11 children sat around the large oak table that Saturday afternoon. Pencils and paper were temporarily forgotten, all eyes were focused on the blackboard. WordPlay Writer-in-Residence Pauletta Hansel, chalk in hand, was laying out the steps for a recipe.
A recipe? Absolutely! A Recipe for Me, one of the many engaging writing prompts children dive into each week in our young writers circles. Pauletta brought in brownies from Bonomoni Bakery down the street, and talked to the children, ranging in age from 5-12, about what goes into making brownies.
"You start by listing ingredients, but how much of each? And what do we do with those ingredients to get the end result? But how in the world would you tell someone how to make you? What ingredients are essential to who you are, and in what proportions?"
WordPlay's Writer-in-Residence program brings free professional creative writing instruction to the students of WordPlay, from the very youngest writers in Kindergarten, to seniors in high school. Just over 85% of those children meet the criteria for receiving free lunch at school, which means many of the 150+ students participating in WordPlay's weekly programs face daily struggles. Helping families who face such hardships is central to WordPlay's mission, as is celebrating each student's individual voice and creativity.
Pauletta Hansel, now in her second year as Writer-in-Residence, carries out that mission each time she enters the WordPlay space. There are hugs and warm greetings, often a surprise or two tucked into her bag to share with the children, inviting questions, discussion, and introspection. Every step of her writing guidance is infused with compassion and respect for each child's unique path of self-expression.
December 1st marked a huge milestone for WordPlay and the Writer-in-Residence program, the debut of the WordPlay Press and its first publication of student writing from the 2014-15 school year, When You See My Name. An anthology of writing from our young writers circles for students in grades K-8, When You See My Name is available for purchase for $20, either online through www.wordplaycincy.org/donate, or you can walk in during the writing center's open hours to pick up your copy (Monday - Thursday 2:30 - 6 pm, and Saturday 12 - 4 pm). 100% of proceeds from each copy go directly back to our young writers programs, which are free to all who participate.
In her intro to this first publication, WordPlay Executive Director Libby Hunter writes, " The daily rhythm of our Northside writing center is driven by relationships. We are giving children from diverse backgrounds, neighborhoods, and schools a place where they can work and create together, come to know and trust each other, their tutors, and most importantly - themselves. This collection of writing is in essence a series of self-portraits of our youngest scholars, ages 5-12; a testament to their brave exploration of self and identity through creative writing. This was a first for many of them. "
For the current school year, the Writers-in-Residence continue to lead both the Saturday and Thursday young writers circles, but the focus of the WordPlay Press' second publication, to be released in summer 2016, is the teens. Throughout the year, Pauletta is leading writing projects for WordUP, WordPlay's after-school teen program for high school students from Hughes and Aiken High Schools, as well as the WordPlay Cincy Scribes, a weekly poetry, creative writing and spoken word workshop for teens led by teaching artist Desirae Hosley.
The WordPlay Writer-in-Residence programs also partners with local schools, providing fun, immersive creative writing experience to classrooms at no cost. In April, WordPlay will be partnering with Chase Elementary School and the Northside branch of the Public Library on a public poetry project for National Poetry Month - stay tuned for fun details to come.
For more information on how to purchase an anthology, enroll a child, volunteer or otherwise get involved, call 513-541-0930, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by WordPlay, 4041 Hamilton Ave. 45223.
By WordPlay co-founder and Executive Director, Libby Hunter.