Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christopher Williams, Teen Survivor of Shooting, Expresses it all in Memoir

Former high school football star, Chris Williams, 17, came to Writopia at the end of the summer ready to reflect on and write about the most challenging year of his life: the year he was shot down by 9 bullets, lost a leg, recovered, and returned to school--and even the field. His recovery was so moving and dramatic that the New York Daily News covered his return this past fall. Please help Chris celebrate his recovery and the completion of his powerful memoir by reading his story:

Heaven’s Hospital
A Memoir by Christopher Williams, Age 17

A long, silver .45 millimeter pointed straight at my back and let out nine shots that struck me in my right leg, left shoulder, and my back. This gun let off loud bombs of destruction disturbing my peaceful hallway at 9:36pm, shot from the weapon of a gang member from the Crips clan. There are many acts of violence and gun play in my neighborhood at Clarkson and Bedford Ave in Brooklyn, New York. There are a lot of gang wars that result in the injuries and death of innocent people, bothered for no reason at all.

Weeks before I was shot, my mother had a very serious talk with me. She had screamed, “You have to come in at an earlier time because the street isn’t friendly to people who doesn't know it well, and you have to be careful who you hang out with and who you call your friends!”

I looked up at her with a serious grin. “I know, mommy. I am not getting into any trouble. I am not in any gangs, and I don’t sell drugs, so you don’t have to worry.”
My mom turned around in a quick motion with the look of anger on her face and said,
“Chris, all I am trying to do is prevent you from getting into any problems with those crazy people with no sense in the street, especially at night.”

I looked away in frustration. “Okay, mom. Just know I am not like other kids, and I am not into doing wrong things.”

This was all true. I didn’t get into any of that stuff. I was always a hard working young man who acted how my mother raised me to behave. I was independent. I worked as a security officer at the Merchant mart; I was a full-time student attending Fort Hamilton High School. I was also a part-time family man. I say only part-time since I was always at work, school, church, or football practice. I always thought of myself as someone who valued my religion more than other young teenagers, especially those always looking for trouble. I walked the streets of my neighborhood saying, “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” and “Good evening,” as I was taught by my mother to do. I was unlike those kids who run the street shouting, “Yooooooooooo!” or “What’s good, son?” or the most common of all, “What’s poppin’ my nigga?”

But none of this protected me from what was to come.

Just hours before that unfortunate night, I was on the field enjoying my last football practice, and then on my way home.

“Hello!” I shouted into my home with a smile on my face when I arrived at 8:30pm that night. As I dropped the football equipment that I had worn for the last time in my short teenaged life, I asked my mother, “Where’s the food at? I am starving!"

“I am going to work,” she said. “Here is money for you guys to get something to eat. Chris, stay inside, and watch Leilani and Joshua while I am at work, and I will see you guys later.” She came to us, giving each of us kisses on our cheeks. I hadn’t known that this would be the last time I ever stood tall in front of my mother’s face.

After my mother left, I said to my brother and sister, “I am going to take a shower…I’ll be out in a minute.”

As soon as I got out of the shower my little brother Joshua told me that me that my 13-year-old sister, Kharin, called.

Right away I was concerned because we don’t live together, and she hardly ever calls. “Okay,” I said, and called her back in a hurry to see if everything was okay.
I dialed the number.

“Hello?” she asked loudly through sobs.

I screamed into the phone, “What’s wrong?”

She screamed back, “These boys that have blue flags over their faces are bothering me and my two friends. Please Chris, I really need your help. I am so scared, Chris.”

“Tell me where you are. I am coming to get you.” She had no one else older to call who she could count on.

I ran to her location like I never ran before. When I saw her ahead, I screamed her name, and she ran into my arms crying. “I am glad you came, big brother.”

“Where did the guys go?” I screamed. She pointed to a dark and lonely block. I told her, “You’re safe now. I am going to put you and your friends on the bus. Please stay out of trouble, and go straight home.”

My sister replied, “I love you, Chris. Thank you for coming to save me.” She looked into my eyes. Her eyes were wet with tears.

“You’re welcome. I love you too, sis. Goodnight. Call me when you get home.” So she did just that: she called my cell phone a little while later, safe and sound.
In the meanwhile, after we got off the phone, I arrived in front of my apartment building. I saw two guys walk past. They were looking me up and down. I looked around while I took out my keys out. They watched me walk into my apartment building. I said in my mind, I hope these guys aren’t looking for trouble. They were dressed as my sister had described: in blue with blue flags across their faces.

I walked in rushing, trying to get upstairs before something happened. Something felt very wrong.

As soon as I stepped on the second step, I heard a loud voice say, “Yo.” I turned slightly to see who it was. It was then that the three shots were fired, striking me in my legs.

I fell screaming, “Ahhh, Jesus Christ! What’s going on?”

I heard someone laughing. “Get ready to meet your maker!”

I cried out for help as they shot me seven more times in my back. While I was trying to crawl away, I noticed that I couldn’t move my legs; I rolled over on my back thinking, “Lord forgive me for all the wrongs I have done,” and “Lord, please accept me into Heaven’s pearl gates.”

Then I fell out.

When I woke up in the hospital, I thought I was dead. I looked around, expecting to see lights and angels, hoping to find Jesus sitting on his thrown saying, “Chris, welcome home.” But instead I saw the ceiling of the hospital and heard my mom yelling, “My baby, my baby.” I felt her holding my hand. My vision was blurry, but I saw her standing by my side with tears in her eyes. I tried to tell her that it wasn’t my fault, that I wasn’t doing drugs, that I wasn’t doing wrong things.
That I was out defending Kharin.

But I couldn’t say anything because I had tubes down my throat to help me breathe and absorb nutrition. I heard a small voice from the doctor telling me, “You will be alright. We will take care of you.” I smiled looking up to the ceiling, thinking, “Thank you, Jesus.”

But it didn’t take long for the anger to set in. I lay incapacitated; I couldn’t get out of bed, eat, drink, or talk for at least two weeks because of the tubes blowing air into my lungs and feeding me. I was frustrated that I couldn’t do basic things. I had many visitors, but one person who hadn’t come was my sister, Kharin. Not even a call to say, “I am sorry,” or “Thank you for putting yourself in such danger for me.” However, the people who found time to visit me everyday were the detectives. For 14 days, they showed me pictures of people who hadn’t shot me—which only made me more and more pissed off.

When the officers finally showed me the photo of the guy who did shoot me, my blood pressure rose to a dangerous level; the doctors became scared that I would have a stroke if I didn’t keep calm and manage my anger. It was difficult. I still couldn’t talk, so I couldn’t even scream out my rage. Everyone was at a loss of how to help me calm down. But I soon figured out how: I stared at the patterns of the multi-colored curtains with their blue, red, gray, and white stripes—taking deep breaths in and out. I did this for nine hours a day.

Finally, six weeks after the incident, I was released from the ICU. “You can pull the tube out of your mouth, Chris,” the doctor said firmly and loudly. I couldn’t believe I was about to drink my first glass of water in weeks. I reached slowly for the tube, shaking and scared. I pulled on it and immediately began coughing and gagging, spitting out clots of blood and swallowing, feeling my sore throat for the first time in weeks.

