InsideOut Poets Rock the White House

Ten students from InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit performed for the Obamas at the White House last night, alongside reknown poets such as Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, and Rita Dove. InsideOut is a founding member of the WITS Alliance. Click here and here for more information.

Speak Peace: Writing to Heal the Wounds of War

The Wick Poetry Center (Kent State University) has created Speak Peace, a travelling exhibit of children’s art and writing about the Vietnam War. The exhibit was recently featured in Washington, D.C., at the annual AWP Conference. You can see a gallery of videos promoting the project here.

Our Difficult Sunlight

Georgia Popoff, an independent teaching artist in central New York, has something to celebrate, a new publication. Her book, Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community, written in collaboration with Quraysh Ali Lansana, has just been released.  Georgia was a panelist in one of the WITS Alliance panels at the 2011 AWP Conference in Washington DC last week. You can read more about the book publication and launch schedule here.

WITS Alliance Joins Forces in Houston for First National Conference

Photo by Yvonne Feece

The Writers in the Schools (WITS) Alliance hosted its first national conference August 26 – 28 in downtown Houston, convening 15 literary arts groups to discuss how to turn America’s students into outstanding creative writers. The meeting combined intensive training sessions and professional development for 15 nonprofits representing each region of the U.S. Participants included administrators from Texas, New York, Michigan, Florida, Washington State, Indiana, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Ohio. The conference provided participants with the necessary tools for running a successful WITS-type program.

WITS flew in experts Michele Kotler and Keith Kamisnski, from New York’s Community Word Project (CWP) to demonstrate the Teaching Path model for curriculum development. Together with WITS Associate Director, Long Chu, the team led lessons on engaging student work and enforcing effective teaching strategies for under-served children.

On the last day of the program, WITS welcomed 79 writers to the 2010-2011 roster for an interactive orientation focusing on best practices in education and tips on planning a successful school year.  Kotler’s inspirational keynote address was the highlight of the morning followed by a community poem exercise that writers performed as a group – the largest collaborative piece ever recorded by CWP.  Each attendee walked away with a comprehensive lesson plan to use in their classrooms.  Says Josephine Jones of Colorado Humanities Center for the Book, “The Conclave renewed my passion for the work and prepared me with more tools for positive change than I can hope to use as I begin to assume responsibility for training the teaching writers in our program this year.  I’m honored to be part of the Alliance.”

Questions Without Answers by Nicole Callihan

“Is there anything in the world sadder

than a train standing in the rain?”

–Pablo Neruda

I’ve always loved Pablo Neruda’s poems. Ripe-apple-tender and wild-eyed, they’ve carried me from classroom to classroom for more than a decade as I’ve worked as a teaching artist in the New York Public Schools through Teachers & Writers Collaborative. One of my favorite lessons asks students to do nothing more than question the world. “Ask a question that can’t be answered,” I tell them. “Anything,” I say.  The students stare at me or gently rock or twirl hair around the tips of their fingers, but bit by bit—with the help of teachers and paraprofessionals and communication devices and speech therapists—their questions emerge.

Why don’t apples grow on pear trees?

Why doesn’t America have Founding Mothers?

Do broken hearts break things?

Why is night?

What is different? Why is different different?

I’ve been working with these same students for the past three springs, all of whom are middle school-aged and considered to be on the “lower end” of the autistic spectrum, and each time I return to them after a long city winter, they disarm me.  To be quite honest, it almost always feels like we’re starting from the very beginning. I hold up a poem on a piece of paper, and week after week, I ask them, “How do we know this is a poem?” And week after week, I wait. Today, lesson five, the room promised as much silence as ever, but then James spoke. “Space?” he said, more of a question than an answer. And I clapped and jumped, and Yes, James, yes, we know it’s a poem because there’s SPACE!

Eighteen months ago I gave birth to my daughter, Eva, and immediately she carved out this frighteningly tender spot in my heart. It’s strange because mornings, before I go teach, I do the same sort of exercises with her that I do to warm up my students. And this is your nose, and these are your toes, and where o where are those pretty elbows? The fact that my students are so much older than Eva—and so trapped in their pubescent early teenage bodies and in their very different working minds—is sometimes difficult for me to take.

Motherhood has cast my work with these students in a special, harsher light. If I think about it too hard—and sometimes I do because, I believe, as writers and artists and compassionate beings we must—this discrepancy threatens to disable me. It’s such a reminder of how unfair the world is, of how unequal we all are, of how many questions there are that fly so  wildly around refusing to be pinned down by any single answer.

