just buffalo literary center

JBWC Young Writers Advocate for the Arts at the 2016 Erie County Budget Hearing for Cultural Funding

For the 2nd year in a row, JBWC young writers spoke to their legislators in support of the JBWC at the Erie County Budget Hearing for Cultural Funding last night. We are so proud of these young citizens for using the power of words as a means to participate in local governance at such a young age! Below are their remarks:

My name is Hemingway. I’m a Junior at Olmsted 156, and I have been a Youth Ambassador for the Just Buffalo Writing Center for about two years.

 My name is Lucy. I am a Junior at City Honors, and have been a Youth Ambassador at Just Buffalo for a year and a half. The JBWC is a free creative writing center for teens that is designed to aid young writers in the cultivation of their writing skills. At the writing center, youth are invited to participate in weekly creative writing workshops led by a variety of teaching artists from around our community. These teachers show young writers the endless possibilities of writing. Whether exploring autobiographical comic writing, podcasting or issues of social justice through poetry, these workshops help young people develop their unique voices and give them a platform from which to share them. We cannot thank you enough for your support in this effort.

 One of the most common comments we hear from visitors of the JBWC is that this unique place and the young writers who frequent it give them hope for the future. As JBWC young writer, Ates, writes, “At a time when opportunities for young people to express themselves seem to grow slimmer and slimmer, the JBWC is a place that offers hope because, whatever race, class, or identity, we come together and create—all inhibitions are gone.”

 Therefore, we decided to ask parents, volunteers, staff, and young writers at Just Buffalo what people might see or hear at JB that gives them this hope. Here are some of their responses:

At the JBWC, you’ll see pens run furiously across blank pages, held by young people finally comfortable enough with themselves to let down their barriers.

You’ll hear nationally-ranked slam poets, yoga teachers, journalists, internationally-renowned novelists and local authors teach our future leaders the power of language.

You’ll hear parents, with tears in their eyes, say their children are so much happier since finding such a welcoming place to be themselves.

You’ll hear young people share their creations, pieces of themselves, on stages, from soapboxes, at local events, and on street corners before astonished audiences.

You’ll see a 14-year-old girl drop chapters of her first novel into the hands of a dedicated volunteer from a nearby college.

You’ll hear young people read aloud the words of those that often go unheard.

You’ll hear a transgirl rap about her worth, and a girl who was once afraid to speak in front of others stands on a stage and sing her first song.

You’ll hear the voices of tomorrow, today, ringing out in mature, respectful discussions, passionate individuals full of original ideas.

You’ll see that there is an abundance of imagination and good left in this world, and it is erupting, volcanically from these generous, literary teenagers.

You’ll hear the sound of young fingers on typewriters, typing words that have the drive and capability to change the world.

But most of all, you’ll see young people testing their voices and trusting their dreams. You’ll hear the next generation of writers growing.

It is so crucial that we continue to create and fund spaces that help young people like us become active, vocal citizens in their community. We thank you for giving us a platform and hope you’ll continue to support Just Buffalo in their efforts to amplify the voices of Buffalo’s youth.


Happy Halloween from the JBWC!!!

This weekend was the JBWC’s 2nd Literary-Themed Halloween Party! Young writers were encouraged to dress up as their favorite literary figure, participate in an in-character open mic, and take part in a 100 word, collaborative horror-story writing competition.

Among those seen mingling at the party were Holden Caulfield (Catcher In The Rye), Gregor Samsa (The Metamorphosis), Jack Torrance (The Shining), Willy Wonka, Frank (from film Frank), a Patil twin (Harry Potter), and one very angry Mama Bear (Goldilocks). The winners of our open mic were two witches from The Craft singing a haunting, a cappella version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

Our 100 word collaborative horror-story challenge asked teams to create a title for their opponents using a randomly-selected card from the game Apples to Apples. Throughout the challenge, JBWC volunteers terrorized the teams with more random Apples to Apples cards that they had to incorporate into their stories to keep them on their toes! Here are the titles and a few excerpts from each story.

