Congrats to the Space City Grand Slam Winners

Posted April 3, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Congrats to the top 6 young performance poets who made the Meta-Four Houston team and will go on to represent Houston at the international youth slam competition, Brave New Voices, in San Francisco in July:

Jackson N. – Austin High School
Donald V. – Sharpstown High School
Ashlyn S. – Humble High School
Sebastian K. – Heights High School
Adam M. – Humble High School
Jordan R. – Cypress Lakes High School

Special thanks to our supporters: the Travelers Foundation (Travelers Insurance), the charitable arm of Travelers, and KBXX 97.9 The Box.

Thank you to our guests for their support and dedication: Ashley Turner, First Daughter Of The City Of Houston, Dr. Antonio Tillis, Dean of the University of Houston‘s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Keisha Nicole and KG Smooth of KBXX 97.9 The Box, Anne Sung, Houston Independent School District board member and VP of Project Grad, Rick Hess, WITS board member, Brian Cheadle of the Travelers Foundation, and so many more.

When I Write

Posted & filed under Notebook, Poem, Poem of the Day, Student Writing.


A poem is like a volcano trying to erupt.
A story is like a wild unknown animal, yet to be discovered.
A play is like a crazy zombie apocalypse.
Because zombies are dumb and funny, wearing crazy hats.
When I write, I feel like a maze that has a-maze-ing ideas.
When I write, I feel like a hero fighting for the weak and making them believe.

by Miguel, 4th grade

Click the media player above to listen to the poem read on Sunny 99.1KPFT 90.1, and KTRU 96.1 by Mackenzie, WITS Youth Advisory Council Member. The background music is “Tough Guy” by Akashic Records. Produced by Susan Phillips.

Poem a Day is made possible in part by H-E-B,, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, KPFT 90.1, Sunny 99.1, and KTRU 96.1.

Original post: June 27, 2016


3 Ways You Can Celebrate #NationalPoetryMonth with WITS

Posted March 30, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

April is National Poetry Month, and to say we’re excited is an understatement.

This year’s celebration is bigger and better than ever.

Not only are students, teachers, librarians, bloggers, and poets around the country highlighting the powerful legacy of verse, but WITS is providing 3 amazing ways you can get involved.

#1 Visit the Poet-trees at Buffalo Bayou

Poet-trees are back! WITS has partnered with artist Nicola Parente and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to transform Houston trees into “poet-trees” at Eleanor Tinsley Park (near Allen Parkway). Visitors can write poems, quotes, and wishes on tags and hang them on the trees for others to read. You can also snap a pic of your poem on the tree and post it to social media using the hashtag #poettree.

Want to create your own poet-tree? Learn how to DIY a poet-tree over on our site!

#2 Get a Poem A Day in Your Inbox

Wish you had more poetry in your life? Sign up for our blog and you’ll receive a Poem A Day written by a talented WITS student each weekday for the entire month of April.

Be on the lookout for those same poems airing live on Sunny 99.1 at 7:20 a.m., KPFT 90.1, and KTRU 96.1.

Yes! I want a Poem a Day >>

#3 Find WITS Poems at H-E-B!

Be sure to check out H-E-B Montrose, San Felipe, Buffalo Speedway, and Bunker Hill throughout the month of April for delicious food-themed poems written by young WITS writers.

Plus – share your poems with us!

Write a poem, take a pic of your poem, and upload it to Instagram with the tag #witspics. We’ll “pick” our favorite “pics” and share them on our Instagram page for all to see. Whether you’ve always wanted to write a poem or you’ve dabbled in the past, we want to see what you’ve got!

Poem a Day is made possible in part by H-E-B, The City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance,, the Texas Commission on the Arts, Sunny 99.1, KPFT 90.1, and KTRU 96.1.



Join us at the Grand Slam this Sunday at George R. Brown Convention Center!

Posted March 29, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Check out our amazing line-up for the Space City Poetry Slam Series – The Grand Slam at George R. Brown Convention Center 2nd floor C North Balcony located between Mezzanines B and C, this Sunday, April 2nd at 3 p.m with KBXX 97.9 The Box. You won’t want to miss these incredible young poets change your life with their powerful words.