It’s at those times that I have to remind myself to see the world a bit more like Neruda does—as unanswerable and surreal and magical, as a train standing in rain—knowing that, sometime soon, either the rain will stop or the train will pull away, and I will be left standing oh-so-near the tracks, weighed down only by poetry and love.

Nicole Callihan works with Teachers and Writers Collaborative, a sister organization  in New York City. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, Salt Hill, Washington Square, and New York Quarterly. She was a finalist for the Iowa Review’s Award for Literary Nonfiction and was named as Notable Reading for Best American Non-required Reading. She teaches at New York University and in schools and hospitals in New York City.

InsideOut Goes To The White House

InsideOut Founder Terry Blackhawk, City Wide Poet Lena Cintron, and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Coming Up Taller Award Ceremony 2009

InsideOut Literary Arts Project, a member of the WITS Alliance headquartered in Detroit, has been nationally recognized as one of 15 youth arts and humanities programs to receive the prestigious 2009 Coming Up Taller Award. They received the award for City Wide Poets, an after school writing and performance program. For more information, click here.

Aroostook Review Features WITS Students from Maine

earth day 1 028 maine wits writers and students 409
Fort Kent WITS Writers and their students gather for an Earth Celebration. (April 2009)

The most recent issue of the Aroostook Review, an online literary journal published the University of Maine at Fort Kent, features a number poems by WITS students from Maine. The University of Maine at Fort Kent’s English Program offers a WITS training course which offers both theoretical and experiential components for undergraduate and graduate students. The WITS program in Fort Kent was founded by Geraldine Cannon Becker. For more information about WITS at UMFK, click here.

“Alley Cat” is a poem by a six year old Maine student:


Alley Cat

It’s just an old alley cat,

a bag of old bones.

It has no proud tiger stripes.

It can’t even reach its bowl.

It hasn’t a star on its head.

Though, we shall call you pretty…

“Pretty, come in.”

by Joanna, age 6

Back to School: Great Books for Teaching Writers

As the new school year looms ahead in the not-so-distant future, it might be a good moment to restock your library of teaching materials. Teachers & Writers Collaborative has published more than 80 books to support WITS teaching. Favorite resources for writers who teach include:

Poetry Everywhere: Teaching Poetry Writing in School and in the Community, by Jack Collom and Sheryl Noethe, contains 60 writing exercises and more than 450 example poems by children, teachers, and poets. It also discusses how to integrate poetry writing into the English class, sound and rhythm, using great poems as models, traditional poetic forms, poetry units, investing and adapting exercises, revision, publishing, and other essential topics.

The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet: 104 Unusual Ways to Write Poetry in the Classroom and in the Community, by Dave Morice, features innovative ideas for engaging students, including poetry mobiles, poetry robots, postage stamp poems, rolodex poems, chopstick quatrains, and other inventive exercises.

Old Faithful: 18 Writers Present Their Favorite Writing Assignments, edited by Christopher Edgar and Ron Padgett. In this book, 18 writers describe their single best writing assignment: the one that never fails to inspire students to write autobiographical pieces, fiction, poetry, and plays.

In addition to books, T&W publishes the quarterly Teachers & Writers magazine, winner of 10 Educational PressAwards for Excellence. The magazine covers contemporary issues and innovations in creative writing education, and engages writers, educators, and students in a conversation on the nature of creativity and the imagination.

To see the full catalog of books offered by T&W, to read a sample article from Teachers & Writers, or to order books or a subscription, go to the T&W website. You can also place orders via phone (toll-free) at 1-888-BOOKS-TW.

Badgerdog at Round Top

On Friday, April 17, as part of National Poetry Month, Badgerdog will once again partner with the Poetry at Round Top Festival. Students from Ojeda Junior High, Del Valle Junior High, Del Valle Opportunity Center and Del Valle High School will spend the day at the International Festival Institute at Round Top, where they will take part in poetry writing and performance workshops with award-winning authors Jeff Stumpo and Jenny Browne. Badgerdog instructors, along with English teachers from all four schools, will participate in a morning workshop with renowned poet and University of Texas professor Dean Young.


Founded in 1971, the International Festival Institute hosts exceptional year-round education and performance programs. This is the second year Badgerdog has partnered with the Poetry at Round Top Festival.  To read more about the International Festival Institute, please click here.  To sign up for the Poetry Festival click here.

