Over the weekend I was in Houston for the inaugural Writers in the Schools (WITS) national conference, and it was all kinds of amazing!
WITS is a nonprofit organization now in its 26th year that is headed by Executive Director Robin Reagler and Associate Director Long Chu. WITS sends writers into underresourced communities to provide young people with a chance to work with professional writers. Among the WITS alliance are organizations like Community Word Project in New York, Inside Out Literary Arts Project in Detroit, Badger Dog Literary Publishing in Austin, Wick Poetry Center at Kent State, and Arizona State's Young Writers Program where I work.
The whole conclave was great from the hotel service to the pedagogical training that was shared. Debra and Jeanette were two Houston area teaching artists that talked about their first years of teaching in the program. These women were young but confident, knowledgeable and funny before a crowd.
The most emotional moment for me was listening to Michele Kotler, founding director of Community Word Project. She spoke to a crowd of about 100 teaching artists and alliance members. I could not give Michele's speech justice with a summary but it was a clear-eyed argument (wrapped in a personal story) about privilege, class, art, and literature. I wanted to shout like you do in church. Listening to her, I remembered the importance of literary activism especially in poorer communities where folks are often voiceless.
I'm usually anxious when I think about writing especially about my own writing ambitions. It was nice to focus instead on how to help more young people make their voices heard.
For more information about WITS go to witshouston.org and witsalliance.org