Writers & Books has invited NextGen Rochester members and friends to attend its celebratory launch of a new online teen literary magazine, with a reading and reception event for the publication’s teen developers and contributors. Next Gen’s 2012 grant helped fund the program, and the group looks forward to attending the event at 7 p.m. Friday, May 3.

To learn more about Writers & Books, check out this great interview with Writers & Books’ community engagement coordinator, Kristen Zory King:

Q: How did the idea of creating an online literary magazine come to be?

A: One of our largest programs at Writers & Books is SummerWrite – a ten week summer camp for kids ages 5-18 with classes in everything from writing fiction and poetry to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, theatre, art, music, and yoga. Sally Bittner Bonn, our Director of Youth Education, has done a fantastic job expanding the program and we now offer over sixty diverse courses and a large amount of scholarships so the youth in Monroe County can continue to develop their imagination and love of the written and spoken word outside of the school room. However, we noticed that once SummerWrite ended each summer, the bonds and sense of community that many of our participants felt – specifically teens – evaporated with the end of summer and beginning of a new school year. We wanted to create something that not only continued to encourage teens to write, but provided a sense of community, place, and empowerment. It was Sally’s idea to create a quarterly teen magazine (Canvas) that would be for and by teens in order to provide a safe, friendly, and creative forum for our SummerWrite teens and teens all over Western New York to express themselves through writing.

Q: How did you decide which students to select as contributors to the literary magazine?
A: The teens selected to be on the CanvasTeen Editorial Board were all recommended by Writers & Books teachers and staff as exemplar writers and leaders. After contacting a large group of teens and explaining the responsibilities of participating on an editorial board (no small feat for a high school student!), we then selected nine teens who now serve as our board members.

Q: What kind of content will be in the online literary magazine?
A: We publish poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Q: How does the project benefit the group of teens involved? 
A: The teens involved benefit in a number of ways. For one, they are all writers, so they are learning what it takes to be on the “other side” of a literary board and how to select and fine-tune other teens’ pieces. Additionally, they are learning valuable skills such as copy editing, layout, website design, social media management, and the general logistics that go into producing a magazine. Perhaps most importantly, they are also learning how to work together to create a community for teen writers just like them!

Q: How old are the students and what schools do they come from?
Our board members range from 13 years old to 18 (we have two members who will be graduating this year). They are all from Monroe County and attend a mix of public and private schools in Rochester, Brighton, Pittsford, and other locations.

Q: Why is Writers & Books an important organization for Rochester community?
A: Writers & Books is the only literary center in Rochester, NY providing a creative and friendly haven for readers and writers throughout Western New York. Our programs benefit those ages 5 through 105 by catering to the needs of the literary minded. We provide classes in creative writing and the book arts, author events from both local and nationally recognized authors, a community wide reading program “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book,” writers’ retreats in our Finger Lakes facility, a used bookstore, a literary lounge, book publishing through Big Pencil Press, and theatre collaborations, among many other things. We seek to foster creativity in our participants, young and old, as well as fine-tune the mechanics of writing and other literary skills. Being involved in the creative process and the literary arts nurtures important human qualities including observation, critical thinking, imagination, and empathy  Our program stretch our participants, asking them to grow in all of these areas, requiring risk taking within a safe environment. There are not many organizations that give so much in the way of active inspiration and creativity for the people of Rochester, NY and we are happy to provide a space that aids our audience in their quest to find their voices and share them.

Q: Can you think of a story or example that illustrates how a person benefitted from a program at Writers & Books?
A: Here are some quotes from participants in our programs and events:

