During the Fall Semester of 2016, Professor Helen Schulman was invited to George Jackson Academy—the only need-blind independent middle school for bright boys in New York City—to speak to the 8th Grade English class about being a reader and a writer. The group had read some amazing classics in school, but they were itching for contemporary authors whose themes more closely reflected their lives. They asked her what they should be reading. In response, Schulman (with the help of a few of her graduate students) put together a packet of contemporary authors recommended for these exceptional students, most of whom were reading above their grade level.
Schulman quickly fell in love with their brilliant minds and strong voices and thought The New School’s Writing Program had the capacity to help even further. She asked four of her graduate students if they’d be willing to teach an after-school workshop for a few weeks. Two, Catherine Bloomer and Austen Osworth, already teaching assistants at The New School, were able to accept. It wasn’t long before the two pilot instructors were hooked on the sheer amount of talent in their classroom. These young men were achieving many of the same things their undergraduates were achieving, and they quickly realized that, with all the passion the boys had shown for cultivating their creative writing, more work and a showcase were in order. Rather than staying a few weeks, the graduate students taught once weekly for the entire semester and organized a reading at The New School.
By chance, Schulman told Vicky Gottlieb of the extraordinary class and lamented that we would be unable to continue to help past the single semester; asking graduate students to volunteer on top of their thesis work was unsustainable. The Gottlieb Family decided to fund the project in Vicky’s honor so that New York City’s future might be brightened by these fantastic young storytellers. Thus, Write On was born.
As of this writing, we’ve placed nine pairs of co-teaching fellows into the creative writing classroom (now part of the school day) at George Jackson. We’ve organized readings, introduced the young men to contemporary authors, and taught them how to workshop their writing the same way graduate students do. Each semester, the classroom is different; responsive both to the needs of students and the world around us. Our pedagogy centers on the middle schoolers themselves: because we teach graduate-level workshopping techniques, peer voices are elevated and the instructors act as guideposts. We believe that writing is best practiced each day, and it is not practiced alone. And we believe in reading a breadth of diverse contemporary authors and reading them critically as a writer by interrogating what is working in a piece and how it affects the reader. And we deeply, and perhaps most importantly, believe that each child’s creative voice is important exactly as it is; we do not seek to change it, but rather to elevate it to the best version of itself.
The History of Write On is a short one, but it is one of tenacity on the parts of all students, graduate and middle school alike. It is one of symbiosis and the sharing of tools between talented writers. All the students are already brilliant; they are already bursting with things to say. We simply provide the space and support to create a thriving community of artists that they may take forward with them for their rest of creative lives.