The 6 final winners will become Meta-Four Houston and represent Houston at Brave New Voices. Special guests will include Ashley Turner, First Daughter Of The City Of Houston; Anne Sung, HISD board member; Rick Hess, WITS Board member; DJ Keisha Nicole of 97.9 The Box; and Dr. Antonio Tillis, Dean of the University of Houston‘s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Photo by Pin Lim.

The Space City Grand Slam is supported by a grant awarded by the Travelers Foundation (Travelers Insurance) the charitable arm of Travelers. We thank them for supporting these young leaders!

Be sure to check out Meta-four Houston’s interview with Houstonia Magazine here and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for live event updates!

Happy National Puppy Day

Posted March 23, 2017 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

On the occasion of National Puppy Day, we thought we’d republish a letter from our Executive Director, Robin Reagler, celebrating all that we love and learn from our pets. It was originally published in the WITS newsletter, A New Leaf, in 2001.

My dog Jake is not a great writer, and yet he has managed to teach me a few important things about how to live my life.

Jake is a foundling. I found him in June on a Sunday afternoon. People were playing baseball in the park. He’d been hit by a car and was limping. He followed me for miles. Maybe I am the foundling. He did find me, in a sense. I was chosen.

That week I was sitting in a 3rd grade classroom in our summer camp. They were sharing news of the day and practicing description. I described (poorly, so as to receive some student assistance) my new puppy.

The next day I received a note from a student in that group, Chelsea, who wrote, “Dear Ms. Robin, Take good care of your puppy.” I have tried my utmost.

As a steadfast puppy observer (severely biased by parenthood) I have abstracted a few wisdoms that I suspect to be the guiding principles of Jake. But first, let me provide a few vital statistics:

Name: Jake

Memorable features: polka dot eyebrows, floppy right ear flops, missing the right hind leg

Age: almost 3

Likes: peanut butter, bones, people food, treats, running like wind, swimming in the bayou, assisting in household chores as the sous chef in the kitchen, jr. gardener in the yard, laundry boy, etc.

Dislikes: taking a bath, his sister Moriah the cat

Nicknames by loved ones: Jacob, J-Chamber, Glow dog, Poco, Poky, Pokemon, Jakomon

Nicknames by strangers: Tripod, Troika, Lucky, Hopalong

And now, Life according to Jake:

  • If you don’t know what something is, smell it. If you still aren’t sure, taste it.
  • When you want something, but someone else has it, ask for it. If that doesn’t work, beg. If THAT doesn’t work, do some tricks.
  • When someone makes you nervous, keep moving. When you have a good feeling about someone, strike up a friendly conversation. If they ignore you, keep moving.
  • Every decision is an everyday decision. If you make a mistake, keep moving.
  • If your people are sick, give them a kiss and stick close by for a while.
  • Joy is everywhere. It is not hiding. It is ours for the taking.

So by the grace of a dog, I keep my eyes and ears open. I try to pay attention to the wonders on either side of my path. The classroom is everywhere.

All my best,


Free Youth Performance Poetry Workshop at the Bayou City Book Festival

Posted March 15, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Are you a 6th, 7th, or 8th grader with a love of words? Sign up now for a free performance poetry workshop with WITS writer Jasminne Mendez at Lone Star College – Kingwood during the Bayou City Book Festival.

In this workshop, you’ll learn about the writing and performance process, exploring revision, stage presence, and poetry slam methods/appreciation. Spots are filling fast, so register here today!


April 8, 2017 from 11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.


Lone Star College – Kingwood

20000 Kingwood Drive Houston, TX 77339, Performing Arts Building Rm. 125

Learn more about the Bayou City Book Festival here.


About Jasminne

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 the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Rice University, the University of Houston-Downtown, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, Barnes & Noble, and the Alley Theatre. She has shared the stage with respected writers and poets, notably, Sandra Cisneros and Taylor Mali. Mendez has been published both nationally and internationally, and her first multi-genre memoir Island of Dreams was published by Floricanto Press in November of 2013 and was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015.

Teen Publishing Opportunity

Posted March 10, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Do you know a teen between the ages of 13-19 who wants to be a published writer?

Check out Word on the Street / La Voz de Los Jovenes: a new online magazine of writing and the arts, created by the youth, for youth. Created, visioned, and led by a core squad of youth of color, this magazine is open to all youth and is bilingual.