I found that I had lost my voice, but could at least speak in a whisper. I could also begin to eat soft foods. After another couple of weeks, I was able to eat ice cubes; I began to feel like I was coming a long way. I loved the feeling of the ice cube melting in my mouth, rolling down my sore throat. After a few more days, I was able to drink liquids and eat regular food, and soon I got my voice back. During this time, I asked many nurses where my right foot was. “I can feel it, but not see it,” I would tell them. They would look at me and say things like, “You’ll be fine,” or change the subject by asking, “How are you doing today?”

Meanwhile, Dr. Shun was impressed. “It is unbelievable how fast you have recovered, Chris,” he said. “In a little while we are going to transfer you upstairs to the pediatric ward.”

I looked at him with a smile. “That means I’m getting better, right?”
He smiled: “Yes,” as he turned and walked away.

The nurses came to give me my first bath fully awake since the shooting. As they prepared me to move, I saw my left toes, but I didn’t see my right. I asked the nurse, “Is my right leg hanging off the bed or something?”
She looked at me. “Your mother didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”

She looked down the hall and left saying, “I think your mother should explain.”
I was so curious that I pulled the sheet from over my right leg to see what was so hard to say. I had lost part of my right leg; the surgeons could only preserve my thigh. In that moment I couldn’t say a word, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like that much of a big deal. I knew that something had been going on by the way everyone was acting. I had expected much worse at this point. I was actually somewhat relieved to know what was going on.

Finally, the moment I was waiting for came: three doctors came into my room and transferred me upstairs to the pediatric ward. The beeping machines and blood pressure cuff of the last few weeks of my life transformed into a room with a T.V and a big window with classic scenes of tall buildings and glimpses of nature.
But not all was well.

I could not get over the fact that my sister still hadn’t come. Over a month later, Kharin finally paid a visit when I was asleep on pain meds. She woke me up by grabbing my hand. I looked up expecting to see my mother. When I realized it was her, I stared into her eyes and pulled my hand away. Bitch, I thought to myself. I wanted to choke her for calling me out of my peaceful home to save her. I couldn’t believe that she had then had the nerve to take her time to come to the hospital. I was still, staring her in the eyes as she stood over my bed hysterically crying. All I could think was, You think I look bad now? You should have come a few weeks ago when I was all swollen and had all these tubes in my body!

After a total of six weeks of hospitalization, I went off to Mount Sinai for a month of rehabilitation. I needed to relearn how to live independently with my “new legs as wheels.” Soon I was home.

I would have never pictured a 6’7,” 400lbs football player in a wheelchair, but I have to thank God that I am alive. Without the love of Him, being there, guiding all of our sinful souls to success, I don’t know where I would have been. And I have to be grateful to my wise mother to whom God gives strength as well. Without her, I would be another outcast floating through this world, not looking for anything to do with my life.

Instead she taught me strength and gave me direction. Only a couple of days after I got home, I was sitting on my bed feeling angry, asking myself why I put myself out there to save someone I am not even close with. Just then, my mother passed by my room.

“Mommy, can you get me something to drink?” I asked. She came inside my room and sat on the edge of my bed.

“Chris, I understand that you are in a difficult situation, but you have to learn how to do things on your own because people aren’t always going to be there to help you.” My mother always did things for me before I was shot. But I realized that she was afraid that I would fall into a black hole of depression if I didn’t strive for as much independence as possible.

I took her advice and did exactly that: I got into my wheelchair and tried to squeeze through my little doorway. I had to find a way to get out. I didn’t want my mother’s advice to be given in vain. There was a chair beside my door so I pulled it over. I locked my wheelchair and slid onto the regular chair. I folded my wheelchair, pulling it outside the narrow doorway. I set it back up and slid back on it. I felt so uplifted from the fruit of my mother’s advice, and realized that accomplishing that on my own made me feel so much better about myself.

Other family members also helped me gather my strength back. Two weeks later, I was with my Godfather when he decided that it was time for me to transfer into the car on my own. I looked at him as if he were a crazy loon.

“Come on. Let’s get moving, or we’re going to be late for hanging out at Dave & Buster’s Arcade,” he ordered. So I followed his advice and took the leg rest off the wheelchair.

“Ohhh Lord,” I shouted, “What am I getting myself into?”
“He has nothing to do with it,” he laughed. He then turned serious. “Chris, you can do it.”

So I put my leg inside the car and slid slowly into the seat. Before I knew it, I was in the car looking straight at an empty wheelchair seat. After that moment I felt amazed at what I could do for myself. Thoughts came to me that made me smile. I began to feel unstoppable. I eventually returned to school and ended up helping to coach the football team. Recently, I even added new summer and after school activities to my life like acting and memoir writing.

After seven months of taking in all the wisdom around me and finding my new or old self, I came home one day and turned off all the lights and the television.

I started thinking about my sister. I knew that teenagers mostly just want to go out and be with their friends—and I realized that my sister was doing just that the night she called me into the dangerous streets. I knew that when she got scared, she figured she could call me for anything. I knew she meant no harm that night. And I knew that once she realized she had put me in harm’s way she was probably too afraid to face my mom, my aunt, and me. I finally found it in my Christian heart to forgive her. I had not only recovered physically and emotionally, but finally spiritually.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winning College Essays: Congrats Eunju Namkung!!!

Why I love going to the writing Lab each day: I get to work with some of the most hilarious, surprising, smartest, thoughtful, and reflective teens in New York City. Best of all, our work at times extends beyond fiction and traditional memoir as college deadlines loom. A few of us spent hours and hours over the last four months identifying, deconstructing, and framing the highlights of their rich lives into two-page college essays. Take Eunju Namkung, 17. Her parents have spent decades working long hours in nail salons and car shops with the hopes that their daughter would have the opportunity to enjoy the rewards of literacy and specialized education. So it was a particular pleasure to receive Eunju's elated text message two nights ago: "AHHH!I GOT INTO YALE...I can't believe how fortunate I am!" Fortunate, humble, sweet... and wonderfully talented. Please help Eunju celebrate by reading her two winning college essays:

By Name

By Eunju Namkung

My first name is Eunju. The heavy drop, Eun, a stone into a puddle, plows the air to make room for the uplifting Ju. The two syllables bob up and down, literally illustrating the very word that describes and resembles how it sounds: undulate. Undul. Ate. Eun. Ju. Eunju. If said in a whisper, it will trick ears into thinking they have heard "I love you." When said loudly, boldly, it bellows like stomach thunder, a near profanity. If said too quickly, it is a sneeze and there will be an unsure "Bless you" from someone thinking, "That was a strange achoo." Then again, if said with macrons on each syllable, for those days the tongue doesn't want to stretch, the name transforms into a senior citizen reaching for the remote that's always two inches too far.

My last name is Namkung. Among the Kims, Chois, and Parks, Namkung is the maverick of last names. I have to assure everyone, even Koreans, that my seemingly mutated name is truly Korean-- which it is. I also tell curious others that I am a princess, a royal debutante, descendant of the Namkung Dynasty- which I'm not, but it is just too irresistible when Namkung means "South Palace" in hanjja. An Olympic last name, I wear it like a gold medal and threaten all boys that if they marry me, my last name will eat their last name. No hyphens, no negotiations. No Namkung, no "I do."