Texas Chainsaw Dating Massacre: aka Commitment: “Then I saw him enter, the man of my dreams, glowing green orbs inside his big head…Suddenly, I realized I wasn’t the only murderer here. Shoot, now we’ll have to duel to the death.” 

The Swiftening: “I approached the sacrifice table. There lied my past Canadian lover and Kanye. It was time for his punishment.”

The Teacher’s Pet Made The Teacher Their Pet: “The teacher’s body folded into itself, shrinking until nothing but her empty clothes were left on the floor. Movement could be seen from her shirt and out popped a cockroach!”

My Day Job: “It is my first day at my new job where I work as a lawyer for the dead. I head the department of beheadings…I walk inside and suddenly think of my best friend who died seven years ago in a skydiving explosion. He was so young, and so stupid.”

JBWC Young Writer Spotlight: Vianca (age 15)

About Vianca: Vianca wants to write for people who struggle with depression as well as give confidence to others through her writing. She says at the JBWC people share her creative mind and she feels as though she “has found her people.” She is inspired by her peers at JBWC, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, and her mother, who is a poet. Vianca is also a talented painter. She finds inspiration in the visual arts which she feels is intertwined with writing. Her writing process involves writing down ideas as soon as they arise and going back to them later. Vianca is a highly creative young artist and plans to study writing or the arts.

-Interview by JBWC youth volunteer, Sumayyah

Untitled Poem by Vianca

Think of the discomfort of moving your feet

in and out of the sheets.

Do you feel the panic?

Because I do.

Shuffling them in between,

different textures intervene,

tea kettle fumes for breaths and sticky saliva,

summer swooned eyes…

I am condemned to a heavy grey sweatshirt.

Shaky ankles and ditzy lungs

sleepiness vibrates in my ribcage

summer swooned eyes

shaded by cotton pillow cases

hot rush rushing hotness

rest with a flashlights in your eyes

right pant leg up left pant leg down

left up right down

down to…What am I going to do?

Not in a sad self-reminding question

but in a “the more rhetoric you know,

this line means nothing” question.

JBWC Is Thrilled To Present The First Episode of This Buffalonian Life: A Podcast Made By Young Writers in Buffalo

Exploring the theme of “Fear,” the first episode of our ongoing podcast, This Buffalonian Life, is here! This episode features our young writers interviewing family, friends, and community members, young and old, about fear. What does society teach us to fear and what do we really fear? Are we afraid to die? What are some of our irrational fears?

Jam-packed with insightful commentary covering these important questions, the episode will make you laugh, bring a tear to your eye, tickle your brain, and give you a few spooky goosebumps for good measure.

After this first episode, we have learned just how much work goes into making a podcast. Our young writers crafted careful introductions, conclusions, transitions, and questions; they went “out into the field” to conduct interviews; and they learned about different methods of recording and sharing audio.

But it is our hardworking teaching artist, Rachael Katz, who we have to thank the most for getting this podcast sculpted and edited, and for going above and beyond to make it a huge success (even creating original spooky music to flesh it all out)!

Check our SoundCloud for more episodes soon! Episode 2 will explore the culture of memes.

Made with SoundCloud

JBWC Jumps Into Zines!

Last week at the JBWC, our young writers jumped headfirst into zine-making! Their first challenge was to make individual 8 page mini-zines in 20 minutes. Next, they made their first collaborative JBWC zine, featuring work created and selected by JBWC youth. Finally, to share all their hard work with the community, JBWC Youth Ambassadors got a table at Sugar City’s Zine Fair this past Saturday. Our YA’s made their own zines for the event and did an awesome job gathering donations, bartering, and amplifying the voices of young writers in our community.

JBWC STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Eden, Winner of the 2015 Cobham Mission Systems STEM Challenge

The JBWC would like to take a moment to introduce you to one of our amazing young writers: Eden (9th grade, City Honors).

In October of 2015, Eden was one of six winners of the Cobham Mission Systems STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) Challenge for female students grades 9-12. Winning for a short story she wrote in response to their prompt (“What would you do if you were the first human explorer to visit Mars?”), Eden got to meet Astronaut Donald A. Thomas and NASA Program Integration Manager Dr. Sharon Cobb; have lunch with Cobham female leaders in STEM careers; and received a $250 prize!