Submissions can be in English or Spanish, and are completely free.

This opportunity is housed by the Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community. Thank you, Janet Hurley, for sharing!

Free Youth Poetry Sessions at Levy Park

Posted March 3, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Spring is in the air and so is our new performance workshop for youth ages 13-19! Starting today, we’re hosting a FREE workshop and open mic every first Friday of the month at the new Levy Park Conservancy. Join us from 7 – 8:30 p.m. No registration is required, and walk-ins are welcome. Learn more here.

Want updates on WITS events near you? Check out our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

WITS Shout Out! Kashmere High School Presents to Microsoft

Posted March 1, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Congrats to our WITS Digital students from Kashmere High School! Earlier this month, they competed at the HISD Together with Tech conference alongside 44 other student teams.

The conference was created by HISD to explore the impact that technology has made in the classroom, specifically through their initiative, PowerUp, which brought a laptop to every student in the district. Students presented a variety of projects, including digital animation, mobile app design, and more.

As finalists, our WITS Digital students were selected to share their project with Microsoft and take a private tour of the office in celebration of Digital Learning Day.

WITS Digital is an initiative held in partnership with Histrionix Learning Company. The innovative program combines writing and game-based technologies, bridging the process of writing with that of game design. Through game play, students become creators versus consumers of media, using their writing as the foundation for design as a new method of publication.

Watch a video about the event over at the HISD blog.

Learn more about the Together with Tech conference here.

WITS Alliance Visits D.C.

Posted February 22, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Each year, the WITS Alliance heads to a different city to attend the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) #AWP17 conference, a gathering of around 12,000 professionals. The conference provides an opportunity for writers to find support, discover resources, and build community.

The WITS Alliance has a strong presence at the conference. Whether it’s a quick morning meet-up with WITS leadership from all over the country, a booth filled with info for writers looking for jobs, or panels exploring such topics as video games in the classroom, women leaders, and creative writing as public art, WITS is there, strengthening its relationship with writers across the nation.

Here are a few highlights from the trip!

Associate Director, Jack McBride visited United States Senator Cornyn’s office with a message about how the arts are vital to business and education in Texas.

Jack McBride, Rick Brennan, Kelly Whitney, and Virginia McErneny chatted about how digital technology can transform the classroom and inspire even the most reluctant young learners to write.

Mahogany L Browne, Lori Pourier, Meggie Monahan, Jen Benka, and Amy King shared their experiences as women leaders in today’s world.

Kate Brennan, David Hassler, Alice Quinn, and Steve Young talked about how our communities can turn poetry into public art in public spaces.

Lauren Bullock, Michele Kotler, Ramiza Koya, and Giuseppe Taurino discussed how we can build more opportunities and systems that fuel diverse leaders.

Jasminne Mendez, Peter Mountford, Nina Swamidoss McConigley, and Glenn Shaheen, all former WITS writers, shared a piece from a WITS kid that inspired them, as well as some of their own work.

Alicia Craven, Stephanie Brown, Sunshine Ison and Mohamed Sheriff talked about how writers can leverage their skills in “From MFA to JOB: Making a Living, Making a Difference.”

One major highlight of the trip was the AWP gala, which featured words by renowned writers Jackie Woodson and Rita Dove. Here’s a quick selfie with our Executive Director, Robin Reagler, her childhood friend Sonya Gray, and Jackie Woodson.

Robin also gave a speech at the gala, sharing her thoughts on why gathering together as writers is important for sustaining a strong community of literary citizens.

Our WITS booth, where we talk with new writers and educators about the WITS Alliance, was filled with sweet swag to giveaway, like these dual writing/art notebooks.

The booth was a popular space! Here are WITS Alliance members, Amy Risher and Michele Kotler, as well as WITS Writer, Jonathan Meyer, chatting us up.

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 read and write. Until next year!

My Heart

Posted February 14, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

My heart

is the sea

brushing on

the rocks

My heart

is an invincible

sumo wrestler

My heart is


morning over

and over

My heart

is fierce,

an unbelievable


It is all true

because it is

my heart.

By Nelson, 3rd grade

Originally published Dec 10, 2010.