I am Eunju Namkung, born Korean, raised everything else. The daughter to Eun and Jung Ju, I have taken pride in having a valuable name that means even more in American life. My parents pronounce my name the "Korean way," which isn't necessarily the right way. I prefer the undulating Eunju, the one by which I am called in class, in the streets, in my world. I have grown up in Riverdale, a Jewish Bronx town, where come Hanukkah, people jokingly ask me if I am Jewish. Understanding my cue, I respond, "No, I'm Eun Ju," to which we both respond in laughter. It is an identity that defines me as much as I define it.

In April, 2008, I discovered that Eunju is not only an entertaining name, but an intriguing one that has the power to bring people together. I designed a tee shirt with my name printed on it: EUN on the front, JU on the back. It was bizarre when people rushed me to ask where they could purchase it. Very much aware of the narcissistic connotations, I told them it wasn't for sale. I wanted to be a jokester, not a jerk, but impatient requests for the shirts encouraged me to try to understand why people were reacting with such enthusiasm. Thus I began my short-lived career as a salesman.

A modest sale of a few shirts escalated into an order of 170. Among the customers, there were teachers (Organic Chemistry, English, and Physics); one president of the Jewish Club; a Student Union president; athletes; math-letes; kids who wear tight jeans and colorful sneakers; a set of identical twins; kids who play trombones; kids who use Macs; kids who go to church; kids whose parents are too strict; kids who sleep in other people's homes more often than they do at their own homes; kids who smoke; kids who save the environment; a pastor; three Helens and two Philips, but no Eunjus. I had known each of them from my classes, sports teams, extracurricular activities, and neighborhood, but I had never known that they valued my name as much as I did.

The customers of Stuyvesant HS decided that it was necessary to organize a single day, a holiday of sorts, to wear the shirts altogether. On June 6, 2008, we strutted down hallways with the letters of the name on our chests and backs. We laughed at the accusations made at us for being a fan-club, a fascist army, and even a cult. We insisted that there was no idolatry, militant spirit, or kool-aid involved. Hugs, hi's, and high-fives were exchanged between strangers-turned-friends. That day, even Eunju among the EUN JUs did not feel like Eunju. EUN JU was everyone.

Power Tools

In the summer of 2006, I worked alongside my dad at Radial Auto, a Korean-owned garage where he has spent years working with other immigrant men. The men, who didn’t know what make of me, gave me tasks that they thought I could handle: organizing boxes, weeding, sweeping. My dad, however, treated me as if I were one of them, even giving me a blue-collared shirt to wear, which I did proudly. With his guidance, I adjusted tire pressures, performed oil changes, replaced brakes, fixed the lifter, and did other jobs that would make my arms ache and my mom frown.

The ride home would be a quiet one because I would sleep in the back seat, completely exhausted from the day's work, my legs feeling like metal oars. I remember dinner tasting heavenly each night that week. I don't remember exactly what I ate those nights, but the menu did not matter. Even plain white rice, the same white rice that I had every night, tasted like fine dining. I realized that every bite I had had been the result of my dad's tired muscles and coarse hands.

Since then, I have asked my dad many times when I can work at the garage again. Every time he replies: "You did such a good job last time, I don't have anything for you to do anymore. We'd all have no jobs if you worked full-time." While I laugh to placate him, I have been secretly heartbroken because I miss power tools and working by his side. But I get it. He knows that I have learned that there is no limit to hard work, that there is nothing more gratifying than earning and providing with your own strength. He reminds me that I must be strong in my own way. While he uses drills and wrenches to provide, I must find my own power tools in the classroom.

My father, who looks enviously upon my books, takes to his own readings, finishing volumes of newspapers each night, occasionally reading a Korean novel. Sometimes he asks me how it feels to read Shakespeare or Tolstoy in English, but I cannot explain the experience of reading. While he has asked me many times to help him learn English, he is always too worn to learn a language he has struggled with for more than twenty years. His mechanic's shoulders simply ache too much when he sits hunched over small desks reading through my old notebooks.

When my dad learned that I began earning essay awards and high marks on my writing assignments, he suggested, "Save all your writing and make a book." With his words in mind, I stopped throwing out drafts or notebooks, even napkins with half-finished sentences. Books have become my bedside buddies and my teachers. I absorb pages and pages and feel empowered. I feel like I have been given the fuel to contribute my voice in this world, to speak up for those who can't, especially for those who provide without breaks and holidays, without a doubt that his daughter could discover her own power tools.
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Writopia Poetry of the Week

Once a week a collection of poetry by a Writopia teen is chosen to be published on the blog... Congratulations, Lena Beckenstein, 15: You are the poet of the week at Writopia Lab! Readers: Can you figure out what event inspired all three poems in this collection?


I. Plus Minus Zero

She sat us in a circle
Benjamin to the main office, please.
And gave us a biting alligator
Daddy, why aren’t you at work?
We passed it counterclockwise
Chelsea, you’re not going on the bus today.
Pushing down its plastic teeth
It’s Tuesday! You’re supposed to be in the city!
Waiting to see who it would bite
Catherine to the main office.
The alligator snapped down on my finger
Did anyone get hurt?
We gasped
I’ll cover your class. Go…check.
Reset the toy
Why did they do that?
And kept playing
Everybody’s leaving early! We don’t have to share!

II. Plus Three

Write a poem about your definition of hero

We all wanted to be firemen when we grew up
Big strong arms
Tall hot flames
Shiny red trucks
Now, we're not so sure about

A poem about your definition of hero

She was our class mother
She made us Christmas cake
With snowfall icing
And pine needle sprinkles
The year before she became a

Poem about your definition of hero

My mother took over
But when she made cupcakes
For the winter party
Jenny said they didn't taste right
I agreed

About your definition of hero

I was wearing my concert skirt
And my party shoes
When the priest said a prayer
In a language I didn't understand
I nodded and said amen to

Your definition of hero

Richie came back to school, eventually
Jenny sat next to him at lunch
They didn't talk
But she did give him her pudding
She always tried too hard to be the

Definition of hero

I’m staring at construction paper
My washable marker lies in front of me, topless
Everyone else is talking about the year’s first fistfight
And illustrating their poems
I guess they know how to draw the meaning

Of hero

The teacher leans over my desk
And tells me that if my picture is good enough
It could get hung up on the wall
And would I like any help?
I would
I want to know what she thinks the answer is
She smiles
Pats my head
And goes to help somebody else

III. Plus Eight

I want to be alone
But the train is teeming
And there is a half empty seat next to a girl in an NYU sweatshirt
Stranger, can I sit?
She tells me
That when there’s an empty seat
You don’t have to ask
You just take it
She’s at that age
That age when she’s not my age
Separated by a couple of years
And independence
Her knees graze her chin
As graffiti flits by
Smog is threaded through her hair
She sticks her nose to the window
Sweat squelches
Skyscrapers morph into summer
Her pupils touch mine through the glass
She wants to know
If I like my book
I tell her the truth
She remembers reading it
Way back in high school
A grimace tries to blossom
So she asks me
Where I’m from
I meet the eyes of the aisle
And grip my purse
Her face is Play-Doh
Left in the oven too long
Dried with Dollar Store gloss
She turns back to the window
And grasps for the trees
When she gets off
I take her seat
And curl into a ball
And alone
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Ena Selmanovic on Selling Unhappiness

Congratulations Ena Selmanovic, 13, for 1) completing a five-day intensive summer workshop during which she polished a stellar piece of journalism, 2) reading it aloud at Housing Works Book Store and at Book Culture this fall, and 3) for publishing it in Teen Ink's online magazine!

