Signs identify the 826 Seattle storefront as “The Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co.,” noting there is “rocket parking on the roof.” Once young people pass through the store (which is actually filled with books and writing supplies), they are invited to enter a “teleporter,” a rotating door that swirls them into an intriguing library-like space, which is, in fact, 826 Seattle. A chapter of 826 National, which was founded by acclaimed author David Eggers, this writing lab is designed to set a fun tone for the serious work of helping young people develop into better writers.
During the academic year, about 1,500 elementary school children visit the writing lab for weekday field trips that include traveling through outer space (via a computer program and Hubble telescope footage) and writing space adventures, as well as creating graphic novels with renowned comic book artists. A popular two-hour field trip begins as a collaborative effort, writing a story for a “grouchy publisher” who is heard, but not seen. He unexpectedly interrupts, urging use of active verbs, among other writing tips. Each youth participant then supplies his or her own unique ending. Thanks to a nimble desktop publishing team, everyone walks out with a personalized version of the group’s hot-off-the-press book.
The organization, which is located in an underserved neighborhood with a large immigrant population, also sends tutors into classrooms, offers evening and weekend writing workshops, and provides after-school tutoring sessions. All of 826 Seattle’s programs are free, supported by donations; store proceeds; and creative fundraising efforts, like placing copies of the center’s adult/youth anthology, What to Read in the Rain, in upscale Seattle hotel rooms.
By making writing fun, the organization appeals to those who love to write, as well as to many young people who may struggle with the skill. “We believe that to express oneself effectively in writing opens large doors and builds the confidence to become a successful adult,” explains Executive Director Teri Hein. By empowering people of all backgrounds to tell their stories, 826 Seattle will ultimately help nurture “the future poets, playwrights, and novelists whose writing will nurture us all,” Board Member Ann Senechal points out.