Summer Camp Registration Begins Today

Posted February 1, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Registration for the 2012 Summer Creative Writing Workshops is now open. Our program, named the Best Summer Program for Kids by the Houston Press, is produced through a collaboration between WITS and Rice University. This year we will have locations conveniently located throughout Houston. Click here to register online.

Congratulations to Helms Elementary Students!

Posted January 17, 2012 & filed under Notebook.

Three Writers in the Schools (WITS) students at Helms Elementary (HISD) will have their winning poems published in the Young Writers of America Annual Students Anthology!

Congratulations to 3rd graders Joshua Martinez, Bella Corona, and Emily De Leon, who are students in Ms. Jennifer Martinez’s class and work weekly with Writers in the Schools (WITS) writer Yolanda Schulte-Ladbeck.

Here is Bella’s poem:
What I Learned from my Uncle

I learned from my Uncle how to be funny.  I know how to make my Mom and Dad laugh.
I learned from my Uncle how to communicate in sign language.  I can teach my friends now.
I learned from my Uncle how to look for pictures in the sky.  I can find me riding horses in clouds.
I learned from my Uncle how to say kind words.  I don’t say bad words and I stay away from strangers.
I learned from my Uncle how to decorate my room.  I have stars in my room that glow.

To read the other winning poems, please visit Helms Elementary website.  Go, students!Writer at work 259/355

Photo by immsm via Flickr

A Winter Wish

Posted December 21, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

Wishing you love, peace, and blankets,

Your friends at Writers in the Schools

Way To Go!

Posted November 8, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

Join us in congratulating these past and present WITS writers and students:

Chuck Carlise’s new chapbook A Broken Escalator Still Isn’t Stairs is now available on Amazon.

WITS student Jasmine Davis, who works with WITS writer Melanie Malinowski, won Honorable Mention for her essay “My Life with Clorox” for the Kidney Times Essay Contest.

WITS Summer Camp teacher Aime Gallardo won the 2011 Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award.

Hannah Gamble won the National Poetry Series. Her book Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast will be published by Fence Books in 

News about Van Garrett’s trip to Latvia can be found on his website. Writers in the Schools supported this project through Amy Storrow at the Department of State. Van was featured in a TV story here.

Artist Raul Gonzalez (artist in residence with WITS) was the featured artist for Houston Community College Southwest’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Janine Joseph was named one of the Best New Poets of 2011.

Former WITS writer Marc McKee published a new book titled Fuse.  You can purchase your copy at

Executive Director Robin Reagler’s chapbook Dear Red Airplane was published  by Seven Kitchens Press.

Tria Wood and partner-in-art Tara Conley announced that their art installation, My Life as a Doll, will open at DiverseWorks on November 11th, 2011—that’s right, 11/11/11!

WITS Supports Public Poetry!

Posted September 1, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

Poetry is alive and well in Houston! Public Poetry, a nonprofit organization founded to bring poets and the general community together and to create a buzz about poetry, is ready to celebrate again.

Join in the fun at Kendall Neighborhood Library (609 N. Eldridge, 77079) on Saturday, September 3rd, at 2 PM.

This month’s featured poets include Hayan Charara, Marcell Murphy, longtime WITS supporter Susan Wood, and WITS writer Ryler Dustin. KUHF‘s St. John Flynn will make a guest appearance, and student poet, Lucie Gulick, from WITS will perform!

After the reading, we’ll head over to Beans Café Coffeehouse for some good conversation.  Directions: Turn right out of the library parking lot, and then take 1st left just after the first traffic light (1127 Eldridge Parkway).

Mention PUBLIC POETRY and get a 10% discount on any coffee drink. Original photos from Katya Horner will be on display. Enjoy a great hour of on September 3rd, 2 PM, Kendall Neighborhood Library.

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.

WITS Writer Jameelah Lang Will Read Tonight at Brazos

Posted November 12, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

WITS Writer Jameelah Lang will share her work tonight at Brazos Bookstore as part of the Gulf Coast Reading Series, sponsored by the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. This event is free and open to the public.

