The Young Authors Greenhouse in Louisville, a youth writing center based on the 826 Valencia model, needs your help. The founders, including Jim James, Jeannette Bahouth, and Hannah Rose Neuhauser, write a regular column here, telling the story of the center as they get ready for their winter 2018/19 opening. In the meantime, you can donate here. — Dave Eggers
Young Authors Greenhouse just published their first book, If You Can See the Stars, There is Still Light, written by students who attend Olmsted Academy South, a public middle school. The following is adapted from the book’s introduction.
The Young Author’s Book Project
by Hannah Rose Neuhauser
I believe that writing is thinking. It is an act of listening and an act of bravery. I challenged this class to not just listen to one another, but listen to their own thoughts. To be bold. To show emotion. To know that their stories matter.
It doesn’t happen in a day —this process of listening to your own thoughts and, taking it a step further, trusting your thoughts. At the start of our Young Authors Book Project, one student, Mahogne, was unsure. She didn’t trust herself to write anything down—the act of pencil to paper felt permanent, nothing was good enough. She would scribble a few words, then crumple the paper and toss it in the recycling bin.
One volunteer Kenny (who just so happens to be my dad!) sat with Mahogne every day. As a professional writer, he knew this pressure of perfection but encouraged Mahogne that any thought she had was worth putting on paper. “Later in the writing process”, he told her, “we will mine for those golden details and bring them out into the light to shine.”
Kenny noted specific parts of Mahogne’s writing, like the fact that her dog refused to eat dog food, but instead would only eat cat food. Kenny encouraged Mahogne to write more. He took a real interest in her words and delighted in the details that Mahogne thought were mundane. Mahogne brightened—confidence in her own voice grew.
A magical thing happens when we take young people seriously—they begin to take themselves seriously. They think of themselves as writers. They think like poets—searching for the words that surprise and delight, words that dare, words that sit with us for a long time.
The community in this classroom was remarkable. Our volunteers brought love, care, and encouragement into the classroom each and every week. Their time spent with these young authors transformed into something beautiful and impactful. And of course, this entire project is thanks to our partner teacher, Ms. Jennifer Wade-Hesse. Jennifer welcomed us into her classroom and was a constant source of support and wisdom.
It’s no easy feat to write something and share it within an hour—yet that is exactly what these writers did every week. They cheered for one another—on any given day, you would hear, “You’ve got this, girl!” and then a flurry of fingers, snapping, energizing. It wasn’t long before Mahogne, the student with her head down and paper crumpled, was the first to eagerly wave her hand when it was time to share. In fact, at the end of the project, a local news station came to the school and interviewed students—including Mahogne. Later, I heard Mahogne say, “My poem was so good that it was on the news!”
The writing in this book varies wildly—from levity (an ode to an Xbox!) to serious, current issues. These students have shared words of loss, of anger, of fear—but also of joy, of possibility, of pride. They have imagined communities full of peace and beauty and laughter—and of course, lots of candy and Takis. They have grown as writers and thinkers this semester.
These writers have pushed past the notion that people are from one single place—instead, they write about how they are from many different things: memories, people, families, friends, foods, and traditions. They found power in the intersections and complexities of their identities.
There is a clear shift in the second half of this book—an urgent turn. The students in the second semester wrote through the context of the Parkland school shooting. Their work gravitated toward grappling with violence and vulnerability. They question. They answer. They ask for change.
Nevertheless, this book is filled with light and hope—and the last poem is a powerful call to action. A reminder that, “hate is strong, but love is stronger.”
So now, I ask you to listen to these courageous voices, and let them light our way forward.
“Ode to my Xbox”
Xbox O Xbox, I
love you so dearly.
You’re one of the
many things that make me smile—
the way you power on
to the way you power off.
You get kidnapped a lot. When you do,
I’m on my way. Our bond
is special in many ways, like a mother and her child.
From your graphics to your
games, you are perfect in
I will love you until I get an
“There Are Kids Here”
(After “There Are Birds Here” by Jamaal May)
There are kids here,
so many kids here.
They laugh like
They chase each other
Girls chase boys
like angry bears.
I don’t mean they are angry.
I mean they’re playing.
I said they’re playing
like a soccer ball
making a goal.
cars pass with the sound
Trains sound like
a herd of elephants.
The neighborhood is not
and quiet like rice
staying put in a jar.
I am trying to say
the neighborhood is
awesome like a lot
of sugar with a pinch
of salt with a little
bit of cinnamon.
“Violence Needs to Stop”
You may think more violence is the answer.
But it’s not.
You may think that teachers
having guns will help,
but it will just make things worse.
Still, like the sun, I always float.
Does my voice not matter?
Why don’t you hear my words?
I speak like I have thunder under my tongue.
Just like wind
with the echo of a child’s voice.
Just like a bolt of hope.
Still, I’ll float.
Hope is possible.
Hope is like beautiful flowers
blooming from grass.
Imagine. Wait, no. Don’t imagine. We don’t have time for that. You need to get up, get up! You can’t want something and just imagine and get it. You have to do something! And if you want a perfect world, then do something! Tell your neighbor, tell the internet! Make it big! Let the world know. You want a chance. You don’t want guns. You don’t want violence. You want peace. You want harmony. You don’t have to love, but you don’t have to hate. It’s not about being correct or being the most beautiful. You want to shine as bright as the sun. No, brighter, so bright that I can’t find the words. When people say “you can’t”, what they mean is, “you can too.” When the man on the corner is protesting alone, join him. Unite the light that sparks and your idea of a perfect world will become reality. People will realize that hands are for holding hands–not guns, not knives. Hate is strong, but love is stronger.
To read the entirety of this stunning collection, order your very own copy here!