PBS Kids Writers Contest Open Now

Posted February 4, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Do you know a child with a talent for writing?

The PBS KIDS Writers Contest is now accepting submissions from young writers and illustrators in Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Anyone who enters will receive a Certificate of Achievement, with Finalists participating in an award ceremony this May. The winning stories will be produced for broadcast on Houston Public Media!

The deadline is March 15, 2017. Learn more here.

Just Play

Posted February 3, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Coach calls a time out.
As we the team run to coach,
the blur in my eyes,
barely could hearing what he’s trying to say,
trying desperately to see the words
come out of his mouth,
too embarrassed to say,
“Coach, get me off the field.
I’m not making a difference.”
So then they call us all into huddle,
“Blue 42 going to Dan.
put those boys asleep and
go out for Sunday dinner.
One more thing, block.”
The quarterback says,
“Hut one, hut two, hut three.”
I run off thinking if I don’t catch the ball, it’s
going to be three things: me
coach and hell.
I thought that again
And again and again…then
I spin my head to the
side and see a brown leathery
diamond-shaped ball sail sweetly
into my hands.
And everyone knows what
happens next.
a stop, turn, another turn,
the other way, jump, scream,
and dance into the end zone.
And now that mad-wanna-be-grin
On coach’s face was a smile.

by Dan, 8th grade

Original post: August 24, 2007

WITS Writer Chris Cander Writes Fearlessly in Kazakhstan with the Dostyk American International School

Posted February 1, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Traveling to a new place requires a certain amount of fearlessness. Luckily, WITS Writer Chris Cander thrives on new experiences. So when the Dostyk American International School in Atyrau, Kazakhstan invited her to become a writer-in-residence for a week, and teach creative writing to young expatriates between pre-K and 8th grade, Chris immediately said yes.

Chris Cander with the Pre-K and K youth, after creating “dictionaries” from interesting-looking words and imagining their meanings.

Chris, an avid traveler, knows that living in a foreign place can be an extraordinary experience that could be lost if it’s not mapped on the page. She designed lesson plans that would allow her students to reflect on the spaces around them, and returning to those reflections as they got older. Most of all, she encourages her students to not worry about the blank page. She wants her students to be “fearless writers” who are ready to brave it all.

Chris created a workbook for each grade level with room for poetry and prose exercises. At the end of the week, a celebration was held, with each student sharing a favorite piece with parents and teachers.

Find out more about Chris’ journey over at her blog.

Grades 1-2 write a group poem based on “heart maps.”

The final poem, shared at the celebration with parents and educators on Friday.



Former WITS Writer Janine Joseph Will Read at Poison Pen Reading Series Tonight

Posted January 26, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Author Janine Joseph; Photo by Jaclyn Heward

Janine Joseph, who taught with Writers in the Schools from 2009-2013, will be reading tonight at Houston’s Poison Pen Reading Series at 8:30 p.m. at Poison Girl Cocktail Lounge. She will be reading alongside University of Houston writers, Allegra Hyde and Will Burns. The event is free and open to the public (21 and up).

Janine was born and raised in the Philippines and Southern California. She is the author of Driving without a License (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize, and is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. Her poems and essays about growing up undocumented in America have appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Hayden’s Ferry Review,  The Asian American Literary Review, The Collagist, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, where she was a poetry editor for Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts.

Leading with the Body: What We Can Learn from World-Acclaimed Slam Poet Danez Smith

Posted January 25, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

This weekend, WITS and Meta-four Houston held a free youth slam workshop with Danez Smith at The Pilot on Navigation. Post-rain, students poured into The Pilot’s theater space to hear what Danez would say about the craft of performance poetry.

Even WITS writers and educators came out to the event to see what they could learn from Danez, well-known in the poetry community as the author of Don’t Call Us Dead (2017), and [insert] Boy (2014), as well as winner of the Lambda Literary Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Danez’ background in slam includes several championship titles and a year as festival director for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam, as featured on HBO.

For many young writers, getting on stage is not easy. Not only do they have to share original poetry with their audience, but they have to do so in such a way that they command their audience’s attention. That requires confidence, and at a deeper level, comfort with their own bodies’ ability to express feelings and ideas.