Jameelah is a Ph.D. student in fiction and nonfiction at the University of Houston.  She received both her B.A. in English literature and her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Kansas. In Lawrence, Jameelah co-founded the Bathtub Kansas Writers’ Collective, an initiative aimed at creating a more integral relationship between creative writing and community.  During the third year of her M.F.A., Jameelah also served as the year-long Writer-in-Residence at HUB-BUB, a non-profit, grassroots arts organization based out of Spartanburg, South Carolina.  There, she interned for Hub City Press.

What: Gulf Coast Reading Series

When: November 12, 2010 at 7:00 PM

Where: Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet

I Have a Voice

Posted November 9, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Harriet Riley, a free-lance writer focusing on nonfiction and grant writing, is teaching her third year at WITS

As WITS writers, we all use weekly rituals with our students – Author’s Chairs, Power Writing, Writers Toolboxes and more. This year I’ve started a new and powerful ritual to end each class. The credit for this tool goes completely to Michele Kotler and Community Word Project who participated our August orientation workshop.

At the close of each session with my students, after I foreshadow the next week’s activities, we chant together: “I have a voice. My voice is powerful. My voice can change the world.”

This has become an important ritual with my sixth graders at Briarmeadow Charter School. It started as a call and response. I said a line and the students repeated it. But last week, my sixth visit to the school, I noticed that the students chanted the words along with me, ending with a rousing “MY VOICE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.” They say it, and they believe it. I see it in their writing as they relate their belief in their own power. Their words are strong and fearless.

We recently completed a poem based on George Ella Lyons’ “Where I’m From.” Like most teachers, I learn the names of the “louder” students first. There was one particular student that I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know – she was quiet and well behaved and hadn’t done anything to stand out in class. Also she was one of four girls in my two classes with the same first name. She had wire-rimmed glasses that hid her face, always wore her hair straight back in a tight ponytail and didn’t smile too much. She had written a very rough draft of her “Where I’m From” poem the previous week that needed a lot of revision. As I was walking among the students during our re-write time, I stood shock still when I saw her work. I read it to myself.

This is Where I’m From

By Mariam, 7th grade

I am from an endless path that runs into sunset.

I am from the jasmines blooming.

I am from the buzz of a busy bee.

I am from the bustling, bizarre crowds of a city.

I am from the sweet taste of sugarcane.

I am from the sound of the wolf howling at the moon.

I am from the sound of the guitar’s gentle strum.

I am from the laughter of children playing outside in the blazing hot sun.

I am from the waves crashing against each other at the sandy beach.

I am from the silent scent of goodness in the cool air.

I am from the enchantment of love.

I am from the creak of a stable door being opened from above.

I am nothing less then a kick of dust.

I am nothing more than a big blizzard.

I am a child who races the dark night.

Who was the girl who wrote these strong and powerful words and what lay beneath her polite surface? She had some deep, world-changing things to say and I almost missed her. I will definitely be getting to know her in the year ahead and much more about my students because they WILL change the world. Sometimes taking the time to state the obvious – “I have a voice” – and turning it into a cheer can make a difference and actually empower students to use earth-shaking, world-changing words.

by Harriet Riley, Writers in the Schools

WITS Writer Harriet Riley is a free-lance writer focusing on nonfiction articles and grant writing. She has taught undergraduate writing classes at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where she lived for 11 years before moving to Houston in 2007. She has also worked as a non-profit director, hospital marketing director, and newspaper reporter. She has her M.A. in print journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and her B.A. in English and journalism from the University of Mississippi. She enjoys reading, running, and traveling with her family. This is her third year with WITS.

The Macedonian Express and the Best-So-Far Awards

Posted July 26, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Today was the first day of the WITS Creative Writing Camp in Tetova on the border of Bosnia.  The camp was huge with 25 students here this afternoon and four “Best-So-Far” Awards for each group — the morning kids and the afternoon kids.  I am not really sure how these “Best-So-Far” Awards got started, but they have come to have a life of their own.  They all culminate on the Fridays of the Camp with a “Best of the Best” Award in nine different categories, most of which are actually related to our writing, as in Best Haiku, Best Extended Poem, Best Play, Best Vignette, Best Short Story, Best Piece of Descriptive Realism, but also including Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director of the plays that are presented the last day, usually in front of a representative sent by the embassy in Skopje.