Selling Unhappiness
By Ena Selmanovic, 13

Tween girls of all shapes, colors, and bank account sizes will be flocking to stores this fall when a movie based on the #1 bestselling young adult book series, The Clique, by Lisi Harrison, is released in DVD.

When I think about The Clique, it’s a thumbs down. Yet I’m hooked. It’s about a group of 12 and 13 year old snobby rich girls living in Westchester, New York that go to a private all-girls school and live in mansions. Claire, the only girl readers can relate to, moves in with Massie—the leader of the clique—and she and the rest of the clique look down on Claire. Claire eventually becomes part of the clique, though she’s never one of their own—she wants to be, but she’s not rich or snobby.

The disconnect for me is the fact that girls that I know in middle school do not dress and act three times their age. We do not carry around Louis Vuitton and Coach bags; we carry Jansport backpacks or shoulder bags. No girl I know gives her group of friends a name like “The Pretty Committee”. If I did that in my real life, I would not be popular: I would be a wanna-be. No one I know has $500 and up to spend at a regular trip to the mall. At my school, no one worships a single group of girls!
Young readers say that since The Clique, they definitely read more—a key selling point for parents. If I were a parent, I would rather have my daughter not read and spend time with her friends than get lost in The Clique world. Dr. Mary Pipher, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Reviving Ophelia, a book about the life adolescent girls says: “Many strong girls have found protected space in which they could grow…Protective space can be created by books…It’s a blessing.” I find protective space in many different things, including books, but The Clique hasn’t provided a safe place for me.

If this world exists, the readers are all outside of it! The Pretty Committee (TPC) thinks that everything revolves around them, and in the book, it sort of does: their parents and chauffeurs do anything to please them, girls at their school follow their clothing trends, and their thick aura commands strangers to notice them. At my own school, not one group is on top. Reading this makes me feel like I’m on the bottom, an LBR (TPC lingo for Loser Beyond Repair). Maybe there are people like this, but I don’t need to know them. Why should they set my standards? If these girls existed, I wouldn’t be attracted to be like them. But in the books, I am.

Then why do we read it? We could be contemplating Pride and Prejudice or reading Hoot or a classic or a Newberry Award Medal book or something worthwhile! The Clique has spent 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold over four million copies. Why? Why do we like it? Why do I like it?

It’s addicting. We love the way the characters are devilishly clever with their comebacks, their confidence, the way they ignore what hurts them. We love reading about people that have everything at their fingertips—wouldn’t that be awesome? We love the group of friends—the actual clique. Oh, sure, they whisper and text behind each other’s backs and care more about themselves than others, but—wow, they sure have fun together. I want to go to Starbucks with them. I want to hang out at their huge houses and laugh with them. Couldn’t my friends and I all go to designer stores and get our hair done together—can’t everyone be jealous of us? We love peeking into the life we wish we had, the characters we wish we were. But when we imagine ourselves in that life, we get an icky feeling, like eating too many sweets. I look around the room I share with my sister. It doesn’t have a vanity, a mannequin, a new computer, or walk-in closet. No intercom system to communicate with my housekeeper. There’s that jealous aftertaste.

Author Lisi Harrison says:

“I do, however, think the message I’m sending IS a good one. I am not saying ‘snobby, mean, pretty, rich girls’ are what we should strive for. I am saying the exact opposite. By using extreme characters and extreme situations I’m hoping you’ll realize how crazy our behavior can be. And come awn (sic). We all do it. After all, I write what I see. But my dream is that soon, I’ll see a lot less of it. And if these books help by making you take a look at the way you and your friends treat each other and yourselves, then maybe my dream will come true.”

But is writing about “snobby, mean, pretty, rich girls” in extreme situations an effective way to show it’s wrong? Imagine you are a typical girl who likes to shop, listen to music, and spend time with your friends. Then you stumble across The Clique books and realize that you have so much more to learn: What is a Moschino mini? My make-up from the drugstore isn’t good enough. What are Jimmy Choo sandals, BCBG dresses? I didn’t know I was supposed to read Vogue, Elle, and Seventeen regularly! You’re suddenly an outsider looking in. What you have isn’t good enough. You are not good enough.

The author says that she writes what she sees. But how does she know that she’s not part of the mechanism which creates the problem in the first place? And, on the other hand, not all studies substantiate the author’s observations. CLIKITS(TM), a children’s toy company, sponsored a national survey of 1,500 girls ages 7 to 14. Some results include: 75% of girls like themselves the way they are, and 87% think people like them for who they are. 95% believe they are good people, and 82% of girls are bold enough to buy clothes they like even if their friends don't care for the style. Does the author really know us (girls)?

So what the author’s trying to say is that these books will help us? After reading her books, I, for one, am not helped. The only thing she’s succeeded in is getting me to buy another book. I’m not a better person. She is selling me unhappiness. So, in the end, I’m jealous and miserable, and The Clique author, Lisi Harrison, gets a pile of money. And I regret to admit, she’ll be getting my $15.99 for the DVD this Fall.
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Story in Stats!!

It's tradition in the U.S. to objectify students, addressing them as robots with tasks rather than as independent thinkers who can potentially emerge as the next generation of writers and leaders. No Child Left Behind and reignited fears regarding America’s global educational position intensify the problem; schools feel more compelled than even before to rigidly “teach to the tests.” But it's not helping. Says the 2008 English Journal: Kids are churning out mediocre work on autopilot; writing proficiency is in decline, boredom & dropout rates on the rise...

Librarian, board member, and Writopia mom, Peggy Teich, continuously delivers new reports full of findings that inspire us to reach out to more and more kids. Here are short excerpts from a few:

88% of high school dropouts had passing grades, but dropped out due to boredom. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “The Silent Epidemic” 3/06)

Up to 20 percent of high school dropouts test in the gifted range. (Handbook for Gifted Education, 2003)

Schools are not paying enough attention to low income smart kids: in 1st grade, 28% of low-income families are in top quarter of their class. By 5th grade less than 14% are in the top quarter of their grade. (Jake Kent Cook Foundation: Achievement Trap: How America is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Low-Income Families)

States have been cutting funding for gifted programs, most harshly affecting low-income families who cannot afford to shift their students to private schools. (WSJ: Brain Drain--Blow to Bright Minority Kids) 29 Dec '03.

"Educators point out that the teaching techniques and aims advocated for gifted students, such as critical thinking, creative writing, and independent research projects, should prevail in all classrooms. However, classroom teachers, faced with ever-increasing classroom size, are not equipped to provide individualized curricula at many different levels simultaneously." (Julia Osborn, Special Educational Needs of Gifted and Talented Children, Youth Mental health Update v8, n4, May-Jun '96

Of students entering high school, 67% are writing below grade level. (Bob Wise, pres. Alliance for Excellent Education)

The 1 change that most needs to happen to make “American education realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth” is not better math and science instruction but "a writing revolution that puts language and communication in their proper place in the classroom…More out-of-school time should also be used to encourage writing, and specifically, writing workshops for the students” (Natl Commission on Writing in America's Schools & Colleges, “The Neglected ‘R’, ‘03).
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Friday, December 12, 2008

Writopia's Six-Word Memoir Finalists!

Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, the editors of the New York Times Best-Seller, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, are in the process of editing the forthcoming Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure... and, from thousands of submissions, they've chosen more than 11 Writopia memoirists as finalists in their search for young writers.

