of the River News
By Eliza Barclay
away into that soul of mine/ It was dark and musty like a rainforest
at night," Shaquille Jenkins, an 8th grader with tightly sewn
cornrow braids, uttered with lyrical cadence. The backdrop of shelves
and shelves of glossy book spines provided an appropriate setting
for Jenkins and his classmates from Charles Hart Middle School on
June 7 as they read their finely tuned poetry at the Borders Books
and Music at 18th and L Streets NW. It was their final public reading
for the school year and the students seemed both nervous to be sharing
their work and giddy to have an audience with summer in such close
other Hart students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades are participants
in the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop (DCCWW), a non-profit program
that provides creative writing instruction to middle school students
economically underserved areas of DC. Founded in 1995, DCCWW operates
out of Hart at 601 Mississippi Ave SE in the Congress Heights neighborhood.
The program consists of English classes with writers-in-residence
who provide students with intensive literary instruction in creative
writing and challenge the students to read and discuss sophisticated
DCCWW, "The Workshop's writers-in-residence have introduced
thousands of students to the joys of self-expression and the written
word, opening for them a world of opportunity that exists outside
the historically neglected area in which they live."
Beyond the classes,
students have the option to participate in the activities of after-school
clubs up to three days a week including a Writing Club, Drama Club,
and Literary Magazine Club. The Workshop has also established a
Reading Resource Center at Hart, which functions as a library for
students in the program.
On June 7, the
students were reading from the Summer 2004 edition of their literary
magazine, hArtworks. hArtworks is the nation's first inner-city
public middle school literary magazine and was recognized in the
2004 Poet's Market as "an outstanding example of what a literary
magazine can be (for anyone of any age)."
On the sidelines
at Borders, DCCWW Executive Director Nancy Schwalb nodded encouragingly
at some of the younger students who were reading their poetry in
public for the first time. Schwalb introduced each student with
gusto, highlighting their achievements along their poetry-writing
are pretty full of themselves after they pulled off an amazingly
good production of Aristophanes' 'The Frogs' on May 27th,"
As a public-private
partnership with the Hart Middle School, the Workshop is able to
provide the 600 students who attend Hart with more than 500 hours
of programming, both during the school day and after school. DCCWW
is able to keep administrative costs low because the organization
is housed at Hart and shares office space, utilities, and management
support. Unlike other organizations whose principal cost is overhead,
DCCWW can spend 95% of the budget on programmatic work helping at-risk
youth find an outlet through writing.
Not only has
DCCWW students' work earned them praise from teachers and mentors,
but they have also gone on to win awards including the Parkmont
Poetry Contest, Larry Neal Award, Junior League Teen Poetry Contest,
District Lines Poetry on Metro Contest, and National Teen Poetry
Slam. Some student work has evenbeen published in Potomac Review.
In 2004, several Hart graduates who participated in DCCWW are going
on to attend the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in NW DC and
the School Without Walls, among other schools.
Not only has
DCCWW helped to guide so many students to a brighter future, but
it has also provided them with a medium in which to tell their stories,
which are crucially important to the city's understanding of itself.
Reginald Williams read a poem at the reading called "Poverty,"
which won him a prize in the Parkmont Poetry contest: "Nations
are not shattered, memorials are not built./ Nobody will miss him.
Not one person./ But some things will:/ The corner on which he sat,/
The tin cup which earned him a few cents each day of his miserable
For more information
on D.C. Creative Writing Workshop, visit www.dccww.org, or call