Pretty S. was born in San Francisco. She is fifteen years old. She likes to play music and make psychedelic art pieces. One day, Pretty has hopes of becoming a nurse while continuing her pursuit of art. Overall, she wants to express herself through music and art, hopefully gaining the support of others.
Since I was younger, around kindergarten, I always had an interest in art. Whether it was painting makeup on my dolls’ faces, or drawing similar but jagged replicas of cartoon characters, I always found a way to express myself. It always made me feel more confident and it was a way to visually display my thoughts. Every Friday, I would be so happy to get my hands stained with various colors during art class, while a lot of the other kids were just happy to miss our math class for the day. I always would admire the not-so-perfect graffiti-covered walls around the city and the unique amount of artistic expression my mom and I would see out of the corners of our eyes walking around the Mission/Valencia District. I always felt like art was a strong way of showing who you are to the world; it’s what makes you different from everyone else.
Experience. The word that always bothered me. The thing I thought I had to have to be the person I wanted. The word that haunted my everyday life. Can you be an artist without experience? Teaching? I don’t know. But I did have “experience” in a certain sense. Life experiences, not just the cherry-picked, sugar-coated best moments of my life. Something to base my art off of, and that’s plainly my life–whether it’s mourning, happiness, or some sort of pain–I think of it all as experience. After all, without it I don’t know where I’d get my inspiration from. I think I put myself into every art piece I create; it’s created from emotion. It’s created from that feeling of pain you have where you can’t seem to stop the flow of tears and emotion pouring out from your heart. It’s created from that feeling you get where you’re so exuberant and overwhelmed with happiness that you can’t stop smiling, laughing. So, this is my experience: the memories I have locked up in my head of who I am. Is that enough to paint the Mona Lisa? Well…not spot on, but I think that’s just because of the type of life I’ve chosen to live.
My biggest inspiration ever since I was little has probably been my dad. My dad is an artist and a musician, and he raised me around a lot of punk rock music and artwork. My dad’s work and his life always made me feel like I could accomplish my goals. He told me that since he started his first band he wanted to get signed to STT Records, a famous record company, and in the end, he accomplished his dream. It made me feel like if he could do it, I could do it. My dad always was there to help critique my art; he always had a suggestion. It could be frustrating sometimes, being a little girl who just sketches anime characters and Powerpuff Girls, my dad would always tell me to fill the page up. I didn’t really feel like my cartoons were appreciated. I felt this wall between who I wanted to be and who I really was. I wanted to get enough guidance to find myself. That was before I developed my own style. I was still learning how to draw, so his constructive criticism wasn’t always so clear to me. I always knew my dad was an artist. I would see the weird, complicated pieces hung up in the hallway of our house, the type of artwork that made you think. Complicated detail so small it almost tricked your eye for a scribble. I wanted to know how to do it. How could I fill a page with my thoughts alone, with no help from anyone else?
Music has always been a heavy influence for me. When I was six, I started playing piano, flute, and singing. I liked to play piano, but in my lessons, I always felt like I had to stay in the box. I couldn’t ever make my own music, like the music my dad always had playing around the house. I didn’t have the access to discover my own music as a girl in elementary school. Most of the time I would be listening to whatever would be spinning around the record player. As I got older and I started developing my own taste for music, when drawing or working on a piece I would always have something playing in the background. “Psycho seventy-eight, talkin’ bout’, twelve o’clock, don’t be late. All this horror business, my mirrors are black!” I would sharpen my pencil, then sing along to whatever was playing, whether it was the misfits or something like the Addicts. “Viva La Revolution!” I feel like people develop who they are, their character, based off of music. And since character develops from music taste, could my art be influenced by music? When I’m drawing, if something dark starts playing, I feel like I’m in that kind of mood. If something happier turns on, I’ll feel more excitement and whatever I’m drawing might change. The outcome of my work always depends on the mood I’m in and the kind of music playing around me.
Art has always been something I’ve been confident in. No matter what, it never judges you, you can spill your thoughts and feelings onto paper. You can be who you want to be through art. It always has been an alternate world, a place where I decide what goes where, when I tell a story visually. On the inside, I feel like everyone has a voice in their consciousness telling them what’s right and wrong in a social situation. In a way, you’re the biggest influence on yourself and you create borders for yourself based on the way you feel and who you think you are. When it comes to self-expression though, I feel like you can come out of the box that society labels and traps you in. You can show what you’re interested in and what impact you want to leave on the world through art.
by Vanessa Ramon-Ibarra, 826DC
Living in the digital world can create unwanted attachments, as one student laments.
by Luciana, Grade 10, 826 MSP
In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, a sophomore at South High School in Minneapolis gives thanks to Children’s Hospital employees.
by Reuben & Giselle, 826CHI
Two students write to each other about where they came from, what they love, and a few mishaps along the way in an exchange of letters.
by Kyla Edwards, 826 New Orleans
This creative short story explores a snapshot of what a future New Orleans might look like amid climate change.
by Isabella, 826NYC
This poet rejects judgement based on the color of one’s skin.
by Anjum, 826CHI
A shout-out poem to some things missed (Hyderabad) and celebrated (Mom).
by Sian Laing
When Instagram becomes an unsightly battlefield.
by Kevin G, 826 Valencia
This narrative calls us to see the world through the perspectives of others.
