By Zenebou Sylla ‘22
EmersonWrites, an urban creative writing program offering free college-level workshops for Boston area students in grades 8-12, celebrated its 10th Annual Showcase late last month at Emerson’s Bill Bordy Theater, where students presented their written work for their friends, family, and the Emerson College community.
EmersonWrites is open to students enrolled in a Greater Boston public or charter school. The program provides courses in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and creative writing taught by graduate students in Emerson’s MFA/MA program in Writing and Publishing who have been trained to teach college-level writing in the First-Year Writing Program.
Mary Kovaleski Byrnes, a senior lecturer in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department, is one of the original co-founders of EmersonWrites. What started out 10 years ago as a program for TV and Film switched gears into a writing program and has continued to expand from there.
“The first weekend [of the program], I mean, I made so many cold calls to high schools, recalled Byrnes. “I went all over the city and I was like, ‘I have no idea who’s going to come because we weren’t offering it for credit, and we just didn’t know if other people were going to find it valuable the way we thought they might and … they have.”
High school senior Abbie Langmade said she joined the program following in her older sister’s footsteps, and since then has found a space to be herself while also creating life-long friendships.
“They are my best friends, we have group chats, we talk every day more than I talk to anyone from
school,” Langmade said. “There’s so much love and camaraderie in this group, and through people from all walks of life and all different ages.”
For many, it was their first time presenting their writing to anyone other than themselves.
High school sophomore Juliana Delgreco, who mostly writes fiction and poetry, said that being a part of the showcase was a new experience that meant so much to her.
“It’s a really big deal for me, especially because my poem was super personal. I’ve never done a showcase before so it was special being here,” said Delgreco.
Kaylah Tshitenge, a high school junior who also shared her writing aloud during the showcase, says it brought up a lot of emotions for her.
“First of all, it was hard. I was really nervous, but I think I’ve been more confident in my writing and I appreciate experiences like this because I get to bring a voice to my poems, bring my pieces alive, and so I think it’s been a pretty great experience,” said Tshitenge.
Not only were the students praised for the willing efforts to come to the program on Saturdays, but with the help of their mentors and the EmersonWrites staff, it provided students with even more encouragement and motivation to continue the program.
EmersonWrites program coordinator Noah Woods said his first year working in the program was exciting, as he was able to see what the students were able to unfurl. Since his role is more logistical, he said, he often doesn’t get to see the writing process of the students.
“Throughout the year, I don’t really get to see what they’re working on… so by the end I was thrilled. I was blown away by how talented they were, not that I had any doubts, but it was just so cool to finally see what they’ve been working on all year,” said Woods.
The EmersonWrites community inspire each other whether that’s from the staff, to the teachers, to the students.
Ebony Smith, who will attend Harvard this fall, says that her time at EmersonWrites has allowed her to work with other creatives where she feels like she can be heard.
“[I]t definitely gives you a community… getting to meet other like-minded individuals and poets, creative writers… just having people to not only validate your feelings and your style of writing, but to have an entire group and family just like actually want to hear what you have to say,” Smith said.
That’s not to say the program was easy.
“I will say that it all comes down to time management, don’t stress yourself out,” Smith said. “If anything, EmersonWrites for me was an outlet, a place to relax from school work and if you can just take two to three hours of your Saturday to just dedicate it to something that you want to do, that doesn’t require a grade, that doesn’t require your teacher’s approval, feedback, or comments, and you don’t have that pressure on you, I would definitely recommend that.”
Senior Essence Smith says for her it was a way to explore more of her individuality within her writing.
“A lot of the work that I have written has a lot to do with my background and my identity, and I think that’s something I developed over the course of taking EmersonWrites classes, because I got to experience myself and I really got to learn about myself,” she said.
Byrnes says she is grateful for the experiences she’s had throughout her EmersonWrites journey, and that the students and their mentors continue to push the program forward. One way the program is looking to do that is by thinking of ways that students’ parents and grandparents can get involved in the writing process.
“I think we need to really think purposefully about how to build off the momentum we’ve had for the last 10 years and if there’s any way we can open this community even further,” said Byrnes.