Culture365 Q&A: Writers in the Schools (WITS)

Submitted by FreshArts on Mon, May 16th at 11:06 pm

Hello, Culture 365 members and Spacetaker visitors! Our dear intern Sandra ended her internship with Spacetaker (and, in fact, is graduating from the University of Houston-Downtown this Saturday!) but we are going to try our best to continue her Culture365 Q&A legacy since it sheds well-deserved light on our awesome Culture 365 Artist and Nonprofit members and their artistic contributions to our city.


This week we are featuring Writers in the Schools, a Culture 365 nonprofit member and incredible literary organization that we have come to know well. In a nutshell, Writers in the Schools (WITS) engages children in the pleasure and power of reading and writing through a variety of programs that reach a large cross section the community.


Communications Manager Jennifer Watson shares a little bit about WITS in this week’s Culture365 Q&A.


What kind of programs does WITS offer?


WITS offers creative writing programs to underserved children in schools, hospitals, museums, community centers, and juvenile detention centers. WITS also offers free creative writing workshops at Discovery Green (Saturdays 10:30 am - 11:00 am now until June 26th). For over 20 years, WITS has partnered with Rice University's School Culture & Literacy Project to offer the Summer Creative Writing Workshops to students in grades Pre-K to 12.


What has been the response from the kids that have been in the WITS programs?


Says one 11th grade student, "I didn't know that I had a gift for anything, and now I know that I have a real gift for writing." WITS teaches kids that their voices are important and that their stories should be heard. They enter our program as shy, hesitant people and leave feeling empowered to share their stories with strength and conviction.


Tell us about a recent inspiring moment at WITS.


Recently I attended the Public Poetry Reading series at Houston Public Library (May 7, 2011). Choreographer Dominic Walsh took my breath away with an excerpt of his poem on the subject of Time as a nonlinear phenomenon, and a dancer from his company performed a moving interpretation of the piece. But what impressed me even beyond that was a poem written by a 3rd grade WITS poet named Anna Miller. In the spirit of dance, she recited this poem:


A Dancer’s House


This house is very empty.
There are only cleared-out spaces.
But this house has
something special.
This house is a dreamer.
It wakes me up early in the morning
So that I can dance to its ancient
song of
This house is set where
two rivers meet and rush.
Have you ever danced until the
thieving sunset stole your light of day?
Because I have, in my house.
The blue stones in the rain
are the music that I dance to.
My house is made of brick and wood.
But my house has a soul. Believe it.
My house is old, but comfortable.
I touch the rusted pipes that still let me live.
My pliés and pirouettes are better
when I’m in my house on the top floor.
My blood, pumping out imagination until
the day draws to
its close.
I leap and bound on my garden path.
I skip across the quiet river.
A peaceful house,
a peaceful setting,
a dancer’s house.


Anna Miller
3rd grade


Pretty amazing, huh?


What tips do you give parents to help their kids with reading and writing?


To promote literacy to children in the home, WITS suggests parents:

  • • Write an ode, a poem dedicated to his/her favorite person, place, or thing,
  • • Design and write a comic book,
  • • Make a family tree and write a funny story about each relative,
  • • Write a letter to the author of a favorite book, and mail it to the publisher,
  • • Set a goal for the number of books your child wants to read in a month,
  • • Keep a list and reward your child after he or she completes it, and
  • • Write the biography of his or her best friend.


Do you have opportunities for local artists to partner with WITS? If so, what are they?


Yes, WITS invites local visual artists like Nicola Parente and Raul Gonzalez into the classroom to combine art techniques with creative writing. The results are mind blowing! The children develop an aesthetic all their own and learn that writing is fun. We're also collaborating with Camilo Gonzalez at Aurora Picture Show for a digital story project that translates imagery from short stories and poems into images on film. Not only do our kids benefit from the lessons learned, but our writers gain valuable knowledge about the visual arts as well.


What are WITS plans for the future?


WITS is a leader of the WITS Alliance, a national network of literary organizations offering creative writing residency programs in schools and universities. WITS goal is to strengthen this network and gain more membership. We also plan to continue our partnerships with nonprofit organizations. We're developing a strategic plan to raise more awareness about WITS. All in all, we're working hard to keep our program in the classrooms and other places where creative writing is valued. At a time when arts funding is on the battlefield, so to speak, we are happy to remain a forerunner in arts education. We're grateful to find a fellow advocate in Spacetaker.


To learn more about WITS, check out their Spacetaker profile and website. Many thanks to Jennifer for sharing this great insight into this gem of an organization in our backyard!


Team Spacetaker


Cover photo: Sadie Many, a 2nd grade student from the WITS program at Texas Children's Cancer Center, performs her poem, One Around the World. Photo by Yvonne Feece.

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