Posted April 21, 2014 & filed under Poem of the Day, Student Writing.

You may cruise by
on a hot summer day
looking through the
supermarket window,
hearing old country music
static slow.
Seeing the old faded
truck with torn interior,
strolling down the old
country road with
high grass rising up
to the top of someone’s toe.
I drink the water slowly,
smelling the air while
it blows your hair,
wiping sweat
off my chest.

by Joshua, 10th grade



Click the link above to listen to the poem read on KPFT radio by Jordan Wilson, an 8th grader at Johnston Middle School For the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. The background music is “Home (Tribute to Dierks Bentley)” by #1 Country Hits Instrumentals. Produced by Susan Phillips.

This poem is featured as part of the 2014 Poem A Day campaign, a National Poetry Month celebration by Writers in the Schools (WITS) that features a different poem by a WITS student every day during April. Click here to learn more.


Original post: January 14, 2014

The Story of WITS at 30

Posted December 3, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


In commemoration of Writers in the Schools‘ 30th anniversary, Bright Sky Press published Plant a Story, a book celebrating WITS at 30. It contains student writing, testimonials by Houston leaders, and photography documenting the program. Edited by Weezie Mackey, the author of Throwing Like a Girl, the new publication celebrates the achievements of Houston’s #1 arts organization. Get your copy when you make a recurring donation of $10 a month by clicking the link for Giving Tuesday.

Houston, Get Ready for SLAB

Posted October 17, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


The first Houston SLAB Parade + Family Festival will be held Sunday afternoon, October 20th.  The SLAB Parade will take place from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Griggs and Calhoun and will feature 50 Houston-area SLAB vehicles as well as customized bicycles.  On the Festival Stage 3 – 6 pm will be performances by WITS poets from Meta-Four Houston and the Meta-Four coach, Outspoken Bean, as well as B-Boy dance ensemble Havikoro and artists, including Gonzo247. This event is sponsored by Houston Arts Alliance Folklife + Traditional Arts Program, along with partners Houston Museum of African-American Culture and Workshop Houston. The event is FREE.


The Heart and Soul of Arts in Medicine

Posted October 16, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

Carol Herron assists Charles Tomayo II with a "fish" art projectDon’t be deceived by Carol Herron. She is the one you may hardly notice at the big event, the one setting up the chairs or ushering children to their seats or disappearing to find scissors or a microphone. At any arts-related event at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, Carol will be working the corners of the room, inviting children to move to the front row, cleaning up spilled glitter and glue, holding the elevator for the teenager in the wheelchair. She won’t be in the spotlight. In fact, you will barely know she’s there, standing in the back, calmly taking in her surroundings, quietly managing the hubbub.

Yet, Carol Herron deserves to be noticed. She may be petite, but she’s a powerhouse. She heads the Arts in Medicine Program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, which treats more childhood cancer and hematology patients than any other program in the U.S., with patients coming from 35 states and 26 countries around the world. Her job includes supervising over 90 volunteers and artists from nonprofit organizations across the city, overseeing Making a Mark, an annual event showcasing art from more than 350 kids being treating for cancer and blood disorders, and organizing hundreds of performances and hands-on workshops with patients every year.

With a Master’s degree in Recreation Therapy as well as experience in psychiatric health care and physical rehabilitation, Carol brings specialized knowledge to her daily work. She understands the theoretical value of the arts in medicine, but she also knows the practical power of the arts in a way that transcends numbers. Every day she facilitates experiences so that children can step beyond the confines of the typical hospital world and for a few minutes or hours be transformed by doing photography and painting, by watching puppeteers and magicians and operas, and by writing stories and poems and songs.

As the WITS writer-in-residence for many years at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, I feel honored to work with Carol Herron. I learn so much under her tutelage and guidance—how to listen to and respect these children who face cancer and blood disorders, how to believe deeply that the arts matter, and how to give fully and unconditionally. In life and death situations, you slowly learn that healing comes in many forms. It’s not always flashy; it’s often quiet and behind-the-scenes. Thank you, Carol Herron, for your work doing what truly matters, healing the world.

Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools (WITS)

* Thank you to The Periwinkle Foundation, which funds the WITS program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center.

WITS at TEDx Houston on Saturday

Posted October 10, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

423717_10150734727980763_1061110835_nWITS students from the 2013 Meta-Four team and WITS writer Outspoken Bean will be presenters at TEDx Houston 2013 at Rice University on Saturday. Former WITS writers Rick Brennan, Sarah Cortez, and Sehba Sarwar will also be speaking at this event to be held at Rice University. For more information, visit TEDx Houston on Facebook.

