I started writing stories and poetry early in high school. I didn’t receive any constructive criticism of my creative writing until I was in college. Most adult writers divulge that their initial attempts at writing were solitary ventures—notes kept in boxes in a dark closet or under the bed gathering dust. I am a writer today because I received encouragement in college, but I do wonder what might have been if I had someone look at my writing earlier. Even if someone had read one of my poems and said, “Hey, dude, it needs work, but keep at it.” I would have kept at it. I would have learned years before I eventually did, that a life spent writing, that a pursuit of a life with words, is a thing that can be shared and brought to light.
There is a place, in seven great cities, where a young writer can find a writing guide. 826 National is an organization “dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills, and to helping teachers get their students excited about the writing.”
Founded by author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari, 826 National offers drop-in-tutoring, writing workshops (in great stuff like creating zines, college essays, journalism, fiction, non-fiction, English as a second language, and more), and class field trips. Their mission “is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.” If you live in San Francisco, NYC, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Chicago, and Boston, and you have a passion for writing and a desire to learn how to pursue the craft, then you should get connected with 826 National.
If you think this is a great idea, then you’re not alone. Eggers recently won a the distinguished TED Prize, and the 826 National programs have received attention from the national press.
Those of us who don’t live in one of the cities listed above will have to wait until the program grows. In the meantime, you can read books by Dave Eggers. My favorite Eggers books are A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (a memoir of the Eggers family’s tragic circumstances) and What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (a fictionalized memoir of the Lost Boys of Sudan). The power of Eggers’s writing is to cut to the heart of the matter with humorous and clever prose. He doesn’t spoon sweetness into difficult moments, and he doesn’t hide the wounds and embarrassments of his subjects.
Eggers could have settled into the comfortable life of a successful author. He could have eased into writing richly successful witty stories and retired with his winnings. Instead, he chose to continue to write on the edge, to publish daring and terrific writing (yes, he publishes as well), and to give back to communities though the 826 National programs. A life in full is a life we should admire and support (by donating to support the 826 National mission).