Written for the Atlanta Writers Club

by Ralph Ellis

“I don’t really remember much about my mom.” That’s the beginning of Amien Hicks’ short story – and I think it’s a grabber. Amien is a student at KIPP STRIVE Academy in Atlanta. I was his mentor last spring in a writing program called Scribes.

Fourteen middle school students wrote short pieces of historical fiction on inventors of color, and Amien was assigned George Washington Carver. He started with Carver’s childhood, when slave raiders stole his mother, and moved through his struggles to obtain an education. Carver overcame racism at every step to become an inventor, college professor, and the most famous African-American of his time. Other Scribes wrote about Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic signal, and Charles Drew, who pioneered methods for storing blood plasma for transfusion.

This was the fifth student I’ve mentored, and every time has been an eye opener. Not all the stories are historical fiction. With an agriculture theme, my Scribe wrote about a budding peach tree that blossomed despite being bullied by other trees. When the subject was Atlanta institutions, my student wrote about a CNN reporter who turns back an alien attack on New York City. Yes, their imaginations know no limits.

The Wren’s Nest, the Joel Chandler Harris residence that’s now a museum in West End Atlanta, created and sponsors the Scribes program. Harris, author of the Uncle Remus tales, lived in the Queen Anne style home until his death in 1908.

The mentoring program pairs writing professionals, or adults who simply love to write, with middle school students. The mentor spends around an hour a week for a dozen weeks working with the student in a writing lab at KIPP STRIVE Academy or Brown Middle School – both Atlanta public schools in West End. Mentors have been teachers, journalists, college students majoring in English or journalism, social media managers for corporations and public broadcast writers.

How deeply involved does a mentor become? That depends on the student. Kalin Thomas, the program director, provides daily goals for each session, so nobody goes off track. My last Scribe is a confident writer, so mainly I helped with the online research and made minor grammar fixes. Some of my other charges procrastinated, tried to play computer games or agonized over every phrase. Sound familiar? Mentors see a lot of themselves in these young writers.

A few months after my mentoring duties ended, I saw Amien again at the Decatur Book Festival. The Scribes’ stories had been bound together into a softcover book titled “Bright Ideas,” and a launch party was held in a hotel ballroom. The Scribes sat down at a long table and their parents and friends lined up to get books autographed. These middle school students had achieved something special. They were published authors. It was a proud moment for the Scribes – and for me. Being a mentor is not without sacrifice, and not every student is easy. But every session has been gratifying. The Wren’s Nest always needs mentors, so if you’re interested, contact Kalin Thomas here. If you’d like to hear more about my experiences, send a message to rvance52@hotmail.com.

Our Friend Jane Yudelson

Our dear friend Jane Yudelson passed away on May 29th. Jane and her husband of nearly 67 years, Harold, have been long time friends of ours here at the Wren’s Nest. Harold served on the Board for many years and was our Board Chair for a time. Jane and Harold met in an art history class at the University of Pennsylvania. Jane not only helped Harold pass the class, but became the love of his life. They had three children together, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Jane was an accomplished artist with her own gallery in Buckhead. We will miss her elegant and joyful presence.

The Wren’s Nest’s very own Mary Claire Kelly did something great. Not that we’re surprised or anything. Anyone who’s apart of the Wren’s Nest Team, the young scribes, their mentors, Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, Mr. Harris, they never fail to impress us around here.

One of our Brown Middle School mentors had an article featured on WABE 90.1FM, Atlanta’s NPR News Station. Can someone say complete awesomeness?

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Kelly’s article was featured as a part of WABE’s Beautiful City series, where journalists are showcasing special places to go in Atlanta for those of us who love Atlanta too much and just don’t want to leave, or simply for those who have been in Atlanta for a while and have yet to get “culturally acquainted”  (Side note: If you’re looking to get culturally acquainted, right here at the Wren’s Nest is a perfect place to start!)

Anyway Let’s clap it up for Mary Claire Kelley. She highlighted the Lake Claire Community Land Trust. Pretty interesting if I do say so myself!

Go ahead and check it out. Here’s the link to view the pictures, read the article, and listen to the podcast. Great Job Mary Claire Kelly! http://bit.ly/1FD9EfF

Our Words for Goodwin

George Goodwin died last week. Born and raised right around the corner from us, George left the entire nation with a wonderful example of what it means to make a difference. Well known for being the first Atlanta journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished local reporting in his 1947 series exposing voter fraud in Telfair County, Georgia, George played a major role in shaping Atlanta’s transformation from a rural town to the cultural metropolitan area that it is today. “Be it planning for growth and development; sustaining libraries and the arts; promoting philanthropy; improving education; advancing race relations or encouraging civic responsibility, George Goodwin was a force for progress and understanding.”

Back in the day The Wren’s Nest was a Carnegie Library – at least one room was. George told me he spent hours and hours as a boy reading at The Wren’s Nest. He claimed that those hours were a big part of his love of the written word and development as a writer. I only met him the last couple years of his life but it was clear that in addition to his wit and heart, his charm was a big part of the legacy he leaves and the example he set for us all of a life of service. He was 97.

 

Tis the season… We are Celebrating Ladies and Gentleman, a lot!

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This week we have taken time to acknowledge not only the holiday season but also the birthday of Joel Chandler Harris. Last Sunday we held our annual Victorian Holiday Party. The home was decorated in holiday grandeur. “Children of all ages were captivated by our storytellers throughout the day.” And certainly what’s a party without music? Our featured harpist, Kimberly Walker of the Atlanta Urban Youth Harp Ensemble, and esteemed carolers from the Gate City School of Excellence set the tone by filling the house with songs of the season.

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Certainly, we cannot celebrate in the month of December without saying Happy Birthday to Joel Chandler Harris! December 9th marked Harris’169th birthday, and yes indeed there was birthday cake! Guests and friends gathered around the cake as Harris’ great-great-granddaughter, Annette Shakespeare gave words of cheer and good tidings for the occasion. Happy Birthday rang loud amongst the crowd as we approached one of the most favored portions of our annual party.

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The reincarnation of Joel Chandler Harris’s stories has arrived, but in a way we least expected!

2014 KIPP Scribes' Next Door to the World

Labor Day weekend, students of KIPP STRIVE Academy released Next Door to the World, a series of re-creations and re-fabrications of the legendary folktales compiled by Joel Chandler Harris.

For the 6th year, we celebrated the Wren’s Nest Scribe’s Program participants and all of their hard work with a launch party for their new book. At the Decatur Book Festival, family, friends and loved ones filled a room in the Decatur Recreation Studio awaiting the launch of this anticipated work of art. Students worked throughout the Spring of 2014 with a writing mentor to do research, perform historical investigations, and ultimately create some of the best stories centered around Joel Chandler Harris’ history that you will ever read.

This year The Scribes Program provided twenty 5th-8th graders at KIPP STRIVE the opportunity to improve writing skills, learn more about the Joel Chandler Harris legacy, and become published authors. How amazing!

The book launch featured readings from the Scribes and gave community members the opportunity to purchase a copy of Next Door to the World as well as have their books officially autographed by these talented artists.

Also, check out the rest of our pictures here on our Facebook page!

 

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