Eden said one of her favorite moments of visiting Cobham Mission Systems was meeting Astronaut Thomas, who was in space for 48 days. “He kept reiterating that it was our generation that is going to make it to Mars, which was really cool to hear,” she told us.

When we asked Eden why she comes to the JBWC she said, “I come because the community is great; I have so many new friends, people who I had never talked to before.  I also really like the writing prompts because sometimes at school it’s really busy, and I never really think about writing after doing all this homework (I think about playing on my phone and stuff) but being at the JBWC really allows me to focus on my writing, which I love!”

The JBWC is so lucky to have Eden as one of the many impressive young writers in our ranks! Check out the opening to her winning story below:

An excerpt from “Mars One” by Eden

The last rays of sun are sinking below the horizon of a small suburban town. Trees cast long shadows across the grass, and the playground that one hour ago was filled with the cries of children now is eerily silent, one swing swaying dismally in the breeze. About one block from this playground is a small one-story ranch. A metal star is hung on the outside of this house, its whiteness contrasting brilliantly with the dirty vinyl siding. Through a square window near the back of the house, a girl is sitting in front of a dusty P.C.

The light in the corner is naked, throwing uneven shapes at the ceiling. Next to its hot luminescence sits the girl. Dark, raven-colored hair spikes unevenly down her back. Her eyes are brown, though they look almost olive reflecting the bluish light seeping in from her clunky laptop.

Her name is Artemis Blu. She aspires to be the first person to walk on Mars. She aspires to turn her back on the Earth and her suburban prison to live on the red planet. She aspires to leave the life of manicured lawns and perfectly pruned bushes. Sitting at her fold-out desk, looking through the screen of her ancient computer, she is reading about the Mars One mission trip. Looking through the lens of human possibility, she is making a choice…

Exploring Sci-Fi’s Infinite Futures at the JBWC

This week JBWC young writers explored the infinite futures of writing sci-fi, led by teaching artist Joe Hall!

Hall’s riveting workshop asked participants to begin imagining our world’s possible futures, encouraging them to fully explore the consequences of a sci-fi premise by making a long list of “if/then” statements. After thinking through their premise, he asked them to write a day in the life of a character within that future world, challenging students to include both the dystopic and utopic possibilities.

The writing that was generated was out of this world! Here are just a few excerpts:

From “They didn’t stop” by London

“If we don’t stop, then the world as we know it will end.” And it did. But if they had stopped, then I wouldn’t be telling you this…If they had stopped, then I wouldn’t be standing on the edge of the waste. Damp ground stretching for miles before joining the sea, half-drowned ruins still trying to stand tall.

From “Our Messy Hands?” by Hannah

If time travel was normal, then I’d take you back to booming London. We’d pick flowers that had already lived a thousand lives. I’d tuck them behind your ears.

If I put dead flowers by your face, you’d smile and smell them. You’d beg to go to a coffee shop…

From “Untitled” by Sage

If we were abducted by aliens one by one, then I would call your house phone as my windows were illuminated in white. I’d call you and tell you it was finally happening and I would be giddy as gravity stopped mattering to me and the red light on your answering machine did.

If the red light on your answering machine flashed at you after you got home, then you would hit the play button with your elbow while you put away groceries and the start of my laughter would play over static…

From “Untitled” by Robin

You can tell who they are, they don’t smile. They don’t laugh, cry, try, or feel. Much worse than being heartbroken if you ask me…I still ask my mom how she is each day, trying to get past that chip in her head. Needless to say, my efforts do none of us any good, talking to her is like talking to a brick wall…[People like my mom] live to exist. They’re so broken that they’ve opted to become emotionless…Shells of humans making people shells of humans because the broken people break the unbroken…

David Bowie-Inspired Creative Writing Prompt

Recently at the JBWC, we remembered the life and art of David Bowie by celebrating his love of personas: an androgynous alien rock-star, an astronaut stranded in space, the man who sold the world, a goblin king…Bowie created/inhabited so many exciting characters through his art.

