“I feel like I’m at a take-back-the-culture night,” said Peyton Chapman, principal of Lincoln High School. She was addressing a diverse audience, including high school students, their parents and teachers, WITS writers, volunteer mentors from the WITS essay event, community leaders, and board members of Literary Arts. Everyone wore name tags, several of which had blue ribbons peeking out underneath that said “writer” in gold lettering.
It was actually a night to celebrate the new WITS anthology, Take My Hand I Want To Show You Something, and to raise funds for the Writers in the Schools program, but Chapman was tapping in to a deeper sense of purpose. As students introduced their pieces and read them for the audience, their pride and passion was obvious. As the editors of Tin House, Burnside Review, and Glimmertrain (the latter via a letter read by Mary Rechner) explained how they selected prize-winning pieces, each spoke of being moved by the student work they read. And as the host of honor, Barry Lopez, spoke of writing being necessary to life, the sense of community became palpable.
At one point, the emcee Laura Moulton asked everyone to pull out the envelopes tucked in the sides of their sheets. Inside was scratch paper, a pencil, and the following writing prompt: Write about a gift someone has given you, or a gift you have given to someone. Describe it in as much detail as possible. Why was that gift significant? The room immediately hushed as everyone began writing their responses.
At the reception afterward, a band played as attendees drank wine and sparkling cider, ate hors d’oevres, and had their anthologies signed by the student authors. It was a festive scene as everyone came together to celebrate literature and the importance of story in all of our lives.