Young Author Project

Young Author Project

Young Author Project

Deep Center, Inc.
PO BOX 5582
Savannah, GA 31414
Phone: 912.289.7426

Focus: Humanities, Literature

Annual Number Participating: 280

Ages: Middle School

Annual Budget: $169,600

Partners: Art Rise Savannah; Live Oak Public Libraries; Savannah–Chatham County Public School System; Searsucker Live; The Write Attitude at Savannah State University

Funders: City of Savannah Department of Cultural Affairs; Georgia Council for the Arts; Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation; Johanna Anderson Trueblood Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; United Way of the Coastal Empire

“On Dec. 11, 2011, many people were probably at home, or shopping for coats or blankets for winter, or getting ready for Christmas. Only, that’s not what I was doing.”

So begins an essay by Carolina Guerrero, a participant in the Young Author Project (YAP), a Savannah-based literary program. What Carolina was doing on that December day was watching her Mexican-American grandmother—who was “old and as delicate as petals on a shriveled up flower”—die.

Carolina’s essay is highly personal and courageously frank—qualities that are difficult for any writer to achieve, much less one who is in the seventh grade. But that’s the kind of writing YAP strives to nurture in the students who attend its after-school workshops. These sessions take place in 14 lower-income public schools, in Chatham County, Georgia.

Recognizing that students with poor literary skills are more likely to drop out, YAP strives to ignite young people’s interest in writing while they’re still in middle school. The program achieves this goal by first drawing on literary models that the students read and analyze. Next, mentors encourage the participants to write stories and poems about their own lives, explains Dare Dukes, executive director of Deep Center, the organization that runs the program. The focus on personal experiences helps students see how published writers have told their stories and enables them to “get in touch with the joy of learning and build their literacy that way,” explains Dukes. By expressing feelings and exploring the meaning of their experiences, he adds, the students follow the same approach as scores of writers before them.

Local writers serve as the program’s mentors, working closely with students to develop an idea, present it vividly, and refine it through revisions. By studying model pieces, students learn that refining and revising are the processes through which all writers go to achieve their polished work. At the end of every semester-long program, YAP publishes the students’ best writing in an anthology and holds a public reading to celebrate the young authors’ accomplishments.

YAP participants outperform their peers “by double digits” on standardized writing tests and feel better about time spent in school, notes Dukes. The program also has a value for the wider community, he adds. “It’s important for Savannah to hear these stories and understand that young people—especially lower-income young people—are a lot more complicated and interesting than the stories we tell about them.”

I joined Deep and found out things about myself I never knew. I can write poetry. I released my emotions in my writing, and I felt free. Deep changed my life.

André Massey participant, Young Author Project