“Your story is enough, and it matters. So tell it, and tell it well.”
Since 2008, the Deep Center has given youth in Savannah, Georgia the tools and encouragement to write with skill, confidence, and courage. Recognizing that students with poor literacy skills are more likely to drop out, Deep brings free and fun after-school writing instruction to youth in some of the city’s low-performing middle schools. Through instruction, discussion, one-on-one mentoring, and writing exercises, dedicated volunteer Writing Fellows work with students to develop fundamental writing skills and creative self-expression once a week for 11 weeks.
Beginning as a small pilot program serving two public schools, the Young Author Project has since grown into a county-wide initiative run by core staff and a team of Writing Fellows, trained volunteer authors, poets, and journalists. Together, the Deep Center is currently able to offer programming twice a year at 14 public schools and reach 280 students annually. Recognized as a national model of success by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Young Author Project was awarded the 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for its excellent out-of-school work.
With the purpose of igniting middle schoolers’ interest in writing, Deep regards their young participants as writers with stories to tell. Students are encouraged to explore their imagination, give voice to their personal experiences, and be intellectually and emotionally courageous in both their writing and their life. They are emboldened to strive for Deep Center’s core values of originality, vividness, and fearlessness; are instructed to dive deeper into their narratives, moving beyond clichés and easy appropriations; and are motivated to take risks in style and subject matter. Through continued practice, students learn to tell their stories, often challenging and personal ones, with honesty and frankness. And, as of a result, they discover self-expression, their craft for creative writing, and the resonance of their voices.
“I joined Deep and found out things about myself I never knew. I can write poetry. I released my emotions in my writing, and I felt free. Deep changed my life.” –André Massey, Jr., 2015 participant and 2015 NAHYP Ceremony Youth Speaker
“I’ve always been a writer, and I’ve always written stories about my life. But that kind of writing I had to do alone in my room. Now I write these stories in Deep, and all of Savannah is my audience.” – Jade Davis, 2015 participant and 2016 Deep Laureate.
Treated as true writers, students are held to a level of rigor. Their poems and prose undergo weeks of revision, rewriting, and constructive peer review—so much so that by the end of the three-month period, each of the 280 Savannah middle schoolers has created a piece of work that is of genuine artistic merit and worthy of publication.
At semester’s end, Deep rewards the hard work of its students by publishing their best writing in a professional anthology. Staff and Writing Fellows celebrate each participant’s accomplishments with family members and friends at Deep Speaks, a community book launch and live reading event. And, they honor the season’s deepest, bravest, and most vivid writer with the distinction of “Deep Laureate.”
Since its inception, the Deep Center has come to find that students, when given the time, space, and resources, work hard and excel. Under the mentorship of trusted Writing Fellows and within a nurturing environment, the Young Author Project students gain communication skills, self-confidence, and social agency. On top of feeling better about time spent in school, they perform better. In fact, nearly 100% of Young Author Project students demonstrate improved writing skills, test scores, and English-language arts grades. Because of Deep’s after-school programming, Savannah youth are not just leaving middle school as accomplished writers, artists, and citizens—they are entering high school knowing their potential and worth.
Images: Top Band – Left: André Massey, Jr., age 14, talks on behalf of the 2015 NAHYP Awardee, Young Author Project. Photo credit: Steven E. Purcell. Top Band – Right: Ellexus Hicks reads from an anthology of students’ creative writing at a Deep Speaks event. Photo: Bill Durrence. Second Band – Left: Writing Fellow, Michelle Hoover, mentors John Dickerson after school during a Young Author Project workshop. Photo: Maggie Harney. Second Band – Right: Deep Center’s Young Author Project enables Hubert Middle School student Crystal Newton to develop literary skills, by writing stories and poems about her own life. Photo: Maggie Harney.