Welcome to hot, humid Houston. If you travel northeast, you might find a place I love most: my home. You can take a right and find a wonderful white house. It’s so special with my mom, dad, my 5-year old brother, Sam, my 8-day old baby brother, Shepard and my two dogs, Gus and Zeus. Also, two beautiful fish used to live there, but they died.

Come with me and travel west. You’ll find my most beloved grandmother and grandfather. You’ll find them in a red brick house. Please travel east. A candy shop awaits! I could eat all the candy. If I could, I would spend tons and tons of hours eating chocolate. Come up North, flying high in the sky. See clouds as you pass by. Then you’ll see a paradise where you can relax. I will play in the pool all day long. It is a place I call Florida.

by Nellie, 1st grade

The ninth annual WITS gala, Many Voices | One Houston, is coming up soon—November 9 at the Astorian. (Tickets and tables are still available.) As we anticipate this celebration of Houston’s resilient voices, we’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the accomplishments of this year’s gala honorees, The Leech Family.

 

The Leech Family has been dedicated to making art, music, and writing available to everyone. Perryn Leech serves as Managing Director for the Houston Grand Opera. Together with WITS, the HGO continually showcases Houston voices in a variety of forms including poetry, opera, and spoken word. After Harvey hit and floodwaters rose, the HGO was forced to temporarily close its doors. But, as Perryn Leech said in an interview with The New York Times after the storm, “Houstonians are robust. We’ll come up with something that gives them an opera season.” Before long, the HGO managed to continue its season at the George R. Brown Convention Center, dubbing the repurposed space “The Resilience Theater.” The show must go on.

 

The inspiring works of The Leech Family don’t stop there. Caroline Leech is an author whose YA debut, Wait For Me, was published by Harper Teen earlier this year. Her second novel, In Another Time, will be out next spring. (Read an interview with her here). The Leech children are also artistic forces: Jemma, Kirsty, and Rory are high school students at Lamar HS and HSPVA, and have been WITS students for more than a decade. The oldest, Jemma, is an award-winning poet and essayist who has garnered national attention. “Poetry fills my soul with delightful hues of life’s momentary escapes into bliss, and torment,” Jemma said. “Language is my paint and my keyboard is my brush.” She is living proof of the healing power of poetry and storytelling.

 

Gala attendees will be treated to a moving performance of “The Jemma Songs” by the Greenbriar Consortium quartet, featuring Julia Fox, soprano (Houston Grand Opera); Anne Leek, oboe (Houston Symphony); Daniel Strba, viola (Houston Symphony); and Paul Boyd, piano (Foundation for Modern Music). The performance will include poems written by the honoree, Jemma Leech, beautifully set to music by Houston composer, Mary Carol Warwick.

 

Together, the Leech family passionately promotes the artistic power of the written word. Their efforts to preserve the arts in Houston are inspiring to us all. Please join us in honoring them at the Many Voices | One Houston gala November 9, an evening where we’ll come together as a city and a writing community to celebrate the resilient spirit of Houston.

Great news for readers both young and young at heart: As part of its Cool Brains! Reading series, Inprint presents an afternoon with Katherine Paterson, two-time winner of the Newbury Medal and the National Book Award. Paterson will give a presentation about her new middle grade novel, My Brigadista Year at Meyerland Performing & Visual Arts Middle School on Sunday, November 12 at 3pm. A Q&A will follow the talk, as well as a book sale and signing.

 

A beloved and bestselling middle grade author, Paterson is best known for Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins. Both novels have been adapted into movies within the last decade and remain celebrated parts of many school-reading programs. Paterson’s new novel, My Brigadista Year, tracks the efforts of the brigadistas, a group of mostly young women who sought to eradicate illiteracy in Cuba. Any WITS supporter will recognize the brigadista campaign as a worthy cause.

 

About the novel, Publishers Weekly says, “Through Lora’s naïve but openhearted perspective, Paterson weaves in details about Cuban history and the events that led to the overthrow of the Batista regime and the rise of Communism… Paterson’s story is without political agenda, focusing instead on an improbable (and successful) literacy campaign and how it dramatically expands the world of one sheltered but determined girl.”

 

WITS extends an invite to fans and families to come meet a living literary legend! This even is free an open to the public. Doors open at 2:15pm. For more information, visit Inprint.

 

*Please note that the book signing will be conducted on a first-come, first-served basis. Upon entering the theater, people wishing to have books signed will be given a number, and the book signing will take place in numerical order after the on-stage presentation.

