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826CHI Shows Off Students' Creative Writing with Free Video Release

By Emily Morris | February 6, 2014 8:13am
 Four videos, created by 826CHI and DesignKitchen, show students performing original work and premiere in Wicker Park next week.
826CHI Video Release
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WICKER PARK — Standing alone on a school stage, 18-year-old writer Yerika Reyes looks directly at a camera as she recites a poem of hers, one that describes what she really wishes for.

"I want to know that my voice counts, that people are listening," she says to the camera and a seemingly empty auditorium.

Her powerful piece is one of the creative works being showcased for free Monday night by Wicker Park writing and tutoring nonprofit 826CHI, which teamed up with EPIC and advertising firm DesignKitchen to produce four videos of students performing poems or stories.

An offshoot of the national nonprofit started by author Dave Eggers and former teacher Ninive Calegari, 826CHI often publishes anthologies of creative writing from its students, who range in age from 6 to 18.

But this was an unusual chance to show them reading their work on film, complete with props like crowns, billowing capes and simulated campfires along with a soundtrack provided by Au Revoir Simone.

"It was new for all of us," 826CHI Director of Operations Kendra Curry-Khanna said. "Because of that, it was really fun. The students took their roles very seriously."

Acting coaches, props and camera work were provided by DesignKitchen, which helped shoot the scenes at Mitchell Elementary School in July. After the videos premiere at the center, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Curry-Khanna said they will be released via Twitter.

Reyes, who now attends Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., as a freshman on a competitive Posse scholarship, said she wrote the poem back when she was a sophomore at Schurz High School.

"I think that as a low-income high school person of color, I felt like my voice was silenced all the time," Reyes said in a phone interview. 

Reyes, who is now creating a literary magazine and mulling sociology as a potential major, said she could express both her challenges and her confidence through writing.

"I think that 826 helped me realize that I had a voice," Reyes said. "Its very easy to feel like, 'I don't matter.'"

The nonprofit has a small headquarters that on a weekday night is filled with volunteers (called "spies" and "agents") who help students journal, do their homework or work on fiction pieces. 

"We try to approach writing in a way that's really imaginative," Curry-Khanna said.

Reyes won't be able to attend the release, but when the video appears online, she said it will be the first time many of her college friends see her perform her writing.

When they shot Reyes' poem, Curry-Khanna said it took about 10 to 15 takes to get it exactly right. On the last "magical" take, she said Reyes performed it the whole way through without missing a beat. 

"That piece alone is I think a testament to not only the strength of our programs, but the strength of our students," Curry-Khanna said. 

The 826CHI and DesignKitchen video release party, which includes discussion with volunteers, authors and designers, will be at 7 p.m. Monday at 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave.