At 826, we believe that the power and joy of writing should be accessible to every student in every classroom. But with school closures and all the hurdles that ensued, we had to reimage what publishing could look like in this virtual era.
Publishing student work is a cornerstone of the 826 approach. When young people see their writing appear in professionally-printed books, their confidence and pride soar to new levels. As important as we believe physical books to be, the main purpose of these projects is to amplify student voices far beyond their communities. We’re approaching this challenging moment as an opportunity to transcend book pages and explore other types of surfaces, reaching more readers in the process. Across The 826 Network, our chapters are finding innovative ways to share student writing with their communities. From lawn signs in Minnesota to artistic installations in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, 826 chapters are getting creative to make students’ voices heard and as visible as possible.
826 MSP has recently given us two examples of how 826 chapters are innovating to publish student writing. Besides sharing their young authors’ work through chapbooks, zines, and anthologies, they are also getting resourceful to share their thoughts in unusual ways, such as displaying them at bus stops and on lawn signs.
“Minnesotans love lawn signs, so when the shelter-in-place order hit Twin Cities, this felt like a good way to share students’ voices,” says 826 MSP Development & Communications Director Ashley Lustig.
In addition to these beautiful signs and thanks to a unique partnership with Metro Transit, 23 poems by 23 young 826 MSP poets were displayed on bus shelters throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park in the summer of 2019. Due to the success of this project, 826 MSP encouraged students to create even more writing for public display in a workshop called Words on a Line, where students wrote poems about transit, travel, their neighborhoods, communities, and the places they call home.
Their writing will soon be available at bus stops throughout the Twin Cities, combining both traditional publishing with more imaginative means to get their students’ writing displayed in as many places as possible.
At 826 New Orleans, the Writing on the Wall project helped students process current events while forging new bonds with their community.
“At 826 New Orleans, we think publishing means preparing your writing for an audience, getting it ready for a reader. With our project Writing on the Wall, young people published their work right on their front steps. Every Friday in May, they wrote something on a piece of large chart paper, and displayed it somewhere other people in their community could enjoy it (front door, gate, etc.),” says 826 New Orleans Program Director Kyley Pulphus.
The project was divided into five categories: Flashback Friday, haikus, six-word memoirs, freestyle, and authors’ bios—each providing an opportunity for creative expression and exploration, but also an outlet for processing current events.
“While the original goal was to give students a way to make meaning out of what’s happening in the world, and to publish directly to their immediate neighbors, we saw that writing also forged new connections and brought communities together,” says 826 New Orleans Program Director Kyley Pulphus.
Community building is also a core part of our mission. We see writing as a tool for young people to ignite and channel their creativity, explore identity, and advocate for themselves and their community—a critical outlet as students navigate the uncertainties of our times. You can learn more about this inspiring project in this video by E’Jaaz Mason.
826 New Orleans’ creativity doesn’t end there. The idea of amplifying student voices beyond book pages stemmed from their Pizza Poetry Project during National Poetry Month back in 2018. 826 New Orleans teamed up with local pizzerias to share student writing by publishing their poems on pizza boxes on Pizza Poetry Day.
The project was so successful that 826 Valencia decided to follow suit and join the pizza party as well, partnering with local eateries in San Francisco to elevate student voices during National Poetry Month. Kids were super excited to see their writing become something tangible—concrete proof of their hard work and dedication. The combination of student writing with delicious food is so irresistible that we know this project is here to stay!
The team at 826 Valencia saw this moment as an opportunity to amplify student voices even further, reaching out to other local businesses about possible partnerships. Ritual Coffee Roasters joined the movement and stamped student poems on their coffee sleeves and in-store posters during National Poetry Month.
The initiative was so well received that Equator Coffee embraced the idea and partnered with 826 Valencia on 826 Day, sharing student poems in beautifully-designed posters that became an inspiring art installation in the Tenderloin.
Coffee lovers would get their caffeine fix and support local youth at the same time; a win-win combination, if you ask us.
Speaking of art in the Tenderloin, student writing can also be found in two different neighborhood initiatives: On Big Belly trash cans, thanks to a partnership with The Tenderloin Community Benefit District (TLCBD) and artist Dan Mok, and on a beautiful mural designed by artist Vanessa Lim. TLCBD partnered with local artists to create different designs, reflecting the neighborhood’s rich culture and vibrancy. These amazing projects are part of TLCBD’s initiative to bring more art and positivity to the neighborhood’s streets.
Innovative, nontraditional publishing ideas like these will probably outlive the pandemic and become a staple of our programs, as we strive to break down barriers to the literary arts and create pathways for students to share their stories with their communities.