Meta-Four Wins 2013 Texas Youth Poetry Slam

Posted July 28, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


Breaking news!  Breaking news! Meta-Four, a spoken word program for teens at Writers in the Schools (WITS), WON the 2013 Texas Youth Poetry Slam.

This event was held at Studio 12 in The Commons at Texas A&M University, July 27-28th.  Youth from across Texas competed in the Haiku Slam, Individual Slam, and Team Slam.

The event was sponsored by Mic Check, the Arts Council of Brazos Valley, and the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M.

250474_589799164386658_2116090736_nWe thank everyone helping to create a platform for our youth to share their poetry and words of truth.

Congratulations to Team Meta-Four for an outstanding slam and to our WITS Meta-Four Coach Outspoken Bean!

Stay tuned for the next poetry slam. You don’t want to miss what these young people are telling you about their lives and the world.

Houston is Inspired!

Posted May 7, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

Facebook Inspired Cover

Houston is a wonderful hub of creativity. The “Houston is Inspired” campaign is designed to celebrate to the amazing artistic city that is Houston. Using the hashtag #HouInspired, share what inspires you! Feel free to use the image above as your facebook cover photo! And discover more at houstonisinspired.com.

Space City Grand Slam Saturday, May 11th, Oh Yeah!

Posted May 6, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

Meta-Four Logo upgrade

This Saturday 18 young poets will compete, and the winners will become the Meta-Four Houston Team for 2014. These performance poets will represent Houston in the Brave New Voices International Festival in Chicago (August 2013).

When: 10 am – 12 noon

Where: HPL Central Library Downtown – 4th floor

Cost: Free

The MC will be Outspoken Bean. DJ will be King Henry. The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee will announce the winners.

Meta-Four Houston is a program of Writers in the Schools (WITS). WITS is thankful to these awesome partners:

City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance


Land of the Lone Star

Posted April 30, 2013 & filed under Poem of the Day.

Leaving land of lone star

of heat, humidity, and horses

on a huge white bird

over open ocean

in night’s ebony embrace

Out of the ominous

an amazing archipelago

the pearl of perfection

the majesty of mountains


By Samuel, 7th Grade

Click the link above to listen to the poem read on KPFT radio by  Carson Brown, a 6th grader at Johnston Middle School For the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston.

This poem is featured as part of the 2013 A Poem a Day campaign, a National Poetry Month celebration by Writers in the Schools (WITS) that features a different poem by a WITS student every day during April. Click here to learn more. 

Special thanks to Susan Phillips, an independent radio producer and KPFT volunteer in Houston, who recorded and produced all the poems for the WITS A Poem a Day campaign.  

The UH Honors College Presents 2013 Common Ground Teachers Institute

Posted April 19, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


Here is an exciting and free professional development opportunity for teachers in the Houston area! Join Writers in the Schools (WITS) as we partner with the University of Houston Honors College to offer the 2013 Common Ground Teachers Institute on June 28, July 1-3, and July 8-12, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. each day.

The Common Ground Teachers Institute pairs teaching faculty at the University of Houston and teachers of English from secondary schools for a series of inspirational workshops and seminars. Teachers can earn up to 30 credit hours of Gifted and Talented (G/T) certification.

Please visit www.commongroundteachersinstitute.com for more information about the institute, a reservation form, and full descriptions of our 2013 seminars.

Seminar offerings for 2013 include “My Own Private Wilderness: Reading and Writing the Natural World” by WITS writer Lacy M. Johnson and “Metamorphosis: Some Things Change, and Some Never Do” by UH-Downtown professor and WITS writer Merrilee Cunningham.

Activities take place in the Honors College, located on the second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library on the University of Houston campus.

Underwriting by the McGovern Foundation allows teachers to attend this institute free of cost and receive a stipend for books and on-campus parking. Spread the word!

To guarantee a spot in one of this year’s seminars, please submit your reservation form no later than May 31. Forms may be e-mailed to Mallory Chesser at [email protected].edu or faxed to713.743.9015.

8.5 in red with white

WITS Writer Featured in Best American Essays

Posted March 27, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

imagesMiah Arnold taught with Writers in the Schools (WITS) for over a decade in numerous settings, including at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  Her beautiful essay, “You Owe Me,” chronicles her profound experiences working with children who come from all over the world to be treated at the hospital.

Her essay originally was published by the Michigan Quarterly Review and then chosen to be included in The Best American Essays 2012, edited by David Brooks.

