Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ghost Story Writing Party & Writopia NYC Wall of Fame Mural Unveiling!

In celebration of a semester of writing, NYC Writopia writers trekked through the snow to be inducted into Writopia Lab's Wall of Fame! After pizza and cheer, award-winning ghost story writer and mystery Author Chris Grabenstein, shared legends of West 81st Street, and some tips on how to help us scare our readers.

And everyone ate pizza.

And talked loudly.

And wrote scary stories.

And here is the rest of it.

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Friday, December 4, 2009 Helps Writopia Reach Out to DC Young Writers!

Thanks to a generous grant via Scholastic from Amazon, Writopia Lab will host a special workshop in Washington, DC to help any interested young writers develop and submit their work to the 2010 Scholastic Art & Writing competition.

The workshop will take place on December 12th, from 2 PM to 5 PM at Woodrow Wilson High School, two blocks from the Tenleytown-AU metro stop on the Red Line.

Read more!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A 14-Year-Old Reflects on her Unconventional Family

Thanksgiving's Legal Guardian Angel

A Memoir by Julie Byrnes, age 14

Last Thanksgiving, my 8th grade teacher asked us to make a paper tree for the holiday that contained all the things we were thankful for. Everyone in this class wrote down "family," referring to two loving, reliable people, biologically related to them. I have always longed for this type of bond. Moved from one guardian to the next, it was hard to decipher who my family really was. The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines a family as a group of persons of common ancestry. So in my case, "family" is a group of people who I see once a year, if at all.

My birth mother died when I was just four years old and I immediately moved in with my father who was living away from us at the time. Many family members--four uncles and one aunt--knew he was unfit to parent me at the time, but still, I stayed with him for three years until Marcella Dotan, my mother’s former neighbor, found it in her heart to let me into her home. I remember telling her, at such a young age, about the dead look my father so often had on his face, and how he would lock himself in the bathroom for long periods of time. I didn’t know what this all meant, not even when my friends’ mother found needles in the bathroom sink. Marcella knew what was going on, and that I had nowhere to go. She took me in finally because, as she put it, “I had known you were mine the second you were put into my arms when you were one day old.” I have lived with her ever since. My father has been clean for a couple of years now, we have repaired our relationship, and we work hard at trying to focus on the present. Yet I cannot forget the years of fear and loneliness.

So it was Marcella, rather than my countless relatives, who took me in, the child whom many thought would turn out “messed up.” What does this say about the significance of shared ancestry, or in other words, my "family"?

When I think of my family, I think of Marcella, my eighty year old fill-in mother who has not a drop of my blood in her body. As I fall to sleep, my head rests against her short, unnaturally blond hair. She walks, now slower every day, in cheap pants from one of those countless discount stores. Her sad blue eyes alert me whenever she is about to yell at me for something I cannot even remember doing. She insists on everything being orderly and painstakingly clean, while I don’t mind the mess. Often, I forget to throw away a gum wrapper or something like that, and she holds it in front of my face and yells. A stubborn 14-year-old, I yell back. With age, I become more rebellious, and with age, she becomes more sensitive. We fight more and more.

Yet, when we're not arguing, we talk about everything together. We used to walk and talk, traveling miles by foot, side by side. But now with her retiring legs, we walk a few blocks and then go home. I miss following her around Zabars, sampling cheeses, stopping at the section where they sold lox. Marcella would see the hungry look in my eyes and buy half a pound for breakfast the next day. The comfort of this routine made me giddy. Even now, she can still sing off key to “Sunrise, Sunset” and break into a smile as bright and mysterious as the moon. She hugs me before bed, and I lay at night pondering where I would be if something were to happen to this fragile, old woman, and before I know it, I am quietly crying in bed. I love Marcella with all my heart and I wonder how it can be that, under the common definition for a family, she does not fit.

Still, I've tried to fill the family void with people who are technically closer to the traditional definition. With one uncle in prison, and two others out of state, I am left with my step Uncle Vinnie and my Uncle Victor on the holidays.

The last Christmas I spent with Vinnie and his family, my dad and I arrived at a house full of people whose names I couldn't remember. I held on to my father’s elbow and made him swear not to leave me. I lost him, though, as we reached the throng of people hanging out by the piano. They jumped to their feet to greet us with fake smiles plastered to their faces. Once I finished answering the tiresome questions--"How's third grade going?" "... I'm in fifth..."--I looked for my dad in the midst of wealthy blonds.

I remained alone, across the room from my father, when it was time for unwrapping.

Accustomed to not receiving gifts from these people, I was well aware of the ritual that was about to take place. All the adults--and I--would sit on the leather couch or one of the various armchairs that formed a semi-circle around the room. Vinnie's grandchildren, ages three to six, would stand in a line waiting to receive their prizes. The adults gave expensive gifts to their nephews and nieces; Vinnie’s pile of gifts stood nearly as tall as him. I remember the hungry looks on the children's faces as they unwrapped their prizes, and how that Christmas Day glee lasted for about five seconds, before greed returned to their eyes. I also remember the pitying look all the adults would give me. Sometimes one would smile and comment on how nice my shirt was or something silly like that.