Here’s a great opportunity for young writers and artists to get recognition for their hard work. The 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are open for submissions from all students in grades 7–12. All middle and high school students are invited to submit original writing and works of art and writing in 29 categories of visual and literary art, including essays, drama, fiction, humor, journalism, poetry, and more. All submissions are blindly judged based on: originality, technical skill, and the emergence of a persona, vision, or voice.

Teen poets whose work receives a Gold Medal have the opportunity to receive scholarships and awards, to be published, and to be selected as National Student Poets, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work, selected by the U.S. Poet Laureate and other amazing jurors. Graduating seniors may submit Portfolios.

Scholastic Awards recipients earn opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships. In 2017, the Scholastic Awards distributed more than $250,000 in direct scholarships and more than $5 million in scholarships was offered to Scholastic Awards participants by colleges and universities across the country. Visit artandwriting.org/how-to-enter to learn more about the submission process.

Submission deadlines vary by region. The Harris County submission deadline is Monday, December 4, 2017. Visit artandwriting.org to create your profile.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens. The early promise of some of our nation’s most accomplished and prolific creative leaders has been identified through the Awards, such as Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Charles White, Philip Pearlstein, Sylvia Plath, Kay WalkingStick, Luis Jiménez, Ken Burns, Stephen King, Lena Dunham, Richard Linklater, and Zac Posen. Will you be next? Submit your work and find out!

Questions? Contact info@artandwriting.org.

If I had my very own island, it would be near Hawaii. What makes my island special is the fact that it has all the cats in the world. My mom, sister, grandparents, aunt and baby cousin live there. (No boys allowed, except for my grandfather.)

My island has crystal blue water and white beaches. Coconut trees, pineapple trees, palm trees, and banana trees cover the island. Cat toys and cats cover the island. The island is 1,000 miles long and 1,000 miles wide (so we and the cats have enough space.) We each have our own two-story house. There is a 100 miles long and 100 miles wide island connecting to our island. It has plants growing. All the types of fruits and vegetables in the world grow on them. A large cellar under the ground stores all the food. There is also a pool if we get hot.

Gardeners collect ripe fruits and vegetables every day. Then, chefs cook a meal with the bountiful harvest. They set the table in the dining hall and serve us our meal. We also have a garden filled with all the flowers in the world and a smaller garden filled with herbs and spices. We have a tiny spa just in case we strain our backs or our nails get damaged, especially for our gardeners. There are vets if the cats get sick. We have our very own hospital if we get hurt, too. My island is awesome.

by Nadiyah, 4th grade

(photo from pixabay.com)

I am fire in the wind.
One little spark
can ignite the entire world. The air
crisp and smokey,
the fire big and beautiful.
I am that wildfire,
spreading like gossip in teen girls’ hands.
My ways of life are dangerous; I lunge from tree to tree,
It takes 1,000,000 people to slow down my fiery
reign of terror.
The outcome of my worldwide scare is poor.
I leave people with almost nothing to live on.
But with pain
comes beauty,
and I watch as friends and family, mountains and trees
gather together
to build the world up again.
I am not all bad
for my flames create opportunities
to get stronger, more powerful.
I can transform the weakest squirrel into the strongest lion.
When my destruction ends, I am exhausted.
I tell myself that my wildfire is a warning.
My silent, screaming
message: stay alert.
Another fire is coming.
I am the fire in the wind, ready to ignite.

by Irene, 5th grade

 

Minute Maid

Saturday!

Five forty five  A.M.

Screaming, booming

Jose Altuve, Orbit, Carlos Correa

Play games, eat ice-cream

Two months!

Happy.

by Anthony,  2nd grade

Love cries out with joy.

Infinity multiplies forever.

The Earth gets dizzy from spinning.

My friend loves me.

All of these ideas make my heart zoom!

 

by Isabelle, 1st grade

The Texas Teen Book Festival brings nationally known YA authors from across the nation for readings, writing workshops by WITS’ sister program Badgerdog, and even a literary costume contest. Participants in the FREE event will get to meet Renee Watson, Jason Reynolds, Marie Lu, Adam Silvera, Jennifer Mathieu, and many more.

WITS student Pearl R. is a Houston-based member of the BookPeople Teen Press Corps. Check out this post she’s written to encourage readers and writers to attend the festival in Austin on Saturday.

Calling all writers, readers, and lovers of kiwi!

 

Join us at the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin, Texas, on October 7th, 2017. Yup, that’s this weekend, so I suggest that you get packing.

You will not want to miss this glorious occasion that The New York Times calls “life-changing and more fun than Wisconsin’s annual cheese-eating contest.”

(Editor’s note: The New York Times never said that and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be sued now.)