To get students comfortable with the stage, Danez introduced the two-hour session with a few acting exercises, including one where each participant “lead with their favorite body part” and one where the participants had to work together to fill the stage with movement. After these exercises, Danez sat down with the students to discuss powerful poems by Patricia Smith, Franny Choi, and Jeffrey McDaniel. Together, the group imagined worlds that are only possible with poetry, worlds where anything can be said, and anyone can have a voice.  

Photo credits: Pin Lim

Football Star and Best-Selling Author, Tim Green, To Read in Houston

Posted January 20, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

Educators! As you know, the Houston Super Bowl is right around the corner. Here’s a unique opportunity for your students to get excited about football and literature.

On Friday, January 29th, Inprint Cool Brains! presents Tim Green, author of the New York Times bestseller for middle-schoolers, Football Genius. Tim will be reading from his new book, Left Out, at 3 p.m. at Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School.

After the reading, he’ll answer questions from the audience, and sign books for fans. The event is free and open to the public.

To find out more and/or download a curriculum guide for the book, visit the Inprint Page here.


WITS Performance in the Community: A New Project with Salvation Army

Posted January 19, 2017 & filed under Notebook.

WITS Writer and Slam Poet, Loyce Gayo

If you’ve ever witnessed a slam poetry performance by our Meta-Four team, a crew of 13-19 year-old WITS students with a desire to be heard, you know that there is a magical quality to the energy they expend on stage.

Performance poetry is an opportunity for students to empower themselves, to use their bodies and their voices to create an artistic moment that represents their particular vision of the world. Here at WITS, we’ve seen first-hand how these students grow as they perform, and we’d like to give even more students that opportunity.

One of our most exciting new adventures is our new partnership with the Salvation Army Young Adult Resource Center (YARC). The YARC connects homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 with housing and other means of support, including meals, respite, job coaching, recovery coaching, tutoring and non-traditional educational support.

WITS writer and slam poet, Loyce Gayo, will spend 12 weeks introducing performance poetry to these young adults. Loyce hopes the project will inspire curiosity in her students, a curiosity that leads to new perspectives.

“If you are able to look at anything in a different light,” she says, “you can approach your [personal] vision in a different light.” To Loyce, curiosity is the root of critical thinking. Helping her students consider new possibilities is the first step in contributing to their overall confidence and future success.

Loyce is excited about incorporating popular music into the classroom, using the complicated and nuanced work of popular rap albums to help her students connect with performance poetry, and gain enthusiasm about creating their own.

We will be checking in with Loyce in a few months to share the results of this new program.

About Loyce

Loyce Gayo is a Tanzanian-born slam poet, singer, teaching artist, and activist currently based in Houston, TX. Gayo is profoundly influenced by her experience in the African Diaspora and uses her craft to celebrate the journey of a people dispersed. She also uses her voice to advocate for the empowerment of marginalized people by supporting local efforts and organizations. Gayo was the slam champion of the UT Spitshine poetry slam team, which won the 2014 Collegiate Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). Her work has been featured on Button Poetry, Write About Now, Badilisha Poetry, and PBS. She teaches creative writing for Writers in the Schools, Houston.

Writers Promoting Peace, Democracy, Unity, and Hope

Posted January 13, 2017 & filed under Event, free Houston event, Notebook, Poem.

15622540_1259547307447195_5086618294382902961_nThis Sunday 1/15/17 in over 70 US cities, writers will gather to speak out for equity and justice, as part of a movement called #WritersResist. To represent the Houston community, Houston poets and writers of diverse backgrounds will come together to share messages of peace, democracy, unity, and hope. The diversity of our city, the solidarity among its writers, and the power of the written and spoken word are at the center of these readings.

Houston has planned two events–

1) #WritersResist Houston: “We Too Sing America” – on Jan. 15th, 5 – 8 pm at the Holocaust Museum Houston (5401 Caroline Street). For more information, click here.

2) #WritersResist Houston: “Let Us Gather” – on Jan. 20th, 7-9 pm at St. Paul’s Houston (5501 Main at Binz/Bissonnet 77004)
For more information, click here.

WITS will be represented by Robin Reagler, Outspoken Bean, Deboroah DEEP Mouton, Fareena Arafeen, and several others. Please join us for both of these inspiring free events.