Writing Workshop Helps D.C. Teens Publish Books

Courtesy of shoutmousepress.org
Courtesy of shoutmousepress.org

At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in March 2015, 10 D.C. teen girls began writing a novel.

The group of 11- to 14-year-olds began with one central question: What really happens in a community when a black youth is the victim of violence by police? In other words, the students explored the idea of what it would look like if the incendiary events in Ferguson took place in their own Northeast Edgewood neighborhood.

Released in late May, the near 200-page book, titled “The Day Tajon Got Shot,” explores the issue of race and justice in a community torn apart by violence. Shout Mouse Press, a publishing house that aims to assist authors from marginalized communities amplify their voices through writing, helped the teens write the book through its nonprofit Shout Mouse writing program at the Beacon House in Northeast.

“The book tells other teenagers like us that you have a voice in things — you have a voice in what’s going on in society right now,” said one of the authors, Najae, during a panel at the American Writers and Writing Programs Conference.

The book’s other authors, all teen participants at the Beacon House, are T’Asia, J’Yona, Reiyanna, Jonae, Makiya, Rose, Serenity, Jeanet and Temil.

Surrounded by real-world instances of police violence, including the deaths of black males Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, the teens wanted to unravel the complex matter of police violence against African-American youth.

In order to undertake the large task of writing about the highly divisive events, and moving beyond social media hashtags, each of the authors took on the role of characters from all sides of the event.

“This book was a really big undertaking,” said Director of Beacon House Programs and Operations Danielle Schmultz. “It is really powerful [that] the girls could take on so many different perspectives.”

The writers stepped into the shoes of the black boy who is always assumed to be up to no good; the friends and family members of the dead boy who grieve and either become activists or slip into despair; the police officer who commits the violence out of fear or bias and must deal with the repercussions of his actions; the family member of the officer who may have complicated reactions to what happened and witnesses directly and indirectly affected by the event.

“They spent a lot of time listening to the things that happen around them and used it to develop full and complex characters,” Schmultz said.

The teens worked with writing coaches on Friday afternoons to individually develop their parts of the book and then bring them together as a collective storyline.

“This book can make a powerful statement in a unique and compelling way, and it gives both these writers and their readers a chance to explore hot-button issues of race and violence in a way that is sophisticated and necessarily complex,” said a statement on the Shout Mouse Press website. “These stories go beyond the headlines to explore the perspectives of people on all sides of the discussion.”

The book follows the group’s 2014 release of “Trinitoga,” a portmanteau of the middle- and high-schoolers’ neighborhoods of Trinidad and Saratoga. The smaller, 50-page fiction novel explores the relationships between family members.

About Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer 76 Articles
Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her to just tackle one. The recent Howard University graduate is thankful to have a job and enjoys the thrill she gets from chasing the story, meeting new people and adding new bits of obscure information to her knowledge base. Dubbed with the nickname “Fun Fact” by her friends, Tatyana seems to be full of seemingly “random and useless” facts. Meanwhile, the rising rents in D.C. have driven her to wonder about the length of the adverse possession statute of limitations (15 years?). Despite disliking public speaking, she remembers being scolded for talking in class or for holding up strangers in drawn-out conversations. Her need to understand the world and its various inhabitants frequently lands her in conversations on topics often deemed taboo: politics, religion and money. Tatyana avoided sports in high school she because the thought of a crowd watching her play freaked her out, but found herself studying Arabic, traveling to Egypt and eating a pigeon. She uses social media to scope out meaningful and interesting stories and has been calling attention to fake news on the Internet for years.