NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Young local writers attending this summer’s Nacogdoches/Stephen F. Austin State University Barrio Writers workshop are getting advice on their writing from nationally known artists and preparing for a live reading at 6:30 p.m. Friday online.
You can register for the live reading at sfasu.edu/bwzoom.
Because of COVID-19, this summer’s workshop is being held via Zoom and is limited to 20 participants between the ages of 13 and 21 who want to publish their own writings and attend college. Since the workshop began on June 1, participants have been working on two pieces in styles that include poetry, short story, essay, hip-hop and spoken word.
During the workshop, the young writers have received guidance from guest artists Terry Blas, Naomi Shihab Nye and Kalani Tonga.
Blas is a queer, Mexican-American illustrator and writer based in Portland, Oregon. His auto-biography comics “Ghetto Swirl,” “You Say Latino” and “You Say Latinx” were featured on National Public Radio and vox.com. His work has appeared in the comics “Bravest Warriors,” “Regular Show,” “The Amazing World of Gumball” and “Adventure Time.”
His first graphic novel, “Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom,” is a murder mystery set at a weight loss camp. It was named by the Young Adult Library Services Association as a 2019 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers. His third book, “Lifetime Passes,” is a summertime adventure set at a Southern California theme park and will be published by Surely Books.
Blas spoke with participants about the publishing process for graphic novels and strategies for writing projects.
“He reminded them that discipline is more important than inspiration,” said Dr. Amber Wagnon, writing advisor for the workshop and an assistant professor in SFA’s James I. Perkins College of Education. “He has whole journals of ideas he wants to write about, but he said ‘discipline is what gets it written.’”
Nye, the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the United States, visited Nacogdoches in January to work with SFA faculty, staff and preservice teachers, as well as local teachers and high school students. She travels the world to lead writing workshops and inspire students of all ages.
Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem and San Antonio. Drawing on her Palestinian-American heritage, the cultural diversity of her home in Texas, and her experiences traveling in Asia, Europe, Canada, Mexico and the Middle East, Nye helped participants explore ideas about connections, community, strength, challenges and our shared humanity.
“This opportunity to write enabled the youth to make connections between their lives and the historical events happening in our country,” Wagnon said.
Tonga is an author, artist, editor and mother of five from Salt Lake City, Utah. She played volleyball in college, and she was inducted into her high school's Athletic Hall of Fame. She facilitates women's empowerment groups for Pacific Islanders in her community and seeks to amplify the voices of the marginalized. Her father emigrated from the Pacific Island nation of Tonga to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was 13 years old.
She shared with Barrio Writers her life journey that led to college and how her artwork sprang out of a desire to do something just for herself. She incorporates colors and symbols of her Polynesian culture in her art, and she is often inspired by her home life.
“Tonga characterizes her artwork as ‘hopeful’ — an idea that many of the Barrio Writers chose to explore in their own writing after her session,” said Dr. Lauren Burrow, a workshop advisor and associate professor in the Perkins College of Education. “She said when she creates her art ‘there are no mistakes,’ because she often feels she is connected to and guided by her ancestors, so however it turns out is what it was supposed to be.”
As a chapter of the national Barrio Writers organization, the Nacogdoches/SFA program has hosted 30 East Texas students for this free workshop every summer since 2015 to help build their skills in reading, grammar, creative writing, critical thinking and freedom of expression through cultural arts.
Two other faculty members in the Perkins College of Education — Dr. Heather Olson Beal, professor, and Dr. Chrissy Cross, associate professor — also are advising students during the two-week workshop.
Founded by author Sarah Rafael Garcia in 2009, Barrio Writers is designed to empower the teenage community while establishing a self-sufficient educational program that represents community pride, perseverance and endless possibilities for following generations.