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Youth Programs

Spotlight on the Youth Programs Advisory Council: An Interview with Jonathan Hill, Anis Mojgani and Sandra Childs

by Keyry Hernandez

The Youth Programs Advisory Council serves a profound role in the advancement of the organization as a whole. This month, Keyry Hernandez, this summer’s Youth Programs intern, met with Jonathan Hill (Chair), Sandra J. Childs, and Anis Mojgani and talked with them to familiarize the Literary Arts community with some of the hearts that make our mission possible.

What does community mean to you?

Jonathan: Community for me means everything. Like…the world is a horrible place. It’s this unrelenting force. Community is the shelter from that. It’s where we can connect with other people and share our experiences and laughter and find comfort and joy. I can only really speak for myself, but I think that what has made this last year and a half so horrible is feeling so cut off or connected from my communities. Cut off from that shelter. To tie it into Literary Arts and why I admire the work they do so much – they work SO HARD to make a community for EVERYONE. To help everyone share their stories and to give everyone a place to have those stories heard, from the high school student poet writing their first poems to the Nobel Prize-winning author. That’s not just supporting readers or writers like it says in the mission statement. It’s giving shelter.

Sandra: Community means authenticity, connection, support, collaboration, and the sharing of stories. I’m very connected to many former students and some of them are in their 40’s. In fact, one of the first Verselandia competitors was the child of one of my past students. That keeps me deeply rooted in the Franklin community.

Anis: It really comes down to the places, spaces, and the people that we feel at home within. The communities that I connect with are the ones that I’m invested in, thus they are the ones that I care about whether or not they are succeeding, connected to a greater wholeness of self, fractured or in pain. Community is where we feel at home and in which our presence allows others to also feel at home. It provides an opportunity to be taught, to be pushed, to grow, and to contribute that for others. 

Youth Programs Advisory Council member and Literary Arts board member Anis Mojgani talks with Keyry Hernandez

What role does your work play in your personal life? 

Jonathan: My background is in storytelling. My dad’s side of the family is full of  storytellers: there is such a tradition of oral storytelling that kind of got lost in my generation. So, I grew up loving movies, books, and comics and how they can make you laugh. I’m always looking to find the narrative in things and to be inspired by those narratives.

Sandra: I got into stories because I grew up in pretty horrific circumstances. I was able to escape into reading and it really saved my butt. Then, I realized those difficult circumstances also gave me some stories to tell and a way to reach out and connect to my students who just saw a teacher out there without knowing I have a past that might ring familiar with some of them. Today, with trauma informed education, more and more people are aware that the kiddos in the seats are not just kiddos in the seats, but come with a lot. You can turn pain into beauty and that’s a great thing.

Anis: Writing allows me to explore my imagination and aspects of my creative leanings. I love beautiful language and I love attempting to string together beautiful language. Writing has continued to be a tool that allows me to process myself, to better understand who I am, to better grasp what it is that I need and want in life, and get a better grip on how to be the person that I want to be.

Youth Programs Advisory Council member and Literary Arts board member Jonathan Hill talks with Keyry Hernandez

How does your work impact your community?

Jonathan: Being a writer means you kind of just have to do it. For years, I made my own mini comics and published them. Making work and getting that work out there brings you a community. You meet other people; those other people are sort of rising up with you. For example, there was a local publisher in town who saw my work and wanted to work with me and that ended up turning into my first book. Generally, I think it was working hard and doing it on my own for a long time that helped me storytell in my community. You work hard, you fight through adversity,  you learn about yourself,  and you reflect upon yourself, which is how you find success whether it’s writing or anything else you’re doing in your life.

Sandra: Ultimately I went into teaching to change the world. That was my fantasy. It’s depressing when I look at news events and know that we’re still at war 20 years later and things that I’ve been teaching about have not necessarily improved.  I can get pretty grim about that, but I also know that it’s a one to one process and when I hear back from my students and I see what they’re doing in the world I know that they are helping to make the world a better place.

