For two weeks in August, the 826 Writing Lab was filled with twenty-two teenage wordsmiths participating in the Young Author’s Workshop (YAW). Each day, these rising tenth through twelfth graders from around the Bay Area thoughtfully discussed the writing process, took part in community-building activities, participated in peer workshops, and filled pages and pages of composition books.
YAW’s curriculum spanned a variety of styles, including fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, poetry, and revision. Led by a vivacious cadre of volunteers, students broke into small workshopping groups each afternoon to share and receive feedback on the pieces they had written earlier that day.
Our young writers also spent several mornings listening to, writing with, and soaking in the wisdom of several guest speakers. Juliana Delgado Lopera taught us to write about our own experiences and the importance of a diversity of narratives in literature. Cliff Mayotte from 826 affiliate Voice of Witness showed us how to interview others to learn about their stories. Jeanne Bain helped students “meet their muses” and find inspiration. YAW participants also had the chance to embark on a field trip to a portraiture exhibit at the Museum of African Diaspora, where they received an extensive tour from the generous museum staff, and had a chance to do some reflection writing about the art and their impressions of the collection as a whole.
Through daily icebreakers (ranging from an off-key cover band contest to a deceitful and giggle-filled game of Mafia) and the vulnerability and bravery that sharing one’s writing entails, YAW 2015 built a community of young writers. On the last day of the workshop, there were inside jokes scribbled on hands, exchanges of Instagram and Snapchat usernames, and proud fist-bumps after friends stepped away from the mic at the final reading. During a reflection on the last day, students mentioned not only their newfound friends but also the goals and growth they had achieved. One student remarked that she had shared more of her writing than she ever would have expected; another voiced her newfound grasp of poetry; and a third said that he had found the kind of passion in writing that would encourage him to take a piece home to finish it.
The workshop concluded with a reading of the pieces that students had worked the hardest on and of which they were most proud. With a rapt audience of family and friends, tutors and community supporters, YAW participants shared (among other things) found poetry; a play about awkward teenage romance; and stories of family traditions, suspense, and Martians. The students’ selected pieces will be published by 826 Valencia in a chapbook entitled Each Blaring Hue, which will be available in the Pirate Supply Store in September.
YAW left us in awe of our students’ fierce creativity, their storytelling and sentence-shaping skill, and their comradery and growing confidence in their own writing.
— Lila Thulin, Summer 2015 Educational Programming Intern
Photos of the student reading event by Keko Jackson.