This festival features all your favorite YA authors! Some of them came willingly, and some of them we had to smoke out of their houses with firecrackers. We’re going to show these authors some Texas love, which means slathering them in barbecue sauce and putting them on a mechanical bull while they read opening lines from their books. Get ready for some fun!

In addition to lots of readings and book signings, there will be a literary costume contest and free writing workshops. The grand finale will be a Lord of the Flies inspired pig-hunting contest where the winner gets $10,000 cash!

(Editor’s note: This is why we shouldn’t let teens write for our blog. Seriously, I have no idea what this kid was thinking.)

By Pearl R

Summer melting

into Fall

a perfect morning

letting the wind

wash over you

on the porch.

Lime Ice

reminds you

that the sweaty

days are over.

You enter

the realm

of cool breezes.

Gleeful children

run through

the streets

laughing,

returning home

to dinner,

garden fresh.

 

by Lila, 5th grade

Meggie with Armoney, age 6,
at George R. Brown Convention Center

Days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, WITS Program Manager, Meggie Monahan, volunteered at George R. Brown Convention Center, reading, writing, and playing with children who had been displaced by the storm and floodwaters. Meggie reflects on the power of imagination, the generosity of listening, and the resilience of children. Read an excerpt from “The Shelter of Imagination,” which originally aired on KPFT 90.1 FM’s “So, What’s Your Story?”.

When I was a child, our sticky Pennsylvania summers were filled with “make-believe” games. My siblings and I strung stage curtains out of old Sesame Street bed sheets. We wrote new & improved scripts for our favorite Disney movies, and we choreographed music videos for Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album. Then one summer, our parents got a new refrigerator. And in the weeks to follow, that huge empty box in the garage became pure and total magic. It was our special hideout: a dark and cool refuge from parents and chores, an escape from mosquitoes, and a ticket to a bigger world.

I haven’t thought about that refrigerator box in a long time. But last week at the George R Brown Convention Center, I recognized it from across the room as Davion and Abu led me by the hand to their special fort. We snaked our way through a sea of cots and blankets and belongings, and there was this beautiful empty box— a space that could be anything at all, anything they wanted it to be. There, smack-dab in the middle of noise and need and exhaustion and loss, these boys had chosen to stand on the shoreline of their imaginations and create a new, more hopeful world.

I came to Houston to study creative writing, and I stayed in Houston because of Writers in the Schools, an organization that believes in the life-saving power of the imagination. We believe that every child has a voice, that every voice is valuable and deserves to be heard— and that the act of sharing our stories is what makes us human, and what connects us to each other. When talking about WITS, I like to say that “wherever kids are, that’s where we want to be,” and that includes inside a cardboard box in the middle of the 4th largest city in the nation.

In the aftermath of Harvey, I’ve had the opportunity to sit with some of our city’s children at the GRB and the NRG and listen to their voices. And it has reminded me and affirmed in me two things: one, that kids are kids wherever they go. And two, that playfulness, imagination, and creativity are trustworthy tools for healing. Even after being displaced by a hurricane, kids want to sit in your lap and wear your sunglasses. They want to pretend to be tigers and practice their super hero moves with you, cover you in stickers, and braid your hair. Most of all, when they believe you are truly listening, kids want to talk. They are natural storytellers, and they want to tell you about their pets and their best friends and their dream vacations, and what they want to be when they grow up. And at WITS, our most important job is to listen— to really listen— and to celebrate and encourage and elevate children’s words at every level.

And that’s what I love about WITS: that we as a community of writers are committed to excavating and elevating the stories of our young people, and emboldening them to use their words to create a more just and beautiful world. And one day these kiddos— the Davions and Abus and Tianas and Bobbies and Anthonys and Nathans and Christiannas and Zias— all of these children are going to tell stories to their children about what happened when it rained for days and days they needed to leave their homes and live in a new and unfamiliar place. And it’s my hope that peppered within their stories and their families’ stories, there might be some small, treasured moments of play, lightness, and getting to be a kid, even in the midst of tragedy.

There is an Irish saying that “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live,” and I would expand upon that by saying, “It is in the stories of each other that the people live.” When we take the time to sit and listen to the story of another person, especially a child, they may not know where to start— but the act of listening is powerful and invites generosity and willingness in the speaker. And when children know they are being listened to, they can’t help but fill empty spaces— air and pages and cardboard boxes— with all kinds of magic. Their giggles bounce across poured concrete floors. Their litanies of favorite foods transform phrases like “shrimp with garlic butter” into prayerful syllables in a crowded convention hall. And their Red Ninja lava super powers are, somehow, enough to defeat the Blue Ninja’s endless waves of water.

Jarvis, age 5, tells his story, “Batman and Robin Saving People,” through a drawing.

