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. https://chriscander.com/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.

Ode to Snowy Owls

Posted December 31, 2016 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.



photo credit: pixabay

Oh, snow owls, your beautiful sound

from the heavens lets light

through the clouds in the sunset.

Snow owls, when you rise at the dawn of winter,

your wings shimmer from the frosty bits

and you fly like a dove.

You are as majestic as an eagle,

soaring in the salty breeze.

Your eyes are like diamonds floating in the angry sea,

a tsunami of delighted sadness

trapped in a cage of anger.

Your feathers are like snow

falling from the dusk of twilight.

Snow owls,

stay in the heavens of midnight.


by Eva, 3rd grade

The Best Christmas of Onasis Rodriguez

Posted December 25, 2016 & filed under Notebook, Student Writing.


My best Christmas was two years ago because somebody my dad knew from work invited us to his apartment to celebrate. When my dad and I got to the apartment, we marveled that it was so pretty. All the decorations were nice because the guy my dad knew from work put a lot of effort into them. Decorations were all over the apartment. There were candles,  presents, lights, and lots of food. My dad and I sat on the sofa. We met some people at the party who we didn’t know, friends and relatives of our host. All of us ate chicken sandwiches and drank sodas. I couldn’t help staring at the tree and how it was decorated with lights, ornaments, a star on top, and especially, presents underneath.

When it was time to open the presents, everybody did, except me and my dad because our host didn’t get us any, and his guests didn’t know us. So you might think that I was sad. But here’s the best part of all: a lady at the party gave me a present. She went to her room and came back and gave me a present! I opened the present, and it was a shirt, and it fit, and I thanked her because she gave me a present. I didn’t know her, but she was nice to me. To tell the truth, I prefer a Wii or Xbox game for a gift rather than a shirt. My dad didn’t care about himself. He was happy that I got a present. My dad felt as good as I did.

When it was at 12 o’clock, it was time for my dad and me to go. When we got back home, my dad and I went to sleep. The next day I wore the shirt.

By Onasis Rodriguez, 8th Grade


This essay was written by a WITS student a number of years ago but remains a favorite. We thought we’d re-share it with you today.

Hanukkah Poem

Posted December 24, 2016 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.


Light the glittering candles

Chant the ancient prayers

Spin the colorful dreidels

Eat the crunchy latkes

Sing a holiday song

Remember a Jewish miracle

Tear open a hundred gifts!

By Sam


Call for teen poetry!

Posted December 7, 2016 & filed under Notebook.

adult-1850177_1920Who: The Poetry Society of America

What: The Louise Louis / Emily F. Bourne Student Award

When: Entries must be postmarked by December 22, 2016

Why: The winner will receive $250 and recognition by the Poetry Society of America

About the Award

Endowed under the wills of Louise Louis Whitbread and Ruth M. Bourne, this prize is awarded for the best unpublished poem by a student in grades 9 through 12 from the United States.


Any high school student can send a single entry in for a fee of $5.


You or an administrator from your school can submit an unlimited number of your students’ poems, one submission per student, for an entry fee of $20.

The Details

Entry should have one cover page and two collated copies of the poem. No previously published work can be submitted and translations are ineligible. Poems by more than one author will not be accepted. A poem that has previously won a PSA award cannot be re-submitted.

Find out more about the award requirements here: www.poetrysociety.org/psa/awards/annual/student_poetry_award



My Grandma’s House

Posted December 6, 2016 & filed under Notebook, Student Writing.


The outside of the house has bright red bricks and dark green tiles on the roof. Her path to the front door is so pretty. It has all kinds of rocks that are yellow and orange. Her front porch has a long swing where at least three people can fit. Her swing is hard as a rock, with flowers all over it, all a different color. It’s the only place where I can calm down and just relax. Her backyard is gigantic. She has her vegetable garden there: tomatoes, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, and potatoes.

I can smell flowers, chicken soup, lemonade, and my favorite perfume: Chanel No. 5. All of these smells will never leave her house. Even when we clean her house and spray different things, these smells never leave. I will always remember these smells. Even though they are just scents, these scents can also have memories.

I can hear bird calls. Each time is different. I think they are singing, but really they’re just talking to each other. I can hear the leaves rustling whenever the wind is strong. I can hear the squirrels running around and playing, and sometimes it sounds like they are laughing. My grandma’s house is never silent and is always talking.

I can feel the warmth from the oven whenever my grandma is baking cake or cookies. I can feel the porcelain dolls my grandma collected. I can feel the love my grandma gives me, and anyone who enters her house can feel it, too.

I always water the flowers whenever my grandma can’t. I like playing with the mysterious cat that comes to visit me. I also like playing with my best friends, the twins Liliana and Eva. Even though I can’t sit on my grandma’s lap like I used to, I sit next to her on her favorite couch and we talk for hours. I can never bear when we have to leave and come back to Houston, but there is always another summer vacation.

by Lila
Hamilton Middle School

Youth Poet Laureate

Posted November 15, 2016 & filed under Notebook.


Introducing Houston’s New Youth Poet Laureate

Fareena Arefeen, 17, is Houston’s new Youth Poet Laureate. Fareena, a student at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), was chosen amongst dozens of talented Houston teens to share her insightful voice and creative spirit with the City of Houston.

Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate is an initiative led by WITS, the City of Houston, and the Houston Public Library. The position was designed to help young teens foster creative growth in our diverse and unique city. At the annual WITS gala, Fareena, a first-generation American, shared a poem and a captivating story about her background and love of writing.

“Poetry wasn’t just the esoteric words in my school textbooks; it was alive and real and right there in the apartment building where I lived, on the sidewalks where I walked, and at the gas station where my mom worked,” Fareena shared. “Poetry didn’t just belong to people who didn’t look or sound like me; it belonged to me.”

Fareena wants to use her poetry to provide “comfort and stability” to underserved and marginalized communities. But she also believes that poetry has another use, to “challenge and push people in power toward change and new perspectives,” and inspire people to fund the arts for underrepresented communities.

You can read Fareena’s poem, Hurricane Season, below:


Hurricane Season


My mother tells me that I was born outside of the eye of a hurricane,

where the storm is strong and moves quickly in radials.

I think I am a series of low pressure systems and winds that can carry bayous.


I’ve heard that a child playing on the coast in Africa

can cause the start of a hurricane in the Atlantic and maybe

a working immigrant in Toronto can be the origin of a poet in Houston.


My ninth birthday was suspended in the space between cyclone and serene.

I watched my city build itself up again after Hurricane Ike and

I guess we are both having growing pains.


I’ve learned that my purpose is flooding.

I want to form inundations of words and earn

the title of a Category Four. Drought relief and filler of bayou banks.

Hurricanes bring heat energy from the tropics

the way I would like to bring light to the city that taught me how to hold rainwater in the form of



On my thirteenth birthday, I watched the bayou

spill into this dizzy headed space city

like a push of blood to the lungs.


Inhaling atmospheric pressure of a tropical storm

in the eye of hurricane season felt like bayou backwash

of building Rothko layers.


Maybe if I could say that brown is my favorite color,

I would finally see the whirlpools that rest in my skin and in the Buffalo Bayou.

And someday I could love the greens hidden in browns hidden in labyrinths of color.


I only came into my skin

after I grew into this city and they both happened like storm clouds; rolling in and all at once.


Now, I find impressions of myself in the silt

as there are maps of this city pressed into my hands like footsteps on wet ground.


On my seventeenth birthday, the clouds broke light rays

the way I want to leave fractures in my city

that can be filled with the work of new artists and immigrants to take my place.


My favorite smell is rain

falling through concrete and cumin because they combine homes.

I can be a drop of water falling in multiple places


I am stuck to the city I’ve learned to call my own

like humidity on skin that can finally

hold its own storm.

Happy National Novel Writing Month!

Posted November 1, 2016 & filed under Contest, Event, free Houston event, News, Notebook, Student Writing.


#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.


Posted October 25, 2016 & filed under Notebook, Poem, Student Writing.

kettle-653673_640Oppression is a steaming kettle pot

in an endless black hole.

The steaming kettle pot

holds pressure

just like a human

holds the pressure of oppression.

Oppression is a steaming kettle pot

in an endless black hole

until you decide to let it go.

The streaming kettle pot will have no more

pressure to hold on to.

The black hole will finally have an end.

The end of something

is the beginning of something

new and beautiful.

By Jonathan, Hamilton Middle

Green Windy Forest

Posted October 5, 2016 & filed under Notebook.


(Inspired by the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection, Houston, Texas) 

The forest air smells like sweet pine trees.
I walk through the forest, looking at the cloudy sky.
The wind pushes me to the right, then to the left.
It tosses me for a while; then stops
and drops me into a wet, cold, blue, shiny river.
The river pushes me to the shore
where I find a mirror reflecting the forest green.
I stare at the trees and the wind,
all in that tiny mirror reflecting something
I cannot see.
by Danica, 4th grade

Who will be the next Houston Youth Poet Laureate?

Posted September 22, 2016 & filed under Notebook.


We hope you can join us as we announce the new Houston Youth Poet Laureate at the Writers in the Schools Gala on Thursday, November 10th, 6pm at The Astorian.

Writers in the Schools (WITS) and the Houston Public Library, in partnership with the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (MOCA), and with support from Urban Word NYC, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, and PEN Center USA, launched a city-wide competition to select Houston’s second Youth Poet Laureate.

Talented young poets, ages 14-19, submitted work in hopes of becoming the next Houston Youth Poet Laureate and last night submissions came flooding in until the stroke of midnight. Now judges will begin reviewing submissions and the top 5 finalists will be interviewed on Saturday, October 8th. From those finalists, Mayor Sylvester Turner will appoint the 2016-17 Houston Youth Poet Laureate.


Michelle Obama invites WITS Student to the White House

Posted September 13, 2016 & filed under Notebook.



Writers in the Schools student, Regional and Houston Youth Poet Laureate, Andrew White, was invited to the White House last week to meet with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Students performed poetry in the State Dining Room and met with First Lady Michele Obama, and nationally-acclaimed poets, Q-Tip, and Elizabeth Alexander.

During Obama’s speech, the First Lady recognized Andrew and the other 4 Regional Youth Poet Laureates in the audience and had them stand for a roaring applause.

Congratulations to Andrew and all of the other young poets! And thank you, Michele Obama, for encouraging students to write!