Please visit Miah’s website to read her biography and find out more about her essays and award-winning novel Sweet Land of Bigamy.  Then, race to The Huffington Post blog to read former WITS writer Stacy Parker Le Melle’s interview, “When the Bigamist Is a Woman: Talking Love and Polygamy With Novelist Miah Arnold.” Enjoy!

A New WITS Mission Abroad

Posted August 15, 2012 & filed under Notebook.


The Serbian Express 

Did you miss the Macedonian Express last summer?  Are you ready for more reporting from the Beautiful Balkans?  This is a fair warning. I know last year you must have noticed the absence of blogging from the Balkans and must have wondered “what’s up?”  But here in the last days of Houston summer, as children begin attempting to get their Summer Book List completed at the local library, we in Houston watch one more time as Altuve plays like a madman and yet the Astros still can’t seem to get a win, and parents everywhere try to figure out how to buy and pay for those back to school items that simply must be purchased,  I am off, via London and Vienna, to Belgrade to begin the Serbian Express.

And I would love to have you go with me one more time as we try to expand our wonderful Creative Writing Camp to Belgrade,  Kragujevac, Novi Sad, Nis, and Sabotica (near the border with Hungary).  So, as you can see,  there will be a lot of traveling once we arrive in Serbia, though our first four days will be Belgrade.

The word Balkans means mountains and  so I am very excited about seeing the beautiful land  that was once the central part of old Yugoslavia but is now its own country with many significant cities. So I will be flying into Nikola Tesla Airport, named after the great inventor who worked alongside Thomas Edison (and may have gotten a few ideas stolen from him during the relationship).  I love airplanes, and I love to be in airplanes that are traveling to exotic places, so, even though the trip will take about 18 hours, I am very excited about the ride.  For one thing, I will be returning on a plane from Houston to London to pick up the folks who have been at the Olympics and want to bring those  medals back to Texas. For another,  I am such a bad cook that  I love British cooking (alas, global warming has not gotten to the point where even British Airways can serve British wines).  For another,  since I am an Associate  Professor at University of Houston-Downtown, I always fall behind on my movie watching, and I get to catch up on my flight over the pond.  I know you  might think that these overnight flights were made for sleep, but I have no desire  to sleep on a plane.  I want that window seat so I can feel myself traveling thousands of miles to teach Creative Writing–the WITS way. It’s one thing to be alive, but it’s another to feel that you are alive or to know that you are alive.  I will be thrilled with airplane culture of a few hundred people traveling at 33,000 feet over the Atlanta on the way to the Old World. No doubt, from time to time, I will be humming  William Blake’s” Chariots of Fire”  before we set down in London on the way to Belgrade. (I have learned that the more stops you are willing to take, the cheaper your fare  if you amortize it by fun  and the more fun you will have).  If I can help British Air get their plane back to London in time to bring those medals home and they will reward me for it, I am willing.

Once there, the adventure starts.  Come with me in these dog days of summer to a place just as hot, but where great writing is about to take place, Haiku Houses are about the be built celebrating Basho,  plays will be written and presented,  and a world of imaginative use of words will rise like the ascents of those planes that I will be traveling on.

by Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

Scenes from Summer Camp

Posted June 21, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

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The Creative Writing Camp is at the half-way point.  Field trips this year are to Rice University, the Menil Collection, and Glassell School/Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Here are a few snapshots by WITS Writer Nancy Pearson.


Posted May 30, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Who is sweet and innocent in Beeville?

The pine and oak trees that are as

old as dust with no leaves.  The drought

has been tough. The cattle have no

grass, and the little league fields

are beginning to look like dirt roads.

The drought has definitely not been

sweet and innocent, sweet and innocent

like my old and gray, dark-skinned

grandma who lives among the winding back

roads. Dirt roads winding like snakes among

the brush, filled in with worn-down gravel.

There’s nothing here but a few houses

made of petrified wood, scattered among

the flat grassland where the ranchers

let their herds graze, undisturbed.

By Benito, 10th grade

Enter the Texas Book Festival Fiction Contest

Posted May 21, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

On October 27-28, 2012 the annual Texas Book Festival will occur at the State Capitol Building in Austin, TX.  This event features authors, readings, and plenty of literary fun. Students may submit work for the festival by clicking here. Here are the details from our Texas Book Festival friends about the 11th Annual Fiction Contest:

The Texas Book Festival, with support of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), announces the 11th Annual Fiction Writing Contest, sponsored by Read to Lead. The contest is open to all Texas 7th, 8th, and high school students. Prizes will be awarded to the first, second, and third place finishers per division. First place winners of the Contest will be invited to participate in a panel discussion on writing and the inspiration for their original compositions at the Texas Book Festival, October 27-28, 2012 at the State Capitol in Austin.

