Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center

Describe your nonprofit’s mission.
The Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center provides a home for young writers, and connect them as a part of the larger writing community. We are a non-profit literary organization, offering writing workshops, mentorship, retreats, readings and fellowship for teen writers. We believe young writers are artists with a capacity to change our world with their vision.

What need in our community brought about the creation of your nonprofit?
Every student has mandatory English classes, yet our curriculum and testing focus precludes the time for creative writing. Only one area high school has a four-year creative writing program, only our other public high schools offer a creative writing elective.

Most students admire authors from a distance, but notice there is no consistent, visible support for student writers in our area outside of local contests and summer programs. This sent a message that writing programs are not valuable enough to support. Our program is changing that.

I believe that our program, the teen reading I manage for the VIrginia Festival of the Book, the Rising Star Awards, and increasing local recognition for our community of young writers, we can demonstrate the deep value of excellent writing. Doing so attracts a diverse set of students to strive for excellent writing just as students strive for success in performance arts, because they enjoy it, and because they perceive a public value for their efforts. It takes an engaged community to prove that public value, and that is what I am drawing together.

High school teachers and students alike have given our program acclaim and praise, and our alumni consider it life-changing. We offer for students whose art is writing, commensurate programming to the Lighthouse for film students, Live Arts for theater, and the Music Resource Center for music. We are entering our fifth year and we began this little non-profit without major backing, and have made an impact on hundreds of area students, a growing number each year.

The Virginia Festival of the Book asked us to manage their teen writing contests and I’ve brokered a deal with Submittable that gives me their maximum access and allows me to offer editorial positions to students who haven’t the opportunity in their high schools, allowing me to share leadership positions with young writers. My alumni stay in touch and are enthusiastic about our organization.

I want to expand to bring our program to student who cannot attend our meetings.

How has your nonprofit made a difference in our community?
Since I began this program in 2013, student participation has risen from 16 students to 150 students in 2016, including a core of student editors/staff and students submitting to our contest, our annual anthology, and our public readings.

The resounding response from students and parents has been, “No one cared about my writing, now I feel there is worth to my efforts and art, and I wish I’d had this years ago.”, “It’s change (my)(my child’s) life.

This year I am attempting to include a section for translated poems in my anthology, in order to include students for whom English is a second language. One of my students won the Emily Couric scholarship last year, crediting our organization with giving her the leadership opportunity and confidence to do so. The Emily Couric board commented on the diverse contemporary authors she shared her love of.

Increasingly I am contacted as a liaison to teen writers
How can community members help you achieve your mission?
I need all the help new non-profits need. Volunteers, strong board members, grant writing and the establishment of consistent support!

Tell us a story that has come out of your work.
Last year one of our dedicated students, newly moved here, shy and anxious, took a leadership position on our anthology staff, began submitting her work for publication, successfully started an instagram account for us and mentored other students, and is providing a workshop on how to submit as a teen writer on her break. She won the Emily Couric scholarship this spring.

I’ve been able to publish work by teens that moved the community, which their schools had no vehicle to recognize them for or support their efforts in. Doing so helped them gain a sense of validation as writers (a word I hear constantly used), and shows their peers that there is good reason to strive for excellent writing.

Area teachers have told me it is an important and powerful thing for their students to have instruction/community/mentorship outside of the classroom, and every creative writing teacher in our county has volunteered to lead workshop in my program.

I’ve kept my costs to the minimum, focusing on content, soliciting goals from students and teachers in order to build a program that meets their needs.

Learn more about Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center

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