Dear WITS Family,

Finally the rain has ended in Houston. The storm has affected each of us in some way, even those of us lucky enough to avoid flood waters.

After five days of mad precipitation, the deluge transformed into mist and disappeared. That’s when I noticed my Instagram feed was populated with hundreds of sky photos—not dramatic sunsets or hyperbolic clouds, just pale blue sky. Here in Houston, we have never appreciated blue sky as much as we have this week.

When we asked the WITS Writers if they wanted to volunteer to work with flood-affected families, all 30 spots filled in less than an hour. I am humbled to work with such talented, authentic, and generous poets and writers.

Thousands of evacuated families are living in the George R. Brown Convention Center. Although many of the children have experienced trauma, we are not asking them directly about their experience. Instead WITS Writers are bringing joy and playfulness to these kids, telling stories, building houses out of blocks, and pretending to be cars or frogs. As we’ve discovered in the classroom, the stories we most need to share come through, regardless of the subject matter. Humans are storytellers to the core. We connect with one another through language. Through poetry. That’s what makes WITS a powerful part of the healing process.

I have been moved beyond belief by the spirit of generosity demonstrated here in Houston this week. Our Democratic Mayor and our Republican County Commissioner are working as a dynamic duo. It seems as though everyone who remains unscathed is pitching in, helping to feed, clothe, and support those in need. Even the pop radio station that my cynical teens like best has been sharing tales of human kindness, ending with the refrain: “We are all neighbors. We are all family. We are #HoustonStrong.”

Nothing has brought our city together like this moment. It is truly inspiring. It makes me want to work harder than ever to bring the healing power of storytelling to every Houston child.

With love,

Robin

Joshua Nguyen, Robin Reagler, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Emanualee Bean, and Reyes Ramirez working for Houston’s recovery after Hurricane Harvey.

This morning, we received a touching gift – a poem written by one of our Writers in the Schools (WITS) students, Eshaan.

Eshaan, a 6th grader, crafted this poem during the course of his family’s journey through Harvey, and offers it up to the city of Houston as a way of bringing everyone together with words of hope.

Starting this week, WITS is volunteering at shelters to help more of our young neighbors tell their stories, because storytelling is healing, and we are #houstonstrong.

Hurricane Harvey: A Terrifying Tempest

Daily gales gossip of terror,
And tornadoes clone as if in infinite mirrors,
God watches over us though,
And as the winds blow,
He oversees,
Cities turning into seas.

I feel helpless,
As I pray for victims’ wellness.
Distraught and crying,
Kin of victims sighing,
Why is Mother Nature so cruel?

One minute there is sunrise,
The next moment you hear cries,
Young babies,
Old ladies,
All trapped in this haplessness.

A second Noah’s Ark,
God tells us to hark!
Batten down the hatches,
And as He snaps trees like matches,
Remember we are all one.

As bombs explode,
And tears flow,
Those on cloud seven,
Come down from heaven.
As barrages fire,
All unite in this horrid quagmire.

As we come together,
We will remake Houston for the better.
Resurrection is impossible,
But together we make it possible.
Harvey left distraught in his wake,
Many a person who stay awake.
If we unite as one,
We can get rebuilding done.

Neighbors help neighbors,
And the common man labors.
The hand hardened from oaring,
Helpful souls soaring.
911 is overworked,
As residents do their tornado homework.

We must pray,
And not stray,
Stay calm and strong,
For I believe God will see us through this storm.

By Eshaan

Death is not

a tall figure dressed

in black.

It doesn’t have an intimidating

black cloak

or a skull for a face,

and it doesn’t bear a scythe to kill you.

We shouldn’t have to see Death as

this monster,

this scary,

violent,

ruthless

monster.

Maybe if we saw

Death

in a different light, not as a scary

entity, but as a small

but strong,

kitten

with dark–but not black–fur

and large, white, caring eyes,

we wouldn’t be so afraid

when Death crawls into our laps

to take us away.

 

by Cheyenne, 7th grade

Day One

The human form communicates with the mouth.

Day Two

The human form has a very round head.

Day Three

The human form has body types.

Day Four

The human form has different types

of fun and toys.

Day Five

Their planet has grass. They have

cheeseburgers and fries. They have weird names like

Ja’Sanderia.

Day Six

This is my final day on planet Earth.

I will stay at what they call the beach.

 

by Ja’Sanderia, 4th grade

 

The fire beside her was freshly

Lit and crackling. He stood there,

Above her sleeping body,

Quiet and waiting,

Waiting for her to awake from her

Peaceful sleep. The last

Dose of sunlight shone

On her face. Before, he too,

Went to sleep for the night,

He stood there thinking,

Thinking of what chaos would come

After this silent morning.