“I took my first writing workshop at Writers & Books. It was scary to think of sharing my work, but that workshop provide a supportive community that helped to nurture a talent and an award-winning book that otherwise may have never come to light.” – Sonja Livingston, Award-winning author of Ghostbread
“The sense of community and creativity that I experience at my high school pales in comparision to Writers & Books. At W&B that atmosphere is entirely different. I have always felt welcome to be completely myself there. Kids here aren’t afriad to be goofy or to speak up because there is no fear of humiliation or bullies.” – Abby Johnson, a Rochester-area teenager who has taken writing courses at W&B and worked as an apprentice in our SummerWrite program.
“I can’t thank you enough for giving me such an amazing four days with readers. I was especially impressed by what Writers & Books has created for the community: so expansive and smart…” Debra Dean, author of The Madonnas of Leningrad, the selection for the 2012 “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book” program.
“Deaf poet Peter Cook and I could not have begun our deaf/hearing collaboration without the help of Writers & Books. Wirters & Books gave us the space to create, the forum to perform, and helped us write grants that got us goin. Our Deaf Poetry Series took place at W&B and was the only deaf poetry series in the coutnry at that time.” – Kenny Lerner of Flying Words Project.
Q: Can you tell us more about the 2011 grant from NextGen and what that helped fund?
A: We are so grateful for the NextGen grant which helped us to kick-start Canvas, allowing us to select and pay an adult administrator (author, editor, and teacher Nina Alvarez) who would be primarily responsible for teaching the Board the “ins and outs” of producing a magazine. Additionally, the grant is helping to fund the receptions that go along with each publication, and the costs associated with creating and managing a website.
Q: What are some upcoming plans or new programs you’d like to bring up to NextGen members?
A: We have a lot of very fun spring and summer events coming up that some NextGen members might enjoy (I’m only listing a few in May, for more event listings and classes, please visit our website at www.wab.org):
Monday, May 6th – Authors Aloud! A collaborative program of Writers & Books and The Little Theatre, Authors Aloud! brings two area authors each month to The Little Theatre Cafe. Detroit Poet & Rock Poet M. L. Liebler will perform with Grammy Winning Eminem Producer, Musician and Co-Writer Steve King. Liebler & King are part of M. L. Liebler &The Coyote Monk Poetry Band made up of some of Detroit’s best known, award winning musicians. In Rochester they perform as a duo Wyote Monk with special guest acclaimed poet Sean Thomas Dougherty.

Saturday, May 18th – Gell Open House. Come visit our Gell Center in the Finger Lakes and explore our beautiful and picturesque facilities. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with family or friends!

Monday, May 20th – Downton Abbey Discussion Series. Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? Then join us for our four week discussion series this spring! Each night of the discussion series will include a brief lecture followed by an hour of discussion. Tea and crumpets will be served. You can read any book or other material on the subject and join the discussion. Discussions will range from season one to the end of season three.
The first in a series of four, we will discuss the dynamics of an upstairs/downstairs relationship. Ever wonder why, despite resenting his position, Thomas yearns to be a butler? Do you ponder O’Brien’s bitterness or Anna’s devotion? Then join us for a discussion surrounding the relationships and complexities in Downton Abbey’s strictly dictated society. You must register to attend! Additional dates include: June 10th, 17th, and 24th.

Friday, May 31st 
– Last Friday Story Slam. An open mic of true, loose, and spontaneous stories based on one’s own life, as heard on NPR. Each performer gets approximately 5 minutes. Come prepared to tell a story, or simply to enjoy them. Each month has an optional story theme. Fashioned after the wildly popular Story Slam in NYC (www.themoth.org)

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
A: We hope to continue the Canvas and to expand the reach of the magazine. While it is very important to maintain a local sense of place and voice, we hope to reach teens all over Western New York and perhaps even farther, and continue to provide a forum for self-discovery and creative writing.

Q: What is your role at NextGen, as community engagement coordinator? (That sounds like a cool job!)
A: The position of Community Engagement Coordinator was created by Writers & Books for a recent college graduate interested in developing their skills in a literary field. I was selected in August and have since had the wonderful opportunity to expand my skills in a number of areas including grant writing, program and event development, and youth programming and management. I work a lot with both our Director of Development, Alexa Scott-Flaherty, and our Director of Youth Education, Sally Bittner Bonn, to make sure our programs are well funded and running smoothly. Additionally, I’ve been able to work on some really fun projects such as the Downton Abbey discussion series, the opening of the Lit Lounge, and the development of online creative writing courses (to launch in the fall of 2013).

Q: What are some ways community members could get more involved with helping Writers & Books?
A: We are always looking for volunteers to help out with events and around the office, but our primary goal within the community is to get people reading, writing, and exciting about sharing their passion with others.

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