ArtsEdge Residencies for Artists and Writers

Applications are now being accepted for ArtsEdge Residencies at The University of Pennsylvania.  These residencies are provided through a collaboration of the Kelly Writers House, the Fine Arts Department of the School of Design, and Penn’s Facilities & Real Estate Services (FRES).

house2The ArtsEdge Residency project is designed to encourage and support the careers of emerging artists and writers. Through ArtsEdge Residencies, we offer two one-year residencies in a live/work space near Penn’s campus. ArtsEdge aims to support the creative work of young artists and writers, and create a live/work environment that will inspire interdisciplinary exploration. Residencies last for one year and include a dedicated studio for each writer/artist, living space, and close affiliation with the writing and artistic communities at Penn.

During the course of their residencies, writers and artists will develop at least one collaborative project with the Writers House or Fine Arts Department. Qualified applicants may also be considered to teach one course at Penn in the spring semester. Two residencies are available, one for a visual artist and one for a writer. The residences are not intended for current undergraduates. No affiliation with Penn is necessary.

TERMS: Each residency includes a one-bedroom apartment with an additional studio space. Subsidized monthly rent on each one-bedroom apartment (for which residents are responsible) is $400. Rent includes all utilities (except phone) and wireless Internet. The Writers House, the Fine Arts Department, and FRES will subsidize remaining rent.

MOVE-IN DATE: September 1, 2009

TO APPLY: Send letter of interest, CV, bio or artist statement, and portfolio (minimum: 10 pages of written work or 20 images). Word documents, PDFs, PPTs, CDs, and DVDs are all acceptable. Please include personal contact information and the names and contact information of at least two professional references. If you would like to be considered for a course, please also submit a brief description of your teaching experience or qualifications. Submit application electronically to or by mail (or hand-delivery) to: ArtsEdge Residency c/o Kelly Writers House 3805 Locust Walk Philadelphia, PA 19104


Opportunities for Writers from Teachers & Writers Collaborative

Teachers & Writers Collaborative has recently announced two new fellowships for writers, the T & W Fellowships and the Ellen Levine Fund fellowship.

1) Teachers & Writers Collaborative (T&W) announces the 2009–2010 T&W Fellowships, awarded to support early-career development for two emerging writers. The 2009–2010 Fellowships are made possible by the generous support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, following initial support from the Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund in the New York Community Trust.


Applicants for T&W Fellowships must:

  • Be age 35 or younger at the beginning of the Fellowship period
  • Live in New York City or be able to plan an extended stay in the area (T&W cannot assist with finding housing for individuals who do not currently live in New York.)
  • Show exceptional artistic promise and a commitment to a writing career
  • Demonstrate financial need


The 2009–2010 T&W Fellowship period is September 14, 2009, to June 18, 2010. During that time, T&W Fellows will receive:

  • A $20,000 stipend and the opportunity to apply for an additional small stipend to support research or travel
  • Office space and resources (e.g., computer, supplies) at T&W
  • Opportunities to meet with experienced professionals from publishing, literary arts, theater, or other fields related to the Fellow’s work
  • Exposure to all aspects of T&W’s work, including writing residencies, publications, and the 2020 Visions reading series

As part of their fellowships, the 2008–2009 T&W Fellows are participating in a pilot two-week residency program at the Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The opportunity to spend time at Pocantico may be made available to the 2009–2010 Fellows.  Visit the Teachers & Writers site for complete guidelines.


2) Later this year, the New York Community Trust will make the second annual award of at least $7,500 to a writer working on a second or third book of fiction or creative, literary nonfiction, who doesn’t yet have a publishing contract for the work. This award is supported by the Ellen Levine Fund for Writers.

Teachers & Writers Collaborative will again serve as a nominator for the award this year. The 2008 award went to a writer whose work T&W submitted: Gabriel Brownstein for his novel in progress titled I Was Here but I Disappeared.

Submissions to be considered for nomination by T&W should include contact information for the author (mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number(s)), an outline of the book, and 50-75 pages of the manuscript. Submissions should be mailed or hand-delivered to:

Amy Swauger
Teachers & Writers Collaborative
520 Eighth Ave., Ste. 2020
New York, NY 10018

Submissions will not be accepted via e-mail or fax.

The deadline for submitting work to T&W is 5:00 PM (Eastern), Friday, May 15, 2009. T&W will review submissions and select one or two as nominees for the award. The winner of the 2009 award will be notified by the New York Community Trust in late summer/early fall.

Please send questions regarding the 2009 award to aswauger at, or call 212-691-6590.