WritersCorps: Mentoring Youth Through Writing

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by Melissa Hung

As Kendra Allen took the mic, she was the picture of calm. Smiling in a smart orange blazer, she confidently introduced her poem, “Bay Bridge: Tell it Like It Is” to a packed room of more than 100 youth at the San Francisco Main Library. The poem, written from the point of view of the Bay Bridge speaking to its sister, the Golden Gate, opened the reading segment of WordStorm, an annual literary carnival produced by WritersCorps.

WritersCorps is a project of the San Francisco Arts Commission and San Francisco Public Library that places professional writers in community settings to teach creative writing to youth. Six writers served nearly 1,000 students this academic year, teaching at 6 public schools, 2 libraries, the Juvenile Justice Center, and community organizations.

The writers, known as WritersCorps teaching artists, work with the same students every week of the academic year to hone their writing skills and produce a year-end project, such as an anthology. WordStorm, held this year on May 9, is the culminating event where students from the different sites get together to celebrate the publication of their projects. At Downtown High, WritersCorps students produced comic books and a collection of ghost stories. At Mission High, immigrant students made a cookbook featuring recipes from -- and poems about -- their homelands. At the Main Library, students created one-of-a-kind handmade books. For many young writers, this was their first time being published.

Students making buttons

WordStorm also featured booths of hands-on activities. Teens could make a button, film a clay animation (courtesy of Children’s Creativity Museum), hand sew a journal, record their work with a radio professional, or contribute to a mega group poem. The room buzzed with activity as teens went from booth to booth, signed their books for each other, or snacked on pizza and cookies. Young mothers from Hilltop School, a program for pregnant and parenting teens, helped look after each other’s children while they explored the activity booths.


The evening ended with an hour-long reading where young people shared from their new books. City Librarian Luis Herrera addressed the students and praised them for their work and their boldness in expressing themselves creatively.

Downtown Student

Some students also had the opportunity to record their poems in a sound booth, thanks to help from Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.


Here are a few poems we hope you enjoy:

“The room” by Anna Lei from the WritersCorps Apprentice program
“Golden Channel” by Davia Schendel from the WritersCorps Main Library workshop
“Because of You” by Vanessa Flores from Hilltop School

Vanessa Flores reading “Because of You”

All photos by J. Astra Brinkmann

Melissa Hung is a writer, filmmaker, and the program manager of WritersCorps. She too became interested in writing through the encouragement of teachers.