Congratulations Six-Word Memoir Finalists:

Visala Alagappan, 13:
I always imagine clowns without makeup.

Lena Beckenstein, 15:
Always all-county, never all-state.

Noa Bendit-Shtull, 16:
I edit my profile, or visa-versa?

Louis Evans, 17:
Nada y pues nada, Hemingway says.

Lily Gellman, 14:

Thought I ought, so sought, wrought.

Chris Hamilton, 17:
Teen victim of shooting: lost leg.

Pearl Mutnick, 14:
Summer camp: Alone, with Sedaris anecdotes.

Dan Ross, 15:
Read the thesaurus on the toilet.

Rachel Sobelsohn, 13:
Pencil on paper, draft after draft

Ena Selmanovic, 13:
Turned thirteen and don't feel different.

Yael Wiesenfeld, 16:
But my life's only just begun.

Jessica Zalph, 14:
Wikipedia didn't know either. Oh well.

We had a blast developing these short, powerful pieces and are stoked to be considered for publication!!!

Thanks Rachel and Larry!
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Highlighted PIece of the Week I!!!!

In celebration of the fact that our blog was featured as Blogger's "Blog of Note" of the day today (and along with it, the thousands of new hits from other bloggers!), we're sharing Dan Ross's zany and marvelous short story, "Moriarty and the Mattress King." Dan is an award-winning writer whose poem was published in Scholastic's 2008 edition of Best Teen Writing! Enjoy a new piece of fiction of his:

Moriarty and the Mattress King

by Dan Ross, 15

Before one can use the City of Mayonnaise as a setting, a small bit of description is required.

The City of Mayonnaise is abysmal. It is vile, putrid, smelly, and a blight upon the fair country of Mattress World. The streets are littered with trash and old people, waiting endlessly for an eternally off-duty garbage truck. It is literally assured that each citizen of Mayonnaise will commit one heinous and blasphemous act in their lifetime. Half of all Mayonnasians will be murdered before their fourth birthday, but half of those four-year-olds were intending to kill their fellow tots anyway, which makes the act slightly less reprehensible. Water doesn’t flow from their faucets; the citizens have been forced to wash their hands with blue ink ever since they became the largest ballpoint-pen dumping ground in the known universe. Toxic purple fumes rise majestically over each building as the sun sets on the horizon. An insignia on each of the public schools depicts a child weeping and the pithy yet despairing slogan, “If We Are the Future • The Future is Doomed.”

The City of Mayonnaise is smothered by potholes.

It is haunted.

It smells really bad.

At this point, the citizens would probably be better off if the whole city was burned to the ground, but both the water and the air of Mayonnaise are more flammable than the building materials themselves and any fire whatsoever would cause a hellish demise for the residents.

Most scientists agree that this still would probably be an improvement for the City of Mayonnaise, but ethical decisions like these have to be handled by the Hypnopope, and contacting him would be an arduous ten-month journey of unfathomable paperwork, perpetually revolving doors, and inexplicable mountain-climbing. Mattress World scientists decided unanimously to just chill on their barcaloungers and deduce things about fried chicken and television which was all around a much better use of their time.

To be honest, Moriarty agreed with them.

Moriarty, as in the Mayor of Mayonnaise—a man desperately in need of getting to his office, located somewhere between the 19th and 21st floors of his building. Currently, however, he was trapped in an elevator almost exactly at the 80th floor of his building. This, he thought ponderously, is not optimal.

He tapped his foot anxiously as he grimaced and took a quick look at the numbered dial near the top of the elevator. It wasn’t moving. Same as the last few minutes.
There was a very important meeting to be attended! He was expected to oversee the introduction of provisions regarding lunchboxes or rations or something. It had to with food, he was marginally sure. He didn’t really pay much attention during the pre-meeting.

Setting down his lumpy rucksack—a precious family heirloom he kept slung around one shoulder at all times—and haphazardly yanking things out one by one, Moriarty assessed with lightning-speed and acuity whether or not any of his assorted knick-knacks could help him escape.

“One barrette,” he said, a hint of distaste in his voice as he noted the tag stating,

“For Mundane Use Only.” He tossed it into one of the more distant corners of the elevator. “One spare change of pants.” They would be of little use in this situation. He grabbed the jeans and threw them over his shoulder, which would have been a more powerful gesture had one pant-leg not gracefully draped itself over his head. He reached yet deeper into the dank recesses of his bag and felt for the first object that he was sure had not been—at one point or another—edible.

“A…birthday card?” Moriarty was perplexed. Opening it speedily, he read the message inside.

To our favorite completely unsatisfactory mayor, your friends from the office, Luigi and Rosa.

“Aw,” said Moriarty. “What a nice sentiment!” But it wouldn’t help him now, would it?
Moriarty gazed upwards despairingly until the bright red button labeled “PUSH TO TALK” caught his eye. He happily obliged, carefully maneuvering his hand to avoid the other grime-caked buttons of the elevator.

“This is the Mayonnaise emergency call center, please state the nature of your emergency,” came the placid feminine voice, made abjectly robotic by the acoustics of the elevator.

Moriarty’s eyebrow arched. “Hey there, hon,” he replied, giving his closest approximately of suaveness. “How’s it going?”

“I have roughly the entire population of Mayonnaise calling the emergency center right now. If this isn’t an emergency, please get off of the line.”

“Well, babe, since you asked, I’m stuck in an elevator.”

“Hold on. Is this Moriarty, the current mayor of Mayonnaise?”
Moriarty grinned cheekily. “Yeah, babe. That Moriarty. I know you’ve heard of me.”

“I have a memo here saying that you owe Hugo, the Mattress King, one billion dollars from, ‘the loss of a truly memorable game of Trivial Pursuit Junior’.”
Moriarty swallowed and glanced around the small elevator nervously. It was exceedingly unlikely that the Mattress King would appear spontaneously in this circumstance, but he wasn’t taking any chances. “I…I don’t recall what you’re talking about.”

“It says ‘truly memorable’ right here on the memo. Or did you not get that part?”

“As I said, I don’t think I remem–”

“Truly memorable. Truly memorable.”

Moriarty gulped. His throat was getting quite a bit of exercise today. “Yes. Fine. It’s true. But listen, darling, couldn’t you table this issue for a little while? I’m trapped in a goddamn elevator.”

“Do you require assistance?” The voice was now audibly peeved.
Some manner of brazen idiocy came over him in a single fell swoop. “I’d love your assistance—IN MY PANTS,” shouted Moriarty with absolutely unnecessary volume. The line went dead.

“Nuts,” said Moriarty. “Wait—that’s it—pants!”
Leaping up to the conspicuous elevator vent above, Moriarty used his years of highly improbable spy training to ham-fistedly jam the zipper on the fly of his spare jeans into the tiny lock separating him from sweet, sweet freedom. After a minute or so of exasperated grunting, straining, and frustrated expletives, the lock finally shattered inexplicably into thousands of tiny shards and fell to the floor below. Slipping into the elevator shaft, Moriarty’s hat was instantly blown backwards and fell 80 dirty stories in a very slow and non-dramatic manner.

Moriarty looked up, anxiously taking great pains so as not to follow his hat to its certain demise. The ceiling of the elevator shaft was completely gone. Moriarty retched, not only from the appalling ambient stench of Mayonnaise, but because the man to whom he owed a billion dollars in gambling debts had finally decided to collect his payment. A shadow eclipsed the already barely-visible sun over Mayonnaise.

