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Bed-Stuy Eighth Graders Tell Their Stories in Published Book

By Camille Bautista | December 14, 2016 9:20am
"330 Years of Experience," an anthology with memoirs from 25 Bed-Stuy students, goes on sale at powerHouse Arena on Dec. 14.
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Emma Coats

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Every teen has a story to tell.

A group of eighth-graders from a Bedford-Stuyvesant school have become published authors with “330 Years of Experience,” an anthology of short memoirs hitting the shelves this week.

The 25 students from Unity Preparatory Charter School on Monroe Street will debut their work Wednesday at DUMBO’s powerHouse Arena bookstore, which will host a reading.

Four eighth-grade classes participated in the exercise in early September, said teacher Leigh Conner, with kids working on their essays for nearly two months.

“The prompt was really to just write about your life, focusing on some important moments that changed their lives — not so much the moment but how it affected them,” Conner said.

The results ranged from dramatic to lighthearted, with one student telling her tale of crossing the border from Mexico into the United States and another who shared anecdotes of his dislike for his mother’s cooking.

“Some of them are funny, some of them are really angsty, some of them are on the more serious side. It was a therapeutic process for them,” Conner said.

“It’s to encourage them to use narrative writing as a reflective process to help them think through things.”

For 13-year-old Fatoumata Barry, sharing her story about playing chess helped introduce her classmates to a different side of her, she said.

“My story is about how I thought that I was a loser, then I became a winner. I figured it out by trying my best,” Fatoumata said.

Others, like Shaniya Jackson, said writing helped her to express her feelings.

Shaniya, 13, wrote about her first visit to her father in prison.

“It was good letting out how I really felt, because I never really told anyone,” she said.

“I hope people will get an understanding from my story, because some people might have similar situations.”

“330 Years of Experience” will be on sale at powerHouse Arena starting on Dec. 14, with the paperbacks priced at $12.

Proceeds will go towards the publishing fees and the school’s reading and writing program.

powerHouse Arena will host the event from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re lucky to get to live in a city like New York that really values diversity,” Conner said.

“Especially right now, especially with young people of color coming from Bed-Stuy and surrounding neighborhoods, it’s important for them to know that their experiences and voices are valued and people get to hear about different experiences to get to empathize with them.”