by Savannah, 826NYC
Using dialogue and detailed description, this poet investigates whose voices are heard and whose voices are left behind when injustice occurs.
by Tala, Grade 10, 826 MSP
In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, 10th grader Tala asks essential workers what motivates them to keep going during these difficult times, offering her own views on hope for the future.
by Ryker, 826michigan
Liner notes that showcase the meaning and musicality of the Jimmy Ruffin song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.”
by Jonas K., 826 National
A student explores the paradox of how technology is used amongst teenagers.
by Regina, 826LA
From the forthcoming anthology, Poets in Revolt!, this poem expresses the realization that a cage is not the only obstacle to a bird's freedom.
by Melody Marcano, 826 Boston
In this poem, a student reflects on their roots and their desire to grow.
by Cindy, 826LA
A student compellingly argues that immigrants deserve respect and to be free of discrimination.
by Jazmine & Vanessa, 826CHI
Over a series of letters, two compassionate and resilient students develop a deep friendship sealed in writing.
by Rey, Grade 9, 826 MSP
Aliens give this student superpowers to help him fulfill his greatest dream.
by Fahima Dahir, 826 MSP
A poem about the strength and limitations of language and shared culture.
by Elizabeth W, 826 Valencia
Even though we may look different, we remain united with one another.
by Caroline, 826 Valencia
A student explores U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe’s decision to kneel in protest during the national anthem.
by Jasmine J, 826 Valencia
A student reflects on her origins to deconstruct social borders and seize her boundless future.
by Christopher, Bryan, & Jahir, 826CHI
In an exchange of letters, three students across one city share stories about where they came from and the places that matter most.
by Steysi Hailee, 826LA
A student reflects on a small moment and single sacrifice that transformed her outlook on giving.
by Pia, 826NYC
A student reimagines food justice: Fruit Woman must convince Junk Food Man and Cheesecake Boy to eat their fruits and vegetables.
by Yazmine-Gizelle, 826DC
This poem uses a fundamental poetry technique, repetition, to share the writer's future plans.
by Gilbert, 826LA
One teen writes a letter to his 14-year-old self, citing his past fears but looking towards his present, a brighter future.
by Numan Khan, age 16, 826 Boston
A bilingual "I am" poem filled with conviction and courage.
by Anthony, 826DC
This poem gives insight to what it's like growing up Black in America.
by William, 826LA
A teen discovers the power of books to transport him to another world, and shares his excitement about becoming a published author.
by Maggie Munday Odom, Kailua, HI
This poem personifies Earth as a mother coping with the brutalities of climate change.
by Mercury, 826CHI
A student explores the representation of LGBTQIA+ minorities and youth in US pop culture.
by Sergio M, 826 Valencia
A smile isn’t always what it seems.
by Kalyn Jackson, 826 New Orleans
Through this short story, Kalyn explores ideas of home and change in an altered world.
by Byanna & Kayla, 826CHI
Two students across one city bond by writing letters to each other about the people they love most.
by Jazlyn Moses, 826 National
One student explores their online persona and the lasting importance of conscientious social media practices.
by Navayah, 826 MSP
Through redefining a label, a student reclaims a piece of their identity.
by Jason, 826michigan
Making bottle flipping look like child's play, this piece outlines rules for the new, competitive Fantasy Sport "Pencils".
by Shayne Williams
Discover what one student experiences when they tuck their phone away for a whole day.
by Henry, Matthew, & Santiago, 826CHI
A compilation of letters written by three students across one city filled with thoughts on books, sports, music, family, and musings on Valentine’s Day.
by Johnny Vasquez, 826 MSP
A family interview reveals a mother's painful past and shines a light on her persistence.
by Calvin, 826michigan
A laugh-out-loud personal narrative about a crush. Has your heart ever beat so fast it might get a speeding ticket and a $500 fine?
by Sammie, Grade 9, 826 MSP
In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, a freshman at South High School in Minneapolis thanks care workers for supporting our local and national communities during this global pandemic.
by Aniah, 826 MSP
A student is lifted up by the dance of her ancestors.
by Aphra, 826CHI
A student considers realistic happy endings and the representation of LGBTQIA youth through the analysis of two webcomics.
by Sabrin, 826 MSP
The written word is a powerful tool, and this poem shares a few reasons why the author continues to write.
by Justis Porter, age 16, 826 Boston
A neighborhood ode filled with sights and sounds of the poet's street.
by Charles, 826 MSP
A student reflects on his life, stemming from the life of his father.
by Jahruwach Hamilton, 826NYC
In this rousing poem, a student asserts her strength and worth as a woman.
by Joanne H, 826 Valencia
In this poem, a student’s experiences in two countries meld together as she seeks out her true home.
by Soraya, 826NYC
This student’s powerful piece reveals the essence of racial injustice.
by Tammy Fong, 826NYC
A soccer-filled, feud-fueled memoir.
by Sabrin, Grade 9, 826 MSP
In this letter from the Essential Words lesson, 9th grader Sabrin discusses how she feels both happy and sad, and thanks nurses nationwide for bringing her peace through their work.
by David & Daniel, 826CHI
In this heartfelt exchange of letters, two students bond over food, videos games, and some scary adventures.
by Samuel Wang, Grade 10, 826NYC
A poem about the complexity of love exchanged during the holidays.
by Sharoya Bracey, 826NYC
In this memoir, the narrator recounts the struggle of being the bigger person in a very small space.