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As the largest youth writing organization, the 826 Network is always learning, connecting, and collaborating to better serve our students to become stronger writers. Every year, 826 National unites the 826 Network together through a series of professional development workshops, led by like-minded organizations and experts in the writing education field.  

This year’s 826 Learning Series included three half-days—in January and June—of collective joy and shared ideas, including virtual tours through all nine 826 chapters and workshops focusing on youth leadership engagement, community building, and organizational management. Authors and poets, Dr. Eve L. Ewing and Mahogany L. Browne, and Program Consultant with Freedom to Read at PEN America Tasslyn Magnussen, joined us in conversations to close each day’s events.

Conversations during the three days focused on diverse representation in books—the critical need for it in and the lack, and even the dismantlement of it, in our current education system.

“[Young people] deserve to have the stories… [their] story is important, and we want to hear it,” said Tasslyn Magnussen, PEN America. In her closing keynote, Tasslyn shared PEN America’s sobering research on book bannings. From January 2023 to June 2023, 1,477 instances of individual books were banned, affecting 874 unique titles. Book bans mostly affect children’s literature that include race/racism, grief and death, LGBTQAI+ characters/themes, and more. 

When children’s literature is attacked, it impacts what young people learn about their world. “The ability to write your story, the ability to find your story, the ability to be comfortable to share your story is critical to the freedom to write and the freedom to read,” stressed Tasslyn on how banned books affects students’ writing. 

In her talk, poet, activist, and challenged book author, Mahogany L. Browne (Black Girl Magic, Chlorine Sky) stressed the importance of keeping stories in spaces. “We cannot wait for them to tell us what we can and cannot read. If we don’t interrogate it, we’re going to do way more damage to our young people.”

When reflecting on her former self, she discussed how she yearned to have a space to see herself and to be able to write in her own authentic voice. “I wish I had the space to be my full self and explain why my language choices were the way they were. Why I’m using slang because that’s how it sounds at my front steps.”

“The largest fracture between the educators and the students is where educators feel they can’t learn from students,” Mahogany shared. “Just [give] them space to expand. Expand their ideas. Their voices. Who they want to be.”

Sociologist and author. Dr. Eve L. Ewing echoed similar sentiments in her conversation with 826CHI’s Executive Director, Jennifer Steele. When reflecting on classroom text from Black woman writers, “So I had this idea that to be a Black woman writer is to write about your suffering. And I, like so many others, was touched by that writing, moved by that writing, absolutely saw my own life in it, felt validated, affirmed, and seen… But I also wanted to write about like magic and the future and seeing Black girlhood and Black womanhood from that lens of possibility… I remain very moved by how much people have responded to that work. And I think that part of it was because so many of us have so many parts of us that we want to share.”

“In my writing, representation matters, but representation is the bare minimum: like water matters, or air matters,” Eve stressed. I want to show the multiplicity, multitudes, the many selves we carry. I hope to show many types of black girls doing many different things.”

“You know, my humble aspiration is that [young people] will see not only the permission to write themselves into a story, but to write many different corners of [their] heart into a story,” shared Eve.

Including our keynote guest speakers, we had amazing workshops throughout the day led by educators, artists, and 826 staff members.

Highlights from this year’s 826 Learning Series, included:

  • Virtual tours through all nine 826 chapters
  • Panel on developing curriculum that center racial justice in a creative classroom with BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ writers and Creative Writing instructors from 826LA
  • Workshop on using mentor text to fosters community, openness, reflection, and celebration hosted by California Teacher of the Year, Jason Torres-Rangel
  • Session on interactive product design with Meow Wolf and Omega Mart, an arts and entertainment company
  • Interactive discussion on equitable and effective management with Nancy Hanks from the Management Center

We’re excited to have this opportunity to connect across chapters, to learn together as a Network, and grow in our practice and work for the incoming school year.

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