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The SEM Weekly

Creative Outlet for Teens in Buffalo

Invitation to the writers and artists at SEM

Xinyang "Amber" Ye '17, Contributor

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Amber Ye ’17 was an intern at Just Buffalo Literary Center this spring.

Standing in a spacious second-floor room with huge windows overlooking the scenery of downtown Buffalo, the Just Buffalo Writing Center (JBWC) brings students from different schools and neighborhoods together to share their literary voices with confidence and passion.

As a welcoming place, JBWC has a more fixed schedule for completely-free weekly workshops, unlike other creative/art opportunities for youth in the city. Every Tuesday and Thursday, plus two Wednesdays a month, the Writing Center’s workshops welcome students after a long day at school with music, a snack, a relaxed atmosphere, intriguing prompts, and lectures/activities led by teaching artists – renowned local writers, artists, and educators who practice what they teach.

Walking into the second-floor room after school on a Tuesday or Thursday around 3:30 pm, with or without prior registration (on Just Buffalo’s website), you’ll find students from schools like City Honors, and Olmsted sitting around the wooden table, sharing quirky conversations that can make you forget the fatigue of the school day.

“I have decided that I am a goddess…I’ll make you vomit the pride that you swallowed.” – Think; Inhibitions Swallow”

— Ikuris, age 17

“Providing young writers with a place to go each and every week establishes trust between people who come here regularly,” said Robin Jordan, the Writing Center’s coordinator. The regularity of gatherings at the workshop creates a supportive, reliable group consisting of youth and adult volunteers from different backgrounds.

With snacks and music the pre-workshop starts, featuring creative prompts and literary activities. In pre-workshops students are quiet – only the sound of pencils moving across blank pages and light music is audible. The works are eventually shared around the table—don’t worry, if you are shy to share, you can skip or talk about your work instead of reading it out loud. Critiques are shared but no work is judged, for good creative writing comes in all different forms and styles. After this warm-up, it’s time for to learn from the teaching artist of the day. The teaching artist leads the group in activities and discussions. Each workshop helps students gain a better understanding of a given topic, sharpened thinking and writing skills, and a sense of fulfilled contentment.

Robin described the Center as a purposefully designed “safe place.”

“A safe place is a place where anyone can relax and be themselves. You don’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe because of who you are, what you look like, what your race/ethnicity is, who you’re attracted to, how you dress, where you go to school. All are welcome and celebrated here.”

As part of the Just Buffalo Literary Center, the Writing Center intends to bring arts into the community and schools, educating young people. Through education, JBWC impacts the local community. To Robin, the Center makes the community better by providing an outlet for youth voices to be heard. Robin believes that “writing is a great way for youth to express their thought, desire, and fear that accompany growth;” through workshops, the Center helps local youth to speak “ethically, beautifully, clearly, and powerfully,” their literary voices are robust and impactful.

The Workshops at the Center also create an environment where participants can use writing and literature as a ”lens” to talk about what’s going on in the world, said Robin. Environmental topics and those relevant to growth like mental illnesses, sexuality, identity, and family or social relations are often mentioned, and the discussions occurred here are often as heartfelt as they are inspiring.

JBWC not only helps young writers/artists develop their craft through workshops, but also by providing students opportunities to share their work in the community at readings and events. For example, the SOY-Spotlight on Youth series and the Showcase reading each provides stages for JBWC writers or any young writers/artists in the community.

In my own experience during my internship at JBWC, I attended workshops on the topics of gender identities and comic drawing. I enjoyed and benefitted from the workshops, as well as pre-workshop literary activities, and have produced creative works that I wouldn’t have if I weren’t there. The laid-back, yet positive atmosphere at JBWC boosted creativity, and meeting diverse students from different schools in Buffalo was also a memorable experience. Through attending workshops, I even got to know the city, the city’s literary/creative scene, and the diverse young people of the city better.

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Creative Outlet for Teens in Buffalo