That year was the first time Vinnie called me to the living room with my dad carrying two wrapped gifts with my name on them. Apprehensively, I took them and began to unwrap the largest one first, very carefully. I was afraid to hope that I was included in their tradition of gift giving. I looked down to find a dirty and worn pink, fuzzy coat--possibly the ugliest article of clothing I had ever seen. My dad glanced over at me with more sarcasm than sincerity. I smiled and thanked Vinnie very much as I turned to the smaller gift. Alas, it was a wooden necklace with a yellow “99¢” price tag written on it in bold. Awkwardly, I thanked him and he went back to the room full of laughing children. My father began to laugh and said that the coat was probably from a second hand store. A wave of sadness swept over me and tears came to my eyes. No one here cared for me at all. I could see their eyes glaze over after asking me a question. Vinnie is practically an uncle. Why couldn't he make the slightest effort to make me not feel like an outsider? As I stared out the window at the age of ten, listening to the laughter in the background, I began to wonder how on earth I could possibly call these people family.

I am so thankful that that same year, a teacher of mine, Ms. Zweibel, invited Marcella and I to take part in a seder. As we arrived, Ms. Zweibel's family jumped to their feet to greet us with bear hugs and warm, lasting smiles. Throughout the night, they listened as I spoke about school, and actually responded. At the end, instead of searching for matzah, they sent me to find a hidden gift: an elegant, pink, handbag. I couldn't believe how thoughtful these people were; I felt happier than I had in a long time. After a delicious meal, I left with Marcella--a smile still on my face. I felt part of a family.

How can people say blood is thicker than water? I have never truly believed in this saying. The only truth to it is this: You are connected to relatives whether you like it or not.

That's why I love Thanksgiving. I spend the holiday each year with a third, different kind of family. Marcella, my father, and I sit around a large table at which I am only biologically related to my father and one other person: Uncle Victor. The three of us, along with Uncle Victor and his friends, share funny Thanksgiving stories as we wait for dinner. Victor decides we should give thanks, saying he's grateful that we're together. Marcella who sits on the other side of the table smiles at me, mouthing, “I love you.” Embarrassed, I smile and look away. My dad takes my hand under the table and squeezes it. And as these things occur, I realize one important thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter who your family is or who you put under this category. The important thing is that someone does love you and gives a damn if you are alive or dead. We spend our lives mingling with those with whom we share blood. But this doesn't mean that we start out loving them, or end up caring about them. My family consists of those who care for me through good and bad. Ancestry is irrelevant. We sit around this large oak table at Thanksgiving. When it is my turn to speak, I say I am thankful for my family...

p> Read more!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Come Hear Writopia Kids Read Their Work on November 20

Come Hear the Award-Winning Writers and Rising Stars of Writopia Lab Read their Original Work!
When: Friday, November 20th at 5pm
Where: Barnes & Noble, West Village, 396 Avenue of the Americas at 8th Street

Kily Wong, 15
Abby Savitch-Lew, 17
Sam Levine, 17
Ena Lee, 14
Julie Byrnes, 14
Luca Milstein, 12
Jonathan Evans, 12

Also Reading: Writopia's Published Six-Word Memoirists
Several Writopia teens were published recently in I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure (HarperTeen).

Buy Books and B & N Will Make a Donation to Writopia Lab

If you show a copy of this voucher to the cashier, a portion of what you spend at Barnes & Noble that day will be donated to Writopia Lab! These donations allow us to maintain our programming and enable us to continue offering sliding-scale fee options and full scholarships to young writers throughout New York City and Washington DC!

But the flyer will not be available at the store, so please print the voucher to the right and bring it with you to the store.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writopia Teens, Published!

Congratulations: Visala Alagappan (14), Carmel Bendit-Shtull (12), Noa Bendit-Shtull (17) Louis Evans (18), Lily Gellman (15), Dan Ross (16), Ena Selmanovic (14), Rachel Sobelsohn (14), Yael Weisenfeld (17), Lena Beckenstein (16), and Jessica Zalph (15)!

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, have published their third anthology, I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure...and they have chosen to publish 11 Writopia memoirists within the new book.

Come hear our six-word memoirists read their short pieces and more at our fall and winter readings series or at events run by Smith and Fershleiser. Email us for more information.

Read more!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Scholastic Awards Deadline Moved to December 18th, 2009

In previous years, our writers had until early January to submit their pieces. This year, the deadline has been moved forward a few weeks, meaning that you'll have to finish your pieces before winter break.

Writopia teachers are committed to working with all passionate Writopia writers. (Writers must be in 7th-12th grades to submit.) Please e-mail me to set up private sessions as soon as possible! During these sessions, a teacher will read through the writer's pieces, ask questions, offer feedback, make sure the pieces are prepared according to Scholastic's guidelines, and walk the writer through the submissions process.

Fall Workshoppers: These sessions are included in the fall workshopping fee.

Writopia Community: We ask for $95 per hour for these sessions. However, honor-based sliding scale fee options and full scholarships are available as usual.

Writopia Lab is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that operates with limited resources, relying heavily on support from the community to sustain our programs. The fee applied to this session can be claimed as a donation on your taxes. Our nonprofit tax ID number is 26-0835350.

Last year 86 Writopia students submitted over 125 pieces, and this year we have almost three times as many young writers, so don't wait until December to set up an appointment! Read more!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Courtney and Writopia Writers in Publishers Weekly!

The following blurb appears this week in Publishers Weekly! Yay, Courtney!

Thinking ‘Positive’

On the other side of the river, the launch party for author Courtney Sheinmel’s new novel, Positively (S&S, Sept.), was also held last Sunday, at Books of Wonder in Manhattan. Positively tells the story of Emmy, an HIV-positive 13-year-old who has just lost her mother to AIDS; Sheinmel is donating a portion of proceeds from the book to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Sheinmel read from and signed copies of Positively at the event, which also featured a performance by 13-year-old singer/songwriter Jessarae. Here, Sheinmel signs copies of her book for a group of her students from the Writopia Lab, where she teaches fiction writing to aspiring authors.

And here is the rest of it.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Writopia Lab Fall News!

We had a wonderful summer of workshopping and are gearing up for the fall. Some important, exciting news:

Fall Schedule
The Fall Workshop schedule is posted online. Workshops begin Monday, September 21st!! Kids join throughout the semester but register soon to make sure there is a spot for your child!

New Conveniences
You can register and pay for workshops online! If you haven't ever mailed up a registration form or registered online, please fill out our new online registration form at While checks are still preferred, you can now use your credit card or PayPal account to pay for all workshops and memberships at .

New Tax Benefits
We obtained our 501(c)3 status! This means that the amount paid for a workshop above $175 can be claimed as a tax deduction. For example, if you pay $525, you can claim $350 as a donation. This applies to all workshops you've taken in the past, too, and yes, you can file for the deduction retroactively! For our tax ID, please e-mail Jeremy.

New Forms of Writing Support
Writopia teachers will be available to work privately with 8th graders, helping them prepare for the essay component of high school tests. They will also be available to help high school seniors prepare their college essays. And we are thrilled to announce that Writopia Fellow, Courtney Zoffness, who taught at Yale through spring 2009, and currently is a professor of creative writing at Allegheny College, will serve as an adviser (free of charge) to Writopia alumni and Writopia high school seniors transitioning to the college writing and publishing scene.

New Location
We are in the process of negotiating a lease for our new, permanent Upper West Side location. If all goes well, workshops this year will be held on West 81st Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. (We may also run a few workshops at our summer location, 550 West 110th street. Please inquire.)

New Challenges
Like everyone else, we were hit hard by this recession. We are growing in numbers, but but more and more families are choosing to pay reduced fees. If you can, please help us get through this challenging time by making a tax-deductible donation to Writopia Lab. Thank you so much.

Let Us Hear From You!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or any special requests. Read more!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer 2009 Comes to an End....

And here is the rest of it.


And here is the rest of it.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

This Saturday: Writopia Hosts an Open Mic at Morningside Heights Library!

Writopia Lab will be running a three-hour intensive workshop this Saturday,

August 8th from 12:30pm-3:30pm and an open mic from 3:30pm-4:30pm at Morningside Heights Public Library at 113th Street and Broadway !

This event is free and open to the public! Come write and read with us!

Please email to RSVP or for more information.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Celebrating Writopia Out-of-Towners!

Last week, in celebration of three kids--Gabi Hoberman, Gaby Font, and Nick Hornedo--who came respectively from Georgia, Texas, and Indiana to workshop with us, we held a special summer reading at Writopia 550! All of their workshop peers were also invited to read excerpts from their pieces to an audience of friends and family. Congratulations to all who participated in workshops, and especially to chose who reached their workshop goals! It was an amazing week of action-packed thrillers and poetic fables...

And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Writers Meet Writing Goals!!!

As we complete our fifth week of intensive summer workshopping, we are thrilled to report that the following summer workshoppers met their goals, each authoring an original short story or memoir with a beginning, middle, and, yes, (drum roll), an actual end. And the stories were wonderful and varied, each reflecting the writers' unique sensibility--some were whimsical and hilarious, others dark and dramatic, and several were filled with adventure.

Congratulations Josie, Michael, Anna, Amanda, Johanna, Ariel, Rebecca, Roman, Steve, Maya L., Mack, Stone, Eliza, Julia, Noam, Dani, Chloe, Julian, Olivia, Jada, Trevor, Will, Gaby, Kai, Maya G., Elena, Avi R., Adam, Jenny, Mariel, Sasha, Rachel B., Wicy, and Katie! And good luck to the other summer writers who set longer term goals since they will be with us for additional workshops this season. What an awesome summer so far!

All writers who complete a story this summer will be published in a Writopia Lab anthology, invited to read their prose at a book store in the fall during our seasonal reading series, and will have the opportunity to submit to several competitions and publications.

Writopia writers won more national awards in 2008 and 2009 than did any group of kids in the entire country.


And here is the rest of it.

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