I was excited to learn that a new centre for literacy will soon be launched in Melbourne, called 100 Story Building. The centre and its programs are the brainchild of Jenna Williams, Lachlann Carter and Jess Tran. Williams and Carter previously formed the publishing project for young writers, Pigeon Letters, in which Tran was also heavily involved.
100 Story Building works with marginalised students, and collaborates with members of Melbourne’s literary community, and other organisations. It has the backing of high-profile authors and illustrators like Alice Pung, Andy Griffiths, Shaun Tan, Sally Rippin and more. Publishers Penguin, Hardie Grant Egmont and Text are also supporters. The opening date will be March 2013.
I got in touch with Jenna Williams to ask her all about this worthy new venture…
Literacy is obviously incredibly important, but 100 Story Building is the first centre of its kind in Melbourne. Were you inspired by similar projects around the world? And will you collaborate with existing programs in schools, libraries and through existing organisations?
100 Story Building may be the first writing centre and social enterprise for children and young people in Melbourne, but it is able to exist because of the incredible creative culture of this city. We are inspired every day by the writers, artists and organisations here and have been very fortunate to be able to collaborate with them along the way. The culture fostered by organisations such as Express Media, The Wheeler Centre, Emerging Writers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival, as well as authors and publishers, continually inspires us and we love finding ways to share this culture with the children and young people we work with.
Since founding Pigeons in 2009, we have collaborated closely with teachers, schools and organisations to deliver our programs to students and we will continue to do this. The wonderful thing about collaborating on a project, particularly with schools, is that inevitably it takes on additional dimensions you didn’t expect.
Around the world, there are a number of organisations that have inspired 100 Story Building. 826 Valencia has of course been a great inspiration and support, and much of what we learned while working there has informed our plans for 100 Story Building. We also draw inspiration from Hygge Factory in Denmark, Spark + Mettle in the UK, who while they don’t have a writing focus, do some amazing mentoring projects for young people, Fighting Words in Ireland, Writers Corps in San Francisco and our friends in Sydney, the Sydney Story Factory.
A ridiculously simple question that readers of this blog will probably know the answer to, but why is literacy so important? Why are projects like yours that enhance access to literacy, to stories, to creativity, so important?
Literacy is an essential skill that everybody needs in order to prosper in life. It isn’t just about reading and writing—it encompasses expression in all its forms, including the ability to reflect and think critically about how we communicate. Having good literacy skills mean we are more likely to be able to confidently engage in broader society and participate in our community in a meaningful way.
There’s significant research, such as the 2009 OECD PISA study, that demonstrates a direct connection between disadvantage, literacy levels and an individual’s ability to engage in society. Unfortunately, this means that the reading proficiency between a student from socio-economically disadvantaged background and one from a socio-economically advantaged society can be as wide as three years.
So our programs are aimed at giving these students the opportunity to explore their creative voice, working alongside professional wordsmiths on projects that have a real-life outcome. Arts-based learning opportunities such as these are understood to not only achieve higher levels of literacy, but also lead individuals to be more intrinsically motivated to engage with their community.
By providing opportunities for children and young people to foster their creative voice and share their ideas and stories, we hope to support these students’ literacy development and their confidence in themselves.
An amazing list of writers and publishers will be involved with the centre. Can you tell us a bit more about their role/s? How will it actually run, day to day?
AMAZING is right! For the past four years we have been extremely fortunate to be supported by authors, artists and publishing professionals who have contributed not only their time but also skills and knowledge with the kids in our programs. One of my favourite workshops involved an editor from Hardie Grant Egmont teaching a group of 10-12 year olds the ‘secret code’ of proofreaders marks. The kids loved it and from that workshop on were using carets to insert text and stetting corrections in their own writing. So good.
But I digress!
The core of our operations is dedicated to our free programs for 6-17 year olds. Day to day, this means running two hour creative writing workshops with school groups at the centre as well as after-school programs, some of which may be offered as one-off workshops, while others will run for a number of weeks. Early Harvest, a publishing program we developed with Davina Bell and Emma Hewitt, will continue to be run and involves a number of editors, authors, artists and publishers mentoring the students through the process of creating their own literary magazine.
100 Story Building will also operate as a social enterprise, with fee-based programs being run to support our free programs. These include 100 Story Studios, our writing for children masterclasses, which will provide opportunities for writers to workshop their work with authors such as Alice Pung or Michael Pryor. Hardie Grant Egmont are also running a selection of special publishing workshops which will include the opportunity for students to seek feedback on their writing.
100 Story Building has the support of publishers including Text, Penguin and Hardie Grant Egmont and we’re delighted to have Sally Rippin and Alice Pung as ambassadors for the centre.
Can you tell us a bit about engaging with children/students? How will that work?
Setting up 100 Story Building, we spent a long time talking to schools in Melbourne’s west as well as many of the community groups in the area, not only to determine if there was a need for the centre, but also how we can work together and engage children and young people. Collaborating with teachers to make sure our workshops are relevant to their curriculum is important.
We work very closely with teachers, principals and welfare officers to ensure that we engage the students who will benefit the most from our programs, and to also help us in our program design so that what we are doing is connected to what is happening in the classroom, and the teachers are able to use the experiences the children have in our programs to enrich their own curriculum.
It’s also pretty hard for a kid to not be engaged when they know their work may be published in an anthology or shown to an audience at a public event. Sharing their work, celebrating it and holding it up alongside the work of adult writers is a pretty powerful tool of engagement.
Of course, you are looking for enthusiastic and energetic volunteers. What will be their roles and how can they find out more?
Oh yes! We want to hear from volunteers! Enthusiastic and energetic volunteers will be what makes 100 Story Building special and there are a myriad of ways to get involved.
Our daily creative writing workshops and after-school programs are great fun and will be supported by volunteers who may either be working one-on-one with students or taking on a role facilitating the workshops. 100 Story Building will also regularly publish anthologies of student writing. As we are dedicated to professionally producing and distributing these books to bookstores around Australia, the assistance of talented editors, designers and proofreaders will be essential. And of course, as we aim to open our doors in March, we’ll need lots of helpful people to paint, polish and bring their imaginations to the space.
But we really encourage and support volunteers to contribute to 100 Story Building in a way that is meaningful to them and draws on their interests.
Anyone interested in getting involved should swing by our website www.100storybuilding.org.au or better yet, come along to our launch at 7:30pm at The Wheeler Centre on October 30.