Every afternoon, after hours with the kids, sit down together and review the writing that went on in the camp and select the best pieces “so far.”  It is an interesting experience, but what is equally fun is to see the campers come in the next morning and the smiles on their faces when they have won one of the awards and they know exactly what they won it for.  Then, the third day of the camp, we begin awarding campers for the “Best Body of Work So Far.”

I guess life doesn’t really give such awards, but it would be convenient to get a kind of check-up like this from time to time in life itself.  It also let’s the teachers know, if there is no award for example, that we may need to see what we are doing and make changes.  That has never happened, but it is possible.  Hope that you are having a “Best-So-Far” Day yourself.

From Tetova, this is WITS Writer Merrilee Cunningham having a good day.

Letters to the Sun

Posted July 22, 2010 & filed under Notebook.


During the WITS Summer Creative Writing Workshops held June 7 – June 25th, students from Charlotte Schneider and Mischa Enos’ third and fourth graders wrote poems about the sun and heat, expressing their strong feelings about Houston’s unique summer climate. You can feel the mercury rise with each word!

Summer Sun
The Heat is very hot and scorching,
causing drought and sweat.
Weeds and caterpillar grass are
drooping and then dying.
It is so hot!
You are playing around
and not caring about us!

By Olivia

Heat, heat
it is moist.
Sweating, sweating,
It makes you hot.

By Ryan

Dear Sun
O sun, your heat disappoints many.
Instead of singing, the birds
Are probably just yelling at you.
O sun, my skin is blazing in flames.
I get sunburns, so even inside,
I blaze in flames.

O sun, you make me tired and thirsty.
And don’t even get started on my eyes –
They burn and get tired of squinting
and blinking quickly.

O sun, black must be your favorite color.
No wonder you burn us!

By Grace

(Photo by Dan E. Johnson via Flickr)

WITS is Hiring Creative Writing Teachers

Posted July 12, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Instructor Kent Shaw invites campers to consider a Cy Twombly painting during a Writers In The Schools Summer Camp trip to the Menil Collection. The children used artworks on display as a startin

Photo by Dave Rossman of The Houston Chronicle

Writers in the Schools (WITS) is looking for writers and educators who can teach the joy of creative writing to young people.  Employment is part-time, typically 2-6 hours of teaching, one day a week from September – May.  A yearlong commitment is required.

The pay is $55 per teaching hour.  In addition to teaching, the job duties include preparing lessons, responding to student work, and compiling anthologies of student writing at the end of the school year.

We are looking for writers and educators with teaching or mentoring experience who can convey their passion for the written word in ways that are relevant for Houston-area children.  In particular, we are seeking bilingual writers, but others are encouraged to apply as well.

Visit our website for the full job description.

If you are interested in teaching with WITS, please submit a cover letter, résumé, and 10-page writing sample to [email protected] or mail to:

Jack McBride, Program Manager
1523 West Main
Houston, TX 77006

To be considered for the 2010-2011 school year, applications must be received by August 2, 2010.  Applicants who are selected to teach with WITS must attend mandatory WITS orientation and training on Friday, August 27, and Saturday, August 28, 2010.

Please feel free to e-mail or call 713-523-3877 with any questions.

Menil Community Arts Festival

Posted March 11, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

The Second Annual Menil Community Arts Festival will be held this Saturday, March 13th, from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Writers in the Schools will be leading creative writing tours of The Menil Collection every half hour from 12:00 Noon – 2:00 PM.

There will be workshops, concerts, art exhibits and poetry readings as part of this event. Arts organizations on the Menil campus will provide activities for all ages. The participants include:

Aurora Picture Show

Art Colony Association

Da Camera

Houston Center for Photography


The Rothko Chapel

Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP)


The Menil Collection

The Watercolor Arts Society

Writers in the Schools

Click here for more information.

How to be a Pen

Posted February 15, 2010 & filed under Notebook.


Write faster than the other pens
Write in black ink
Be a good writer
Hide in a backpack, or stay in drawers.

By Diego, Kindergarten
[photo by carlos guerrera via flickr]

WITS Orientation 2009

Posted September 1, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

WITS Fall Orientation 2009 took place this past weekend with over 80 writers participating in the training event. Special thanks go to our two guest presenters, Laura Long and Yvonne Murphy, as well as to our hosts, the Houston Arts Alliance and The School at St. George Place (HISD).

Schools that have not yet signed up for WITS for the 2009-2010 year can make their requests to Associate Director Bao-Long Chu via email.

Cleaning Up the American Corner, Skopje

Posted August 12, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

The library is closed. The children have left. Debris is scattered everywhere. Only my two teachers and I remain to clean up the  remains of paper, left magic boxes, tiny tomatoes that somehow were not eaten at the luncheon we had the last day.  One student returns because he forgot something, or maybe because he just doesn’t really want to leave for the last time and is stalling, giving himself a chance to do what he did, wave one last time and say goodbye and that “It was so nice to meet you.”  He had done great work and he knew it.  The other two teachers are busy taking clothes pins off lavender ribbon where we kept the Portfolio Center, and the library will go back to being what it is — a library.

The quiet after the storm is not just a hackneyed phrase: it is what we are experiencing now.  Pencils are rolling one last time across tables.  Scissors are being put into sacks for some occasion as yet unknown, to be brought out as school approaches or next year.  Everyone is tired, but happy with how things went. Everyone can see one thing that should have been done better. Did we select the best play for “Best Play”?  We are not sure about that one. Did we make a mistake or two.  Probably.  Did we do a great deal of truly good work. Undoubtedly. So now we will clean up for the last time.

The next time I write, it will be from Kosovo.

Merrilee Cunningham, WITS Writer in the Balkans

Our Indiana Jones and the Macedonian Hamburgers

Posted August 6, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

Mere technology interrupted my transmittals from Macedonia. It seems that I was in line for a new computer at my university, and I knew that IT was going to take this time to get rid of my XP-powered bulky computer and arm me with my beloved Microsoft 2009 with all its many charms, templates, and  almost apple-like advantages.  Little did I know that getting rid of my literal machine would interrupt the flow of the Macedonia Express. But there is time now to catch up and my new machine, I trust, is awaiting me in my little office at the university, a better fate than Indiana Jones would have had in his handsome office at the University of Chicago. Yet there has been an Indiana Jones quality of this adventure. Five earthquakes, however small, in Bitola, a trip to Heraclea’s amazing mosaics, and a look at the on-going archeological work there, a wonderful ride from Bitola on the mountain rode to Tetovo, and we were ready for the second round of writing workshops.The anthology from Bitola was amazing. The children outdid themselves, and the staff, Elena and Bijana, worked so hard to make the anthology happen and make sure that the students revised well, and their work was not in vain. When I left Bitola for my sojourn on a narrow road through the beautiful mountains on Macedonia, past Lake Ohrid, where the Roman amphitheater is and where the amazing golden mask, that looks a bit like the Mask of Agamemnon, was found. I will write more about that mask tomorrow as it is one of the images of our Ekphrasis assignment.

Today I want to write about our adventures in Tetovo.  I was, once again, fortunate enough to have an enthusiastic and able staff of teachers and students who were more than  ready to work.  The walls hung with Leslie Gauna’s “found poetry” assignment as well placed words in Albanian as well as English on the walls. By now, we have a cache of words in Macedonian, Albanian, and English for the students to select from.

