Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Kira Tucker (Central High School)
According to former English teacher and current writer Nat Akin the first rule of writing is to read as much as you can.
Akin co-founded ‘story booth’, which was inspired by ‘826 Valencia’, a San Francisco-based nonprofit founded in 2002 by educator Nínive Calegari and author Dave Eggers. 826 Valencia helps underprivileged youth succeed in both school and beyond the academic frontier through creative and expository writing.
“By making writing fun, by demystifying the process, and by creating gorgeous books, magazines, and newspapers that honor their work, we can inspire young people to gain critical skills and write with confidence” Akin, current Director of Outreach and Education, continued.
story booth’s founders adopted and transformed this idea to better fit the Memphis atmosphere, specifically the Crosstown district, where they recently discovered their niche within the community. Neighboring the Cleveland Street Flea Market, story booth is a unique extension of the market, its own “booth” within the greater space.
The bookshelves, upcycled from the nearby Sears Crosstown Building, are filled with well-known literary classics, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Hundreds of titles comprise the space’s eclectic, no-late-fee library. Juxtaposed with such time-honored titles, however, are newer, student-created works which stand, professionally bound and polished, ready to make their acquaintance with the wider world.
“We take the kids’ work as seriously as professional’s work,” Akin said.
Vernecelyn Allen, a sophomore at Central High School said, “I really love to write, and Nat challenges the group to think. He challenges us to write differently than we’re used to and I feel that has really helped my writing.”
Lizzie Mulhearn, another sophomore at Central, agreed that this program has pushed her to explore more: “I’m more willing to read different things and go outside of my comfort zone,” she said.
Akin, who feels strongly about the program’s efforts, said, “I don’t want this to feel like a school space. I want everybody involved to feel like this is their place.”
Here, middle and high school students can work after school and hone their skills in not only creative writing but various crafts such as video production, magazine writing, screen printing, songwriting and music production. All free classes and workshops are taught by professionals in their respective fields.
Lily Bix-Daw, a student of multiple story booth programs and 10th grader at Central said, “Art, writing, and video production are all things that I’m in interested in. I like being able to do something out of a school setting, expressing yourself and learning things you really like instead of doing things for a grade or because your teacher tells you.”
Akin believes an unparalleled benefit arises from artists working directly with students. “The more you work the better you become,” he said. “[As a teacher] whatever I’m saying, I have to take to heart, you really learn it when you teach it.”
story booth’s directors aim to connect people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to connect with each other. Through fostering a diverse, creative environment, artists aid young people to grow in very personal ways as well.
“As you get older, you define yourself and go, ‘This is who I am.’” Akin said. He, along with his collaborators, believes that this journey of self-discovery is fueled through the arts. They encourage those who feel any artistic spark to pursue an outlet for creative expression: “If you think you are interested, start now.”