May 17: ReadThenWrite
Our experience with the Corliss Authors in 2007–2008 had hooked us on working with teenage writers, especially those who had never thought of themselves in those terms. To create a program focusing on that experience, though, we knew we would start earlier in the process. We couldn’t count on finding groups of students who had already started working on significant pieces and just needed us for the editing and publishing parts. We’d need a concept that took young authors through finding, reading, discussing, and internalizing great examples from relevant books all the way through developing their own ideas, converting their thoughts into writing, going through the editing process, and ending up with work they would be proud of. So we went to work developing curriculum, writing prompts, picking books, finding volunteers, and getting ready. In 2011, in collaboration with Columbia Explorers Academy, Perspectives Calumet Middle School, Chicago Talent Development Charter High School, and ChicagoQuest Charter School, we piloted the very first sessions of ReadThenWrite.
Sometimes, it can take years for a program to come into its own and prove its value. ReadThenWrite, though, burst into life from the very first session. When our first group from Chicago Talent introduced their published anthology to the world in February 2012, the Chicago Tribune was in attendance.
“Students describe broken hearts, conflicts, self-discovery,” ran the headline. Like us, the reporter was awed by the bravery of our authors, and the truth and reality of the stories they’d told: “A 16-year-old girl said she wrote about terminating a pregnancy because it was the first time she could explain how she felt about the emotional, life-changing experience. The girl said she was hurt because none of her family members came to the reading. But she was still determined to revel in her accomplishment.’I got to finally speak out and let people know how I feel about what I went through,’ she said.” We reveled. We cried. We hugged. We knew ReadThenWrite was here to stay.
Just off the main foyer of our West Loop store, you can see signed covers from every ReadThenWrite anthology our students have written over the last six years. Some authors’ names appear on more than one poster, attesting to their positive experiences with the program and their choice to return for another session. Inside the store, we stock copies of their work to inspire other students and ourselves, and as each new group comes to celebrate their launch and raise a glass of sparkling cider to their achievements, we revel all over again.