Anis: Getting to write poems and perform them outloud to people gives me the opportunity of seeing what happens when an artist and audience come together in a space and start to make something. Even though I may have written a poem separate from that a year ago or even 20, it is always going to exist differently in whatever room I go into at any given time. So, it’s a really beautiful opportunity to see what gets made just from people coming together in a space.

Why did you join the advisory council?

Jonathan: My road here started when I became too busy to be a WITS writer and I hated giving that role up. Something I’ve experienced on every level of Literary Arts is showing people that they can do things. As a WITS writer going into classrooms you have students that don’t consider themselves writers or artists, but then you show them that it’s not about whether you draw or write well, it’s that you do it in the first place. That was such a positive experience for me! Now as part of the board and chair of the council, I am passionate about advocating for Youth Programs as part of the larger board and give my input as an artist, former writer, and someone who has experience working with youth.

Sandra: When I retired I stayed on the advisory council in order to support Literary Arts programs. It has been one of the essential partnerships of my career. It has been fun, a little weird because this past year and a half has been online due to the pandemic. Otherwise, I really love staying connected with other advisory council members and brainstorming ideas to help support youth.

Anis: What are the ways that I can be present in the community? It’s important for me to find ways to learn how to remain connected to folks. It’s also crucial for me that the people of this city know that Literary Arts exists and that it exists to serve them while being able to recognize that they are able to have ownership of that support. The goal for me is very much connected to the ways in which the young people of our city are made to feel welcome in all avenues of the city they live in, the ways in which they are made to have ownership of this organization that seeks to contribute to their expansion, literacy, and the worth of their own stories

A mosh pit can be described as energetic, emotional, and completely alive. What makes your heart mosh?

Jonathan: Everything. Sometimes when I’m not caught up with writing emails or doing my job, I stop and turn my ears and eyes on. It makes me appreciate the things and moments around me. I grew up with this creative practice (storytelling) that taught me to see, hear, and appreciate.

Sandra: Helping youth find their stories and working with them. Kayaking alongside the rivers in Oregon since I come from L.A. where there is a lot of concrete and freeway. Seeing activism of any sort also thrills me! Last summer in terms of the BLM movements, that gives me hope to see people rising up, speaking out, becoming aware, and trying to move for a change. Finally, I discovered swing dancing 7 years ago. Before the pandemic, I would go to live swing events four times a week and that is what really moves me. Even through the pandemic, my friends and I have gotten very creative. We bring floors to the park, mask up, and get it done.

Anis: My friends. That there’s delicious food outside of my house that I am not eating. Portland in springtime makes my heart continuously mosh. Going through a bookstore. Reading children’s books. To be sitting somewhere by a window with a cup of coffee and the possibility to create before 9am.

Any advice to writers/readers out there?

Jonathan: Just do it. Don’t wait until you’re good enough. With whatever you do, continue to do it. If you wait, the next thing you know is you’re 50 and you never wrote that story you always wanted to write.

Sandra: The thing that comes back to me is Elizabeth Gilbert. She thinks of the weirdest ideas and pitches them to magazines and that’s how she started getting paid as a non-fiction magazine writer and launched her career. Like you said, “If you have a passion for storytelling you can find a way in somewhere.” From me, as a librarian, it is to keep reading and remember that not all the stories are in books. There are stories everywhere out in the world. 

Anis: Write as much as you can and don’t worry about what you are writing or how much or how little you are writing. Sometimes we get caught up in whether or not the thing we are writing is  “bad” or ”good.” That is meaningless because the task before oneself is to put it down on paper because then it becomes solid and you can understand a bit more about yourself. You don’t know what shape it is when it’s swirling around inside of you. It’s not about how much we write, how good we write, but it is simply about building a relationship to writing. Lastly, it is just as important to open up the doors to our imaginations as it is to open the doors to ourselves to have interactions with the world around us.

Learn more about Literary Arts’ Youth Programs here.

Keyry Hernandez is an Editorial and Administrative Assistant intern at Literary Arts. She is currently double majoring in Journalism and Cinema Studies at the University of Oregon. Her past experience in zine making, storytelling, and goal of one day becoming a documentary journalist has inspired her to gain experience at the organization.

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