“Why am I doing this?”

Unable to find the answer,

He stood there watching,

Watching her and waiting.

 

by Mary, 10th grade

 

I am going to help the world

and make machines

that make food for poor people.

I am going to do everything that I can

to give them money.

I will make more money,

help schools, help teachers, and help others.

I will help insects and animals

living on the street,

help babies, help people who need cars fixed.

I will help other planets.

I will never give up.

I will try my best.

 

by Mia,1st grade


At 7 p.m. on Sunday, half an hour before the Meta-Four Houston vs. Houston VIP Send-Off Slam was set to begin, the performance space at Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH) was already nearly full of families, friends, and fans awaiting an evening of pulse-pounding, breathtaking poetry.

The Send-Off Slam, part of a yearly slate of events leading up to Meta-Four Houston’s journey to Brave New Voices International, is more family reunion than competition. It’s a chance for Houston V.I.P., the nationally acclaimed adult slam team, to give their blessing and best wishes to the youth of Meta-Four. With many former members of Meta-Four going on to join Houston V.I.P. as adults, the collaboration serves to cultivate the next generation of gifted slam poets and grow Houston’s poetry scene year by year.

When all the performing team members and judges were in place, Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, head coach of this year’s Meta-Four team and the DJ/emcee/scorekeeper of the night, kicked off the event with an introduction to the roots of slam poetry and an explanation of the slam’s format before volunteering himself as the “sacrificial poet,” the first performer of the night to brave the judges’ evaluations and the audience’s reactions.

After a joking round of all ones (with a single nine) for the sacrificial poet, the competition began in earnest. First up was Meta-Four, performing a searing group poem about school shootings and America’s seeming indifference to gun violence. Next, Houston V.I.P. sent up a single team member whose voice trembled with emotion as she performed a poem comparing black lives ended too soon to flowers ripped from the ground before being given a chance to fully bloom.

With each round came individual and group poems from both teams that covered a wide range of personal and political themes: “problem kids” in school, human trafficking in Houston, fears and phobias, and self-defining success in the face of personal challenges. The collection of performances had viewers in spellbound silence, peals of laughter, and most of all, full of shouts and snaps.

The judges were tough, and as is tradition in the slam world, audience members were quite vocal in reacting to the judges’ scores. Only one poem received not just one, but multiple scores of ten out of ten: MetaFour’s “Kill Bill,” a haunting poem about the daughter left behind in the wake of Philando Castille’s murder, and the irony of fictional characters receiving justice that real-life victims do not. The final tally was close, with only seven-tenths of a point difference, but Meta-Four emerged victorious.

This year’s send-off held a special significance, coming at the ten year mark for Meta-Four. The youth slam team was founded in 2007 by Shannon Buggs, a member of the WITS Board of Directors, after her first visit to Brave New Voices International. In the ten years since, the program has grown and evolved with collaboration from WITS Executive Director Robin Reagler, Houston Poet Laureate and former WITS Special Programs Manager Deborah DEEP Mouton, Meta-Four Coordinator Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean, and Sixto Wagan. Director of the University of Houston Center for Art & Social Engagement. In addition, Brave New Voices International celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and in the slam’s inaugural documentary-style podcast, Meta-Four will be one of three teams followed on their journey through the competition.

As the Meta-Four team jets off to San Francisco today, with their pockets full of poems and the wind of past successes at their backs, we here at WITS send our best wishes for an unforgettable Brave New Voices experience and look forward to ten more brilliant years from the bright burning star that is Meta-Four.

by Willow Curry

 0317156_l

With younger children, this concrete activity called “Rubber Band Stretching” works well.  Demonstrate how a rubber band starts out small and can be stretched much larger.  Read a simple sentence out loud, and ask for suggestions about how to expand it.  After a student successfully stretches a sentence by adding new words, hand her a rubber band ball.  When a second student stretches the sentence further, the first student passes the ball to the second.  The game continues until it is impossible to stretch the sentence anymore!  Students then apply the lesson to a piece of their own writing.

With older students, the rubber band can be used to discuss sentence length in more complexity. Bring in a strong piece of writing that includes short, medium, and long sentences.  Discuss the various effects.  If you have a geo board, you can actually record or map out the sentences using rubber bands.  Show how the rhythm of a piece changes depending on sentence lengths.

As a spinoff activity, ask students to map out sentence lengths in advance.  Then, try to write a paragraph that fits, and notice how the paragraph sounds.  For older students, it is empowering to see how they can control the rhythm of their piece just through sentence length.

-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston