Village Learning Place students produce book of polished poetry, prose

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Shirley Brewer and Fernando Quijano lead an open forum discussion (Anthony C. Hayes)

I am Mamadou.

I am that ball that keeps on rolling.

I am that river that keeps on moving forward.

I am that small one.

I am the one who doesn’t give up.

(From the poem I Am by Mamadou D.)

How would you describe yourself?  What is your favorite color?  If you could ask for anything, what would it be?  These are a few of the thought-provoking questions poet Shirley Brewer and writer Fernando Quijano III put to a group of seventh and eighth graders at an after-school creative writing class.  The questions are fairly simple – the students’ responses? Pure poetry.

13 front covers13 Rising Stars – Stories and Poems by the 7th and 8th graders at the Village Learning Place (VLP) captures in a handsome anthology the poetry and fiction of Brewer’s and Quijano’s imaginative charges.  The book will be released this evening at a festive event at The Village Learning Place on St. Paul Street in Baltimore.  A Poetry in Community Publication, 13 Stars is the second volume produced by the VLP creative writing class.  The first anthology, published last year by Johns Hopkins University Press, featured poetry and art.  This years edition will focus on poetry and fairy tales.

The after-school programs at VLP emphasize reading and math skills and are designed around lessons easily adapted for open forum discussions.  The open forums stimulate critical thinking while simultaneously aiding in the development of social skills.  The writing group this reporter visited consisted of thirteen enthusiastic students.  For some, this was their second year in this class.

Little friend of mine, come to me.  Let’s play.

The cry of the fish through the mist.

The people passing, painting a dream I can see.

(Found Poem by Daezire G.)

049Shirley Brewer wears a large button on her stylish scarf.  The button reads; “Ask me about PLORK”

“PLORK” Brewer explains, “means ‘play while we work – work while we play’.”

Brewer has been teaching workshops for years and enjoys employing a lighthearted approach.  One of the ways she connects with the students (and helps to remember them) is to ask each student to add a descriptive adjective to their name. “I try to use adjectives that are fun.”  Mysterious Mamadou, Terrific Tyshawna, Jumping Jailynn and Jolly Gerald are just a few of the names the students chose.

Along with the colorful adjectives, Brewer enjoys using various prompts to get the students’ creative juices flowing.  An object prompt moved Shiny Chavez to produce a bubble-gum card which he always carries; a picture of his favorite Johns Hopkins football player.  The card, he explained, helps to give him confidence.  Nice Nia produced a poem about a painting and a dream inspired by Maya Angelou.

I am a purple hexagon.

I like to move backwards.

I am a cat, the number 23.

Don’t judge me.


I’m a chocolate eclair doughnut,

a Volkswagen, a cello,

a stove, an oak tree.

I’m afraid of heights.

Don’t judge me.

(An I Am poem by Tyshawna T.)

Shirley Brewer gives a young poet some helpful advice. (Anthony C. Hayes)
Shirley Brewer gives a young poet some helpful advice. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Fernando Quijano started writing when he was in the third grade.

“If I would have had this kind of support growing up, I might not be such a procrastinator.”  Quijano, who is President of the Maryland Writers Association, finds working with the students a true labor of love.  “You can see the kind of rapport we’ve developed with these kids.  Once we gained their trust, the writing started to flow.”

On the day I was there, the students listened to a selection of dramatic readings of several famous works.  The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, Edgar Alan Poe’s Annabelle Lee and a portion of A Raisin in the Sun were all carefully considered.

“Do you see how Carroll is playing with the words?” Quijano asked.

“Listen to the mood change in Annabelle Lee.” Brewer implored.

American flag – red, white and blue

moving through the air like a wave,

bring me your love for America

(An object poem by Deshawn R.)

Sonya Gibson, the class’ full time instructor, stressed that the students are there because they want to be.  “The students and their parents have to make an investment in this program.  This is completely voluntary on the students part – no one is required to attend.”  Gibson said the students love the interaction with guest instructors like Brewer and Quijano, and the parents love the way the kids passionately embrace the work.

A surprise guest the day I was there was Amy Sewell, a Baltimore City public school educator who taught some of the returning students last year.  “It’s exciting,’ said Sewell, “to see the eighth graders; to see just how much they have grown.”

Yellow Flower

Sitting in the grass like a plush yellow cloud

Bring me your beauty and warmth.

(Flower by Nia W.)

Brewer and Quijano worked with the students for about eight weeks this last semester.  The remainder of the session was conducted by popular author, Adam Robinson.

“I’m a little sad that my role with this class has ended,” Brewer said as she packed up on her last day at the VLP.  “I’ve gotten so much from working with these young people.  I asked Mamadou what he wants to be when he grows up.   He said, ‘Maybe I will be a writer.’”

Magnifying binoculars

helping me see things look bigger

bring me your clarity.

(Binoculars by Mamadou D.)

13 Rising Stars – Stories and Poems by the 7th and 8th graders at the Village Learning Place will be released May 13.  A release event will be held from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.  Monday at The Village Learning Place, 2521 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore.  Copies of the book, published by Poetry in Community, will be available for free at the event.  Autographs of the contributing writers may also be obtained at the event with the kind permission of their moms and dads.


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