The shape of a dirigible is designed strictly to inspire fear in one’s enemies. Some dirigibles accomplish this modus operandi by moving through the air with a kind of lethal grace, a combination of aerodynamics and skilled piloting that inspires true terror. The more sluggish variety of dirigible still manages to invoke dread as a result of its sheer size and typically menacing color scheme.

The Mattress King’s dirigible was neither of the above, unless one considers “mauve” to be particularly frightening color. (It isn’t.) Yet for Moriarty, the sight of an enormous, portentously descending four-poster bed still roused the same overwhelming sense of horror. “The Mattress King,” he whispered. He would’ve said it louder, but the unique air of the city congealed in such a way that most, if not all, speech was little more than a feeble gurgling noise.

The side door of the bed-shaped dirigible burst open and flailed wildly. A disheveled man poked his head out from inside, graying hair whipping wildly to and fro, eyes wide with the uncomfortable knowledge that the air around him was a most stomach-churning shade of yellow.

“Hey,” shouted Hugo, the Mattress King. “You owe me money!”

“No!” screamed Moriarty. With spider-like dexterity he climbed up the remaining story of the elevator shaft, hurdled recklessly across the roof, and began his 81-story plunge.

When one begins a devastatingly long fall, a wide range of ideas flow through one’s head. Death, in particular, jumps to mind. Two emotions quickly present themselves as an alternative to outright despair, however: a choice between smug self-satisfaction and miserable remorse. Moriarty’s mind was more preoccupied with nausea and the peculiar fact that the air was so densely polluted that it was noticeably slowing his fall. After several seconds Moriarty realized that he had slowly rotated during his descent and was now plummeting headfirst. He was sure, absolutely sure, that he was about to die. “Oh,” he thought, and hesitated. “That’s it, then?” He could say at least this much about his brief and uneventful life: He had lived it with an average number of regrets. Said regrets were probably the reason he envisioned few people attending his funeral.

All of a sudden, he was given new appreciation for incandescent color of the pavement. The subtle form of a taxicab really popped against such a revolting hue of neon teal, a product of the almost-constant dumping of excess teal paint. It was Mayonnaise’s number one import, solely because people enjoyed chucking it on the streets for no apparent reason.

And then Moriarty realized that his crash might not mean certain death.
With an awkward banging sound, Moriarty fell perfectly through the open roof of the taxi with the slight exception of one of his legs, which, though still attached to his pelvis, managed to settle itself quite nicely on top of the car.
“Get away from that mattress!” Moriarty howled at the top of his lungs. The fact that his face was being pressed roughly against the leather seats muffled his voice, but it didn’t matter. The driver had already slammed his foot down on the pedal, because the reactions of most people when they see a massive mattress-dirigible are either “hackneyed corporate campaign” or “it’s gonna kill me.”

Glancing backwards and dragging his errant leg into the car, Moriarty saw the Mattress King’s frightful dirigible jackknifing alarmingly from ugly, outdated building to ugly, outdated building. “Turn here! Hard left! Hard left!!” Moriarty shouted. The car skidded across the pavement and careened into a pointlessly small side street littered with soda cans of varying degrees of emptiness. The bed was still overhead, floating menacingly above the car.

“Well,” said Moriarty, as machine gunfire rained down upon them from all four of the dirigible’s bedposts. “We’re boned. Pull over, will you?” The driver braked, threw open the door, and ran screaming from the taxi.

"Thanks!” Moriarty called after him. Lazily, he opened the door and positioned himself carefully to face away from Hugo’s airship.

It landed stylishly a few feet from Moriarty. He turned away and stared into the distance, fervently gazing toward the horizon as though looking for an approaching party bus or some delicious candy in order to avoid making eye contact with Hugo the Mattress King. The magnificent airborne contraption was roughly coliseum-sized, which made pretending it wasn’t there rather difficult, but Moriarty was up to the task. He was quite talented at ignoring things.

Then the door to the ship smacked him in the face, which made his task inordinately more difficult.

“Hey!” The Mattress King called out, silhouetted against the light that radiated out from within the mattress. “Hey!” He tried again, to no avail. Moriarty was clearly in pain, but seemed unaware of Hugo’s presence. “Pay attention, dammit!” shouted Hugo.

“I cordially refuse!” Moriarty shouted back, face glowing with a triumph that was followed immediately by a unique expression that blended the most distressing aspects of a snarl, a grimace, and a pucker into a gumbo of sheer contempt. “Dammit. Goddammit.”

The Mattress King grinned as he put on his steel-rimmed glasses and began to read from an egregiously long, purple document that looked poorly taped together. “These several sheets of construction paper entitle the winner of the game of Trivial Pursuit Junior on September 18th, to a sum not to exceed, fall short of, or deviate in any kind of weird way from one billion dollars.” Hugo tried his best to emphasize the “billion dollars” part to make it sound slightly snide but he overextended his thyroarytenoid, causing his voice to stumble comically and promptly plummet an octave or two. His voice quickly took up a grunting timbre usually reserved for wild boars and chain-smoking women named Mildred, of whom there were surprisingly many.

“I’m not giving you that money,” said Moriarty, whirling around flamboyantly to look his nemesis straight in the eye. The fact that Hugo pushed seven feet and was the five-time winner of the coveted “Strongest Dude” title was a stumbling block, but Moriarty would not be deterred.

“That’s bollocks,” said Hugo.

“Hey man,” said Moriarty. “That’s just the way I roll.”

“You want to know how I roll?” countered Hugo. “I roll with missiles. Big missiles.” Hugo bent down as close as possible to Moriarty’s face to make his point, but he had to stop halfway because his chiropractor had warned him against heavy stooping.

Moriarty met his glare. “You think you can come into my town, my place, my city, and make demands out of nowhere?”

“Yeah, actually,” said Hugo. “I’m the Mattress King. Furthermore, I think you’re forgetting your contractual obligations.” He waved the construction paper in Moriarty’s face.

“I’d bet I could kick you in the shins pretty hard.”

“That’s a federal offense. I’d have an armada of lawyers on your ass by morning. Good lawyers, too,” Hugo said haughtily.
“I’d like to see you try,” said Moriarty.
Hugo leaned in close. “They have briefcases,” he hissed, conspiratorially.
“My god,” Moriarty whispered, taken aback. “They have briefcases?”
“Big ones, too. Designer briefcases. Armani briefcases.”
Moriarty hesitated. His nemesis was more powerful than he could possibly have imagined. “I—” he stammered. “I just can’t. I can’t give you that money.”

“You’re going to give me that money, one way or another.”

“We’ll call a duel,” offered Moriarty. “Trivial Pursuit at three paces! Winner takes all!”

“Ditching the training wheels, I see?” shouted Hugo, the Mattress King, at the top of his lungs. “Hah! You’ve played right into my hands! Without the label of “Junior” to hold me back, I’ll show you real men play board games! I’ve practiced, you know. I’ve become more powerful than ever. My knowledge of the trivial, the mundane, and the outright impractical is beyond measure! But first, we must call in the Hypnopope to judge our duel.”

“Why is that, exactly?”

“Well, y’know…” Hugo stalled. “He’s the Hypnopope, man. He would probably want to know about this kind of thing.”

