Students at Alain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy are soon-to-be published authors. Earlier this year, Locke students were selected by 826LA a nonprofit aimed at providing students with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills, to participate in their annual Young Authors Book Project (YABP). The YABP is an in-depth creative writing and publishing project for high school students that 826LA facilitates each year for one Los Angeles school.
“In this project, Locke students reflected upon the 1992 Watts uprisings and pivotal moments in their own lives,” said 826LA site director Vickie Vértiz. “In writing on these topics, students used the creative process to address a historical moment, the repercussions of which are still felt today.”
Team members from 826LA worked with Locke English teachers Kathleen Hicks and Grace McCormack to help students develop and share their stories in a narrative debut titled When the Moon is Up. Hicks has worked with 826LA for the last four years, and was eager to bring this opportunity to Locke students. To engage even more voices she collaborated with fellow English teacher, Grace McCormack. The teachers worked with 826LA staff to establish goals, writing prompts and an editing system that would provide students with professional writing and publishing experience.
An Act of Social Engagement
While some of the students’ stories are fiction, many are autobiographical. Their stories deal with perseverance, the loss of loved ones to violence, and their experiences growing up in South Los Angeles.
“This is their opportunity to change the narrative of what it means to live in South L.A., to show that their voices and experiences are important,” said McCormack.
“It’s an act of social justice that many are exploring for the first time.”
In addition to 826LA staff and Locke teachers, students had the opportunity to be mentored by professional journalists. With their help, students interviewed community members who lived through the riots and the subsequent changes in South L.A. For students, this was not just a classroom assignment, but an opportunity for them to be taken seriously as young writers with a voice.
High school senior Christian G. wrote about his childhood, and growing up without a father. He felt the YABP offered him a cathartic release by expressing feelings he often kept inside. “For people who are going through the same thing as I am, I hope my story will motivate them to persevere and not give up,” said Christian. “Even if they don’t have a mom or dad, they can persist and be successful.”
“I hope students will consider themselves great writers and people who have something important to say. Historically, most of the books high school students are required to read are written by dead white men and one woman,” said Hicks. “So my hope was that they could see themselves as writers if they wanted to.”
The Katie McGrath & J.J. Abrams Family Foundation funded the project through 826LA. Abrams, who directed Star Wars, shared his excitement for the Locke students’ narrative debut in a recent press release: “We’re thrilled that these young writers are sharing their creative voices with the world."
Through this book writing endeavor students were able to meet Pulitzer Prize winner and journalist Hector Tobar, who wrote the foreword for When the Moon is Up. Last month Tobar spoke to students about the importance of elevating their narrative voice and shared why he, as a person of color, chose a career in writing.
“Many times when they write about communities of color, they make us out as one of two things: pathetic victims or criminals,” said Tobar. “To me that's not who we are, so I think part of my job is to make the truth come out to the page.” And that is exactly what 61 students from Locke have committed to: sharing their truth.
When the Moon is Up will be available for purchase on May 19th.