Entries must be original fiction, no more than 2,000 words in length, on this year’s theme “Out of the Blue.” There is no entry fee. Entries must be double-spaced and formatted as a Microsoft Word document, then submitted online no later than July 3, 2012.

Stories will be judged by Texas writers, some of whom have presented their work at the Texas Book Festival. Judges will look for excellence in use of dialogue, imagery, character development, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. Submitted entries will be considered in three divisions: Grades 7-8; Grades 9-10; Grades 11-12. Authors will enter the division for which they were a student during the 2011-12 academic year.

Read work by past student winners here.

Celebrate Earth Day with Writers in the Schools

Posted April 18, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Houston school children will celebrate Mother Earth at A Light in the Forest this Sunday afternoon at the Houston Arboretum. Please join us!

Who: Talented students from HISD schools

What: Come hear students from the WITS program read their nature-inspired poems, essays, and stories in celebration of Earth Day.

When: Sunday, April 22, 2012 at 3:00 PM

WhereHouston Arboretum and Nature Center, 4501 Woodway Drive (map)

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Sponsors: Shell Oil Company, Texas Commission on the Arts, City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Kroger, The Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, Copy.com, and the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center.

Tonight: Space City Slam Finals

Posted March 23, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Tonight at Baker-Ripley House (Neighborhood Center, Houston) the slam team for teens will be selected. Winners of this event will become the official members of the Meta-Four Houston team and will represent Houston at Brave New Voices 2012.

College Students: Become a WITS Intern

Posted March 8, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Summer 2012 Internships

College students, if you are interested in:

  • creative writing
  • K-12 education
  • early childhood education
  • arts education
  • community service
then we have some good news for you.

Writers in the Schools is recruiting one full-time and several part-time interns to serve as summer workshop assistants. Interns will work in a variety of areas, gaining experience in creative writing instruction, early childhood education, non-profit administration, and arts education.

Each summer Writers in the Schools and the School Literacy and Culture Project (Rice University) sponsor the Creative Writing Camp. Nearly 1,000 children in grades K-12 participate in the workshops, which provide a supportive environment where children write stories, poetry, essays, and plays. Children are divided into small groups by age, and they get to work with teachers as well as writers. The low teacher-student ratio ensures individual attention.

Teaching Assistant Internship (part-time, June 1 – 29, 2012)

Adolescent Literary Arts Curriculum Intern (full-time, June 1 – July 26, 2012)

Deadline to Apply = April 13, 2012

The Hurricane

Posted August 18, 2011 & filed under Poem of the Day.

On August 18, 1983, Hurricane Alicia hit the Texas coast. It killed 22 people and caused a billion dollars in damage.

Many children have lived through natural disasters and witnessed difficult things. Creating a safe space for them to talk and write about their experiences is a form of healing.

Today, as we remember the destruction caused by Hurricane Alicia and other hurricanes, here is a poem by a high school student about what it feels like to live through one.  Her first-hand testimony captures the intensity of the storm, her fear, and her new-found understanding that home is not always safe.

We shouldn’t have stayed

Slashing winds, my parents arguing, and the electricity cut off

No way to take a bath to calm down because of this storm

My mom says I could get shocked

My dad says quit complaining

We shouldn’t have stayed

The rain looks like a wall of water

The winds are howling like monsters of my childhood

And I feel scared because I might be blown away

We shouldn’t have stayed

It’s black and dark and LOUD outside

I can’t sleep because I’m worried about the pets

that people might have left outside

I want to go home but I am home

We shouldn’t have stayed

by Lauren, 11th grade

5 Reasons to Get WITS in your School

Posted August 10, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

WITS Writer Dr. Melanie Malinowski and her student Deandrea Stevens at this year's Blooms reading.

5) Students gain self-esteem through authorship and public performances.

4)  In 10 years of data, WITS students show marked improvement in literacy skills and higher standardized test scores.

3) We tailor the project to match your students’ needs and your school’s budget.

2) WITS in-services and professional development workshops have changed teachers’ lives.

1) WITS is ranked the #1 literary program in Texas by the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Call Writers in the Schools today at 713-523-3877 or email Long Chu at [email protected] to sign up for the 2011-2012 school year.