PROMPT: On slips of paper, have everyone write down a name and a one-sentence description of 3 different personas. Next, have everyone draw 1 slip of paper from the pile. (This first slip contains their writer persona/ their piece’s speaker.) Then have everyone draw another slip of paper. (This is the persona their speaker will write/speak about.)


Speaker = An orange salesperson

Persona = A little girl obsessed with everything yellow*

*These personas were created by different people and were selected randomly! Pretty cool coincidence.

I stand at my roadside orange stand day after day. Nobody stops. Nobody pulls over. Nobody buys oranges. My life is a bore…That’s when I notice something approaching. At first, all I can see is an indistinguishable blur of yellow. As it comes closer, I’m able to tell that it is a small child. The child approaches the highway. It is a girl with red braids and plastic wings and a yellow tutu. She stands on the side of the road for what seems like forever until it is safe for her to cross. Where are her parents? She runs across four lanes of empty pavement, a big yellow sunhat flopping with every step. When she sees a car approaching she points at it with her yellow wand, yells something, and it stops for her to pass. As she approaches my stand, I notice that her clothes are dirty and there are leaves in her hair. She comes to me and speaks.

“Do…” she pants, “Do you have any bananas?” 

“No, I only sell oranges,” I reply.

She runs back across the street and disappears into the foliage. I never see her again.

The JBWC is Closed Due to Snow So Write A Snow Poem

The JBWC had to close this Tuesday due to snow so write a snow poem or story or comic. Or write about not snow.

A Prompt from Brenda Shaughnessy’s “Why is the Color of Snow?”

Poet, Decide! I am lonely with questions. What is snow? What isn’t? Do you see how it is for me.

JBWC Young Writers Predict the Future Through Stunning, Collaborative Poems

Using the JBWC giant scroll and our newest vintage typewriter, JBWC young writers wrote these stunning, collaborative poems predicting both the near and distant future. READ THEM. It’s for your own good.


Check out the results of our Peacock-Inspired Bookmaking Workshop with Catherine Linder Spencer!

JBWC young artists and writers created beautiful, unfurling, peacock-inspired book art projects with teaching artist Catherine Linder Spencer last week at the JBWC. Encouraged to reflect on the idea of devotion, the colors of the peacock, and the motion of unfurling, participants took varied, creative approaches to complete their books. The final products were so different from each other and turned out gorgeously!


Highlights from 2016 Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts

The writers of the Just Buffalo Writing Center typed their hearts out again this year at the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts, offering event-goers made-to-order poems as part of our Short Order Poem project. Here are a few highlights from the event:

Favorite/Toughest Poem Topics:

  • Capybara
  • A Poem About Carrots (that must have deep meaning)
  • Breastfeeding
  • Animal Grooming
  • Brenden’s Forehead…

Favorite Moments:

  • Two JBWC volunteers, Caitie and Lisa, and JBWC young writer, Hannah, felt sorry for a band busking across the way because they weren’t getting much attention, so they wrote them the awesome “Breckenridge Blues” song pictured above.
  • A new mother asked for a poem about “breastfeeding” which our young writers, understandably, felt intimidated to tackle. This led to a beautiful collaboration between JBWC coordinator, Robin, who does not have children, and JB’s Finance/Development Director, Kris, who is a mother. Check out the poem pictured above!
  • On the final day of the art fest we chatted with Laurie, one of the event’s organizers. We asked how she felt the event went and she promptly responded, with tears in her eyes, that her favorite part of the weekend was getting the JBWC young writers to write her a poem as a thank-you to her husband for being so supportive during her cancer journey. She plans to sneak it into the pocket of one of his work shirts as a surprise one day!

Final Thoughts:

Despite the hardwork and heat, our short order poem station at the Elmwood Art Fest never fails to remind us of the power of poetry. Its somehow otherworldly resonance, its connectivity, its grace and playfulness, its ability to remind us that we all seem to ache and radiate on a similar wavelength.

Top 6 images by JBWC young writer/photographer, Birch.