“He usually does. All right, we’ll call him in.”

Hugo and Moriarty agreed to meet the Hypnopope on the great lawn of the Mayoral Mayonnaise Mansion, which amounted to little more than an eight-foot-long patch of poorly mowed shrubbery. By Mayonnaise standards, where the only green in sight was the unholy color of the sky, the great lawn was sprawling and on bustling autumn days, when the chances of being irradiated by the sun’s beams were slightly smaller than usual, dozens of families would pack themselves into an incredibly dense cluster and have a jolly picnic on the grass. Moriarty dreaded those days and tried to keep the lawn as unkempt as possible, but today all of his worries were temporarily offset.

All of a sudden, and without any warning, a wondrous thing happened. A vast, thick shadow passed over them. Whirring noises beyond the capacity of any mortal ear filled the air.

Then they saw it. It was the most singularly awesome helicopter they had ever seen.

It’s easy to use the descriptor “awesome” for trivial things, like movies or clothing or music. Such uses dampen the impact of the word. The word “awesome,” in its true and distilled form, should carry enough impact to drop jaws, widen eyes, cause feeble gasping noises, and impregnate people at random. Anything that actually exemplified the undiluted essence of awesome should terrify but simultaneously fill with a glowing, inclusive warmth that expands the soul with its utter inconceivability. The untainted heart of the word awesome, somehow condensed into a thing, a material object, would cause mankind to fall to its knees and weep for the unadulterated majesty and splendor of life.

Such a thing existed.

Such a thing was the Hypnopope’s helicopter.
No other description can be used, for it would sully the unmitigated magnificence of the moment.

It landed with breathtaking silence. Nobody spoke as the rotors traveled through their denouement and halted with stunning abruptness.

The Hypnopope took no time in popping out of his vehicle.

“Hey guys,” he said. “How’s it hanging?”

Nobody knew how old the Hypnopope was, mostly because he had outlived every single citizen of the Mattress Kingdom born during his era, but it was clear just by appearances that he was ancient beyond measure. His face was creased, crinkled, and corrugated in every way imaginable. His skin was thinner than tissue paper, and emitted a soft, white light. He wore a killer pair of sunglasses to cover his disconcertingly milky-white eyes. On most parts of his body, his skin hung off of his bones like some sort of elaborate feather boa, except made out of flesh and not at all pleasant to look at. The Hypnopope wore a simple yet undeniably utilitarian black robe, as well as the traditional white collar worn by priests. Of course, when the Hypnopope felt threatened he could cause it to shoot lasers, but since he was a generally laid-back dude, such an occurrence rarely happened.
Moriarty and Hugo were too busy gawking at the Hypnopope’s fantastical helicopter to form a coherent reply, and instead mumbled habitual responses like “not bad” or “good, and you?” and the occasional “my dog died yesterday.” Had they been able to look away from the mesmerizing helicopter, they would have seen the more interesting if less awesome visage of the Hypnopope.

“I brought another guy to join the game,” he said to both Moriarty and Hugo, sunglasses glinting in the light. “He’s campaigning to improve Mayonnaise or something. I wasn’t really paying attention but it seemed like a good cause.” A gaunt, unimposing man with orange hair stepped out of the helicopter and dazedly landed on the grass. “His name is Jeremy.”

“What was it like, riding in that helicopter?” Moriarty murmured, situating himself next to Jeremy.

The man’s eyes were wide. “It was like feeling the heartbeat of creation beating beside my own,” he said breathlessly.

“Awesome,” said Moriarty. “Awesome,” he repeated. It bore restating.

“Let’s begin, shall we?” the Hypnopope announced. With a clap of his hands a Trivial Pursuit board appeared. “Since this event is going to be recorded and then performed as an epic poem, I’m going to explain the rules to each of you despite the fact that you already understand the game.” The Hypnopope bent down and picked up a box of Trivial Pursuit cards. “Since we’re going to be playing an abridged version of Trivial Pursuit, mostly because I’m booked to shake hands with unwed teenage mothers in a few minutes, each of you needs to answer one question correctly from each of the six categories. When you answer a question correctly, you will be given a little plastic piece of pie that you fit into this plastic pie-box. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what these things are,” said the Hypnopope, kneeling down and fiddling with one of the plastic components of the game. “Well, anyway, once you fill up the pie with all the different colored pie pieces, you will win the game and the one hundred billion dollar pot.”

The mention of one hundred billion dollars was enough to tug Moriarty’s focus away from the helicopter. “What? One hundred billion dollars? Why?”

“Eh, I don’t know. A billion dollars seemed kind of lame to me, so I accessed each of your overseas bank accounts and withdrew somewhere around thirty-three billion each. I hope you don’t mind.”
Moriarty and Jeremy were appalled.

Hugo smiled. “Oh no, not at all. Makes it more interesting. Where were we?”

Jeremy, Hugo, and Moriarty all sat themselves down cross-legged on the grass and chose their respective pie-box colors.

“All right then,” said the Hypnopope. “Moriarty, you’re up first. What category would you like?”

“Give me blue, Geography.” Moriarty’s concentration narrowed. Only Trivial Pursuit could cause a man like him to focus this intensely.

The Hypnopope cleared his throat. “What continent has the lowest highest mountain?”

“Wait, what?”

The Hypnopope began to repeat himself. “What continent has the lowest highest—”

“No, no, I got that, it’s just…what?!”

The other players were silent. Moriarty was going to have to tackle the surreal grammar of the question on his own.

“Well,” he said, “I have only a few choices. It can’t be Asia or South America, can’t be North America…can’t be…I’m going to give ‘Antarctica’ as my answer.”

“That’s incorrect,” said the Hypnopope. “The answer is Australia.” Moriarty buried his head in his knees. “Jeremy, it’s your turn. What category would you like?”

“Sports and Leisure,” Jeremy said meekly.

“What sport features the fastest moving ball?”

“Jai-alai,” Jeremy answered almost instantly, eliciting cries of “come on!” and “this is bogus!” from Moriarty and Hugo respectively.

“That’s correct. You get an orange piece of the pie.”
Jeremy accepted the plastic orange pie slice with hands cupped, grinning giddily as the Hypnopope dropped it into his hands. “Hugo, it’s all you. Pick a category.”

“Whatever the green one is. Science and Nature.”

The Hypnopope chuckled. “What does a polyorchid man have at least three of?”
Hugo’s temple bulged abnormally as he desperately wracked his brain. “Er… ahh…” he mumbled. “Orchid pastures?”

“That’s incorrect,” said the Hypnopope. “The correct answer was: testicles.”

“You’re kidding me,” said the gaping Hugo. “God damn.”

The Hypnopope raised his hands to call for silence. “Moriarty, it has come back to you. What category do you want?”

“Gimme History,” Moriarty said.

“Who told a senate committee: ‘Billy Carter is not a buffoon, a boob, or a wacko’?”

“Uh,” said Moriarty, hesitating. “Billy Carter?”
“That’s correct. You get a yellow piece of the pie.” The Hypnopope flicked the game-piece at Moriarty, who nimbly snatched it out of the air and beamed triumphantly.

“I hate you!” Hugo screamed at Moriarty, spittle flying fitfully from his cavernous mouth.

