will be one of three teams followed on their journey through the competition.
As the Meta-Four team jets off to San Francisco today, with their pockets full of poems and the wind of past successes at their backs, we here at WITS send our best wishes for an unforgettable Brave New Voices experience and look forward to ten more brilliant years from the bright burning star that is Meta-Four.
by Willow Curry
Our June camps are over, but it’s not too late to sign up for July programs. Check out our site!
Houston students can sign up for the summer reading program offered by the Houston Public Library. Reading is always a fun adventure, and through this program you can also win prizes.Registration begins on June 1st, 2017. The program continues until August 1st, 2017. Find out more here.
WITS Communications Strategist Analicia Sotelo will read from her new chapbook, Nonstop Godhead, on Friday 7pm at Brazos Bookstore. She will be joined by WITS Board Member Roberto Tejada and WITS Writer Beth Lyons. Nonstop Godhead recently won a fellowship award from the Poetry Society of America. It was selected by Rigoberto Gonzalez. Sotelo’s first full-length book, Virgin, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2018. It is the winner of the Inaugural Jake Adam York Prize.
The Annual Fresh Ink Writing Contest is now accepting submissions. Texas students in middle and high school may apply.
Here’s some information from their site:
Winners receive a cash prize: $250 for first place, $100 for second, and $50 for third. In addition, winners are awarded a plaque, have their stories published on the TBF website, and are invited to participate on a panel during the Texas Book Festival weekend. Entries must be 2,000 words or less, 12 point type, double-spaced, and related to the 2017 Fresh Ink Fiction Contest theme: “Funny Running Into You Here.”
Read the complete guidelines before applying. The submissions are due June 1st, 2017.
April is National Poetry Month, and U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera will make a special Houston visit on Wednesday, April 19th. Herrera is the son of migrant farmers. He has published 30 books in his illustrious career, and he was named the first Mexican-American U.S. Poet Laureate in 2015. The University of Houston – Downtown will host this performance and discussion in the Robertson Auditorium at 5:30 pm. The event is free, and the public is invited to attend.
When: Saturday, January 21 at 4 PM – 6 PM
Soapbox Youth Nonfiction Slam
Date: December 3, 2016
Location: Morris Frank Library | 10103 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX 77035
Join the WITS Youth Advisory Council on Saturday, December 3rd, at 2pm at the Morris Frank Library for the Soapbox Nonfiction Slam. This event is free and open to youth ages 13-19. Bring your most interesting holiday story to share (5 minutes max) and wear your best holiday sweater. Prizes for the best stories!
RSVP to [email protected]
#NaNoWriMo sounds like nonsense, right? But it’s a real thing — November is National Novel Writing Month — and there’s a version of the project retooled especially for young writers and their teachers. You can think of NaNoWriMo as a boot camp to help writers at any level produce a first draft of a novel in 30 days. Participation is free and so much fun. Check out the Young Writers Project.
Join WITS on Saturday, July 9th, 2 pm as the Meta-Four Houston team gives their FREE farewell performance at the Live Oaks Meeting House on 26th Street in the Heights before jetting off to Washington, D.C. to perform at the Brave New Voices International Festival. Meta-Four Houston recently won first place in the state of Texas. Come check out these talented poets!