JBWC Writing Adventure: Main Street Scavenger Hunt

Last week, we took JBWC young writers on yet another downtown writing adventure! This time around we created a Main Street scavenger hunt, featuring a slew of writing-themed challenges for our young writers to tackle. We’ll be announcing our winners tomorrow but, in the meantime, check out some pictures and just a few of the hunt’s challenges!

Write a haiku about the shoes of someone on the train.

Find a bench. Sit on it and write a mini-poem, story, or comic about what you feel/think while sitting there. Take a picture. Fold it. On the outside write, “A poem/story/comic for the next person to sit on this bench.” Tape it to the bench.

Near the Bisons stadium there is a huge sculpture that is a black geometric shape. Imagine it was made by someone visiting us from the future who specifically designed it for us to use to save Buffalo during the apocalypse. Write its instruction manual.

Find something on the sidewalk (litter, an object, etc). Chalk a short ode to it on the sidewalk near it. (An ode praises something.) Take a picture.

In your kit, you will find an excerpt from a Frank O’Hara poem. Find a spot on your walk that somehow resonates with the excerpt you have. Write a line from it in chalk at that spot. Give a reading of your excerpt while standing there. Take a pic or video!

This week JBWC writers are practicing writing Short Order poems and micro-stories! The idea is to set up shop with a typewriter and compose call and order poems for interested passerby (who are invited to give our young writers prompts/subjects as inspiration).

Above is a practice example by the always-hilarious Carson in response to the subject, “sunflowers.”

We plan to set up shop this Thursday (August 27th) sometime between 4:30 and 6:00pm near the Lafayette Square Metro Station near Main and Mohawk.

Then we’ll be on Breckenridge and Elmwood near the Cultural Row of the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts this Saturday (August 29th) from noon to 5pm.

Visit us and get your very own made-to-order poem or micro-story!


JBWC collaboration stations “swag like you have always dreamed…”

The JBWC young writers’ collaborations never fail to sizzle! The top image is from our magnet wall poem. (We’ll be using the last word of each incarnation as the first word of the next.) The bottom image is from our “Buffalo’s out the window” ongoing typewriter poem.

JBWC Writes Like Knausgaard: Exploring Inner Turmoil from the Outside

Teaching artist Sherry Robbins visited the JBWC last week to prepare students for a visit from Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. Reading an excerpt from Book 1 of My Struggle (where the writer walks through town while dealing with the death of his father), students were asked to write about a moment of personal turmoil by focusing less on emotion and more on outside details (where they were, etc). Here are just a few excerpts highlighting the powerful results:

“My mom stripped the stairs of carpet to see if the hard wood was worth saving. Other than a crack at the second to top where I had slipped and bruised my tail bone one night, they were saved from the stain of life. Often when I’m home alone I’ll recount the morning I cried the most when I said I wouldn’t. Those tears are saved for the stairs. When my aunt brought my brother and I home, we grinned from being spoiled with sugar, late night movies, and the rummaging out of curiosity through foreign beauty products and perfumes. The moment that left my ears ringing in the glass-shattered kitchen plays live, a moving picture in my head. The tears drop because I’m not small enough to be rocked into a lull on the stairs, choking on words that left me gasping for air, stripped down like all the bare stairs, unstained, except for a memory.” ~Robin 

“The ventilator made me think of the scene in Alien where Lambert and Parker are sent to get coolant for the escape pod, and every container Lambert unhooks makes a sharp expelling noise, and Lambert is shaking and crying, snot running down her face while Parker yells at her to hurry. I was selfish to listen to the machine keeping my grandmother alive and think of my favorite movie instead. My mom sniffled and the ventilator hissed, and my great-grandmother sat in a chair in the corner, silent, eyes red, fingers shaking. She was watching a machine carry out her daughter’s breathing, a tube shoved dangerously down her throat, her whole torso rising off the bed as she completed some decayed form of living, and I was thinking about Sigourney Weaver…I wanted the chaos gone, I wanted Sigourney to launch the alien off the goddamn shuttle, I wanted the ventilator to quiet down. Maybe this time in my head Lambert could get all the coolant without getting herself killed too.” ~S