“Settle down, Hugo, you big baby,” said the Hypnopope, who was attempting futilely to keep his eyelids from drooping even further. “To appease your whiny little face, we’re going to skip Jeremy and go straight to you.”
Jeremy looked upset, but was too preoccupied with staring at the Hypnopope’s helicopter to take any action. Moriarty and Hugo, on the other hand, were cunningly shielding their eyes with their tiny pie boxes, although Hugo’s tough-guy fa├žade was being rapidly stripped away. “Select your whatever.”

“Sports and Leisure,” said Hugo. He had to fight to keep a torrent of tears from bursting forth.

“What sport,” began the Hypnopope, “has you herringboning to get uphill?”

“What?” said Hugo, slowly beginning to cry. “W-what?”

“Herringboning,” said the Hypnopope apathetically. “What sport do you do it in?”

“I-I don’t know!” exclaimed Hugo. “I just don’t know!” He started to moan between bouts of labored sobbing. “I just–,” gasp, “I just–,” gasp, “don’t know!” He was now indisputably bawling.

“OK, folks,” said the Hypnopope, voice strained with both annoyance and the fact that his larynx was the oldest object within an eight-mile radius. “Two rounds of this game and I am fed up with all of you. I hereby award the money to Jeremy.” With an exasperated hop, the Hypnopope leapt into his awesome helicopter and tossed a balled-up check for one hundred billion dollars to Jeremy. The helicopter began to ascend. “Au revoir, people I hate,” the Hypnopope shouted after them. “Oh, except you, Moriarty. You’re my bro. Also you Jeremy, you’re pretty cool.”

“What about me?” Hugo wailed, tears streaking his face. “What about me?”

“Hey, you might be the Mattress King, but you know what you lack? Mattress style,” the Hypnopope shouted, his voice barely rising above the sound of the helicopter as he disappeared into the smog. The thunderous sound of the helicopter’s rotors aptly punctuated the Hypnopope’s non sequitur.

All three of the men standing on the ground were shocked, each for different reasons.

“My goodness,” said Jeremy. “With all this money, I can restore Mayonnaise to its former glory! I can fix Mayonnaise in its entirety! I can usher in a golden age for my people!” He was beaming exultantly, elevated in the way that only a hundred billion dollar check can elevate.

Hugo was a crumpled heap on the ground. One could hear only whimpers coming from the pitiable lump of a man who had lost all composure in the face of two Trivial Pursuit questions that he couldn’t answer.

Moriarty, on the other hand, was still taken aback that he had thirty-three billion some-odd dollars in an overseas bank account that was completely unbeknownst to him and that he had lost said dollars in the first few minutes of a board game. But as the unsightly Mayonnaise sun set, he was struck by an idea.

“Hey,” he said, nudging Hugo. The Mattress King looked up and saw the insipid Jeremy holding his check up to the last remnants of light, a dull and tastelessly jovial expression plastered on his face.

“Whaddyou want?” Hugo said miserably.

“Do you want to beat up Jeremy and split the money? He’s just going to waste it anyway,” Moriarty said, kindness in his voice.

Hugo sniffled. “Yeah.”

“Let’s do it, then,” said Moriarty, patting Hugo on the back. “Get up and we’ll rough him up together.”

As the green Mayonnaise sun dipped below the horizon in the distance, the city of Mayonnaise was miraculously quiet. During this infinitesimal period of time, on the outskirts of town near the mayoral mansion, an amazing and melodious sound was heard for miles around. It was the subtle and winding tune that could only be heard when two angry political figures were punching a guy in the face for winning a game of Trivial Pursuit.

And for a few minutes, just a few glorious minutes, Mayonnaise was at peace.
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Writopia Teens Read at Book Culture!

Congrats: Noa Bendit-Shtull, Louis Evans, Ana Henry, Lily Gellman, Emma Goldberg, Nico Grant, Eunju Namkung, Dan Ross, and Jessica Zalph for first completing and polishing their prose and memoir and finally reading their work aloud at Book Culture last night!

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Monday, December 8, 2008

E-Scholastic Publishing Posted Clips of Our Readers!!

E-Scholastic, the news website for Scholastic Publishing, came to the open mic we co-sponsored with the Scholastic & Writing Awards two weeks ago.

Here are some excerpts from the report of the event on their blog:
Before Thanksgiving, new blogger Robert and I got to go to a really cool reading here in New York. The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers: The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards teamed up with the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and Writopia Lab to have an open mic reading of young people's work. And it was unbelievable...

The open mic was co-hosted by Writopia Lab, which is a workshop program for young writers in New York. In 2008, Writopia Lab students won more national awards from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards than did any other group of students in the whole country....

Now, despite the fact that it's right around the corner from Scholastic (and that Gossip Girls filmed there once), I had never checked out the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe before. So when Robert and I walked over, I was delighted to find a cute little bookshop. (They even had everyone's favorite wizard on the shelves of the children's section.) In the back, there was an area set up for the reading with rows of chairs (and cookies and brownies for snacks). And you could already tell it was going to be good.

The readers ranged in age from 11 to 17, guys and girls, former winners and first time entrants. And their work covered a range of categories — poetry, journalism, memoirs, and short stories — all of which blew me away, they were so good. I would tell you about it, but I don't have to. We took video so you can see for yourself:

Visit E-Scholastic, to see and hear Writopia writers Victoria, 12, Angelica, 14, Olivia, 11, Ena, 13, and Sarah, 16, read their poetry, fiction, and journalism!

Comments from their website:

Darn! I'm only in 5th grade! I want to enter soooooooooooooooo badly!!!!!!!!

Posted by: BeccaMonkey987 | December 05, 2008 at 05:37 PM

WOW!!! The first girl, Victoria, had a really great short story! And she's only twelve! I'm twelve and I want to be a writer, too! Awesome!!!

Posted by: Madison | December 05, 2008 at 07:06 PM

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Our Last Fall Reading!!!

Writopia's Teens Take the Stage at Book Culture!!! Come hear their prose and memoir read aloud next Tuesday, December 9th at 6:30pm!!!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Open Mic at Housing Works Book Store!

Writopia had the honor of co-hosting an open mic with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards on Wednesday, November 19th, last week! All those submitting to the 2009 Scholastic Awards were invited to read.

Kudos to Sarah Dash, 14, Louis Evans, 17, Milana Meytes, 16, Angelica Modabber, 14, Ena Selmonivic, 13, Rebecca Shubert, 15, Olivia Stein, 11, Victoria Testa, 12, and Barbara, 17, Ian, 17, and others for sharing their prose, poetry, memoir, and journalism with the larger community of NYC teen writers!

Thank you Alex Tapnio, Senior Manager, and Scott Larner, Coordinator, of National Programs at Scholastic for answering the writers' questions about the submissions/judging process.

We are looking forward to planning more community events with Scholastic in the future!
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Writopia Reading at Book Culture!

On Monday, November 17th, our 12- and 13-year-olds took center stage at Book Culture, a wonderfully warm and cozy independent book store located on 112th street off Broadway.

Congratulations: Emily Barnett, Jenan Jacobson, Sinika Martin-Gonzalez, Ena Selmanovic, Rachel Sobelsohn, Rebecca Teich, Olivia Williams, and Miko Zeldes-Roth for completing, revising, and polishing, at least one short story, memoir, play, or piece of journalism! And, of course, for sharing their words with a live audience of friends, family, fans, and book shoppers at Book Culture.

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