After the workshop, my colleagues took me to an amazing natural spring in the mountains where people came who wanted to both bathe in the waters and drink the spring waters for their health. As this site is an ancient Ottoman Empire site, the very center of the spring is circled by white material for the use of the women who want to bathe and enjoy the waters, while the men enjoyed the waters outside the very large white circle where they could not enter. The mystery of inside that forbidden place was almost more than I could stand as I watched women go in and out of the large white, covered center.  After we bathed and collected water from the spring, offered us in used Coca-Cola bottles, we were off to have a Macedonian hamburger (the less said about this the better).

I was then off in my car to Skopje and the final week of workshops at the American Corners Center there. Tomorrow, more about the recent archeological discovery at Lake Orhid. And, not  a single earthquake I hope.

Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools (WITS)

Young Authors Gather in Bitola, Macedonia

Posted July 22, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

Yesterday was the first day of the Creative Writing Camp at Bitola in Macedonia.   In the morning we had all the younger children show up to the camp and the American Corners was abuzz with life, energy, and joy — some of my favorite things.

We did a really great lesson called “Put in a Bag” where we had a big bag and a little bag and the children were to place things that they liked in one of the bags and things that they hoped a pirate would carry away in another bag.  I wished that I had had my brother Steven Riggall, a Dartmouth trained psychiatrist to help me on the results of this one.  Feral dogs, spiders and snakes were just some of the things that they wanted in a bag.

I asked the kids if they could think of a feral king and eventually, one of the afternoon kids came up with the Roman King Romulus, who as a child was feral.  I admitted that we don’t often use words in such oxymoronic fashion as in the case of “feral kings” but that makes it more interesting.

Today we are doing one of my favorite assignments.  It’s called “A shield; to shield; shielding”.  We take little paper umbrellas, like the ones that, if you were lucky, you have seen in a fruit drink sometime this summer.  The umbrellas have had their pointed toothpick center clipped off.  Then later we put the umbrellas in their juice during the mid-day break.

We ask them how an umbrella is like a shield. What does an umbrella shield us from?  What other kinds of shields are there.  Then I read a little Gilgamesh and talk about Gilgamesh and Enkidu as shields of Uruk, city of walls.  Sometimes I add similar epic epithets from Homeric epic and Sundiata.  We ask the children who their shields are, what their shields are, and who and what do they shield. Then we give them pictures of the new park in Bitola with the wonderful married metal shields in the park, similar, but not exactly like Alexander the Great’s famous 16 ray shield, which has been adapted into 8 rays and 8 points. To me, this represents the logic of a compass and indeed turns a shield into a compass.  Then I ask them how a shield is like a compass.

The idea came from my passion for the park, which the Macedonians are hoping to turn into an Istanbul-like light show as the park is located between very important Ottoman, Muslim, and Christian historical places, similar to the light show park between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  The copper and bronze shields that decorate it are brilliant.

I love shields.  I have always loved shields.  I even collect shield iconography.  Ask my World Literature students if this isn’t true.  What would a classical metal smith, who surely knows he is making an object meant to keep his client alive in the the great moments of danger and life and death, select to put on the shield?  A compass, a way home a la Henry V’s imaginative speeches to his men in Shakespeare’s plays. Who doesn’t want a compass on their shield?

We need a shield, and we need a compass.  Shields with the Medusa head illustrate that we are afraid of what will turn us into stone.  But what about that compass and the points and strikes on it? Will it take us there and back again as Tolkien implies?  Can we reach home if we are homesick and have a compass? Are we as centered as a compass on a shield makes us?  Is that point in the center home, base (as in my beloved baseball)?

Those extra 8 sword-like strikes to points, asks us to define the difference between a point and a strike, and I say there is a huge difference, as the points look more like home than the strikes. They also move away from traditional depictions of the compass as the Mesopotamian sun god Shamash, with his zig-zag strikes, like legs walking across the desert, or Aten-Ra, all rays.  I love the iconographic variety of the strikes and the dotes, but they do imply that home is not just at the center, that it is also found outside that center, that home can move outward, even on a shield.

I must go now as the children will be here in just a bit, and they are forces of nature, walking energy wanting to learn, write, express themselves, from their home in Bitola, Macedonia.  And we are, for a moment, their shields.

Merillee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

WITS Writer to the children of Macedonia