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PageSlayers Summer Program Fosters the Next Generation of Writers of Color in MiamiEXPAND
Alex Delbeau-Charles

PageSlayers Summer Program Fosters the Next Generation of Writers of Color in Miami

No matter how old you get, nothing replaces the memories of your earliest days in school. Without necessarily recalling what you learned or how you learned it, there's nevertheless a sense of the restlessness you felt for the bell to ring, for recess to start, and, of course, for summer — those three blissful months where kids can kick learning to the back of their minds.

But for Dana De Greff, founder and director of the PageSlayers summer writing camp, it's at the forefront. Since she returned to Miami (her hometown) in 2012, she's been trying to find avenues for Miami kids to exercise their creative potential. But it wasn't until two years ago that her concept won the Knight Arts Challenge and launched with help from the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation.

"Going in and it not being a struggle, but people saying, 'This is something that the community wants and we want to help you' — for me as an organizer, that was just very appealing," says De Greff. "Working in areas that don’t have as many options or don’t have the same sort of resources that others do is something that I’m interested in as a literary advocate."

The summer camp is geared toward fourth- and fifth-graders, who for three weeks work with professional writers of color in genres from poetry and fiction to memoir and graphic novels. There are two main instructors for each session, and the program employs an impressive roster of guest writers. MacArthur fellow and Haitian-American memoirist Edwidge Danticat has graced the program, as has Whiting Award-winning poet Roger Reeves. And while campers learn a lot from both instructors and visiting artists, PageSlayers isn't meant to be academic.

"It’s a summer camp. You don’t want it to feel like school, so we incorporate a lot of games and opening up creativity," explains De Greff. "We had a yoga instructor come in this summer, and that’s something that really, really worked. Seeing the Zen on 8-year-olds' faces was really cute, but also really powerful."

The ultimate goal for PageSlayers is to foster the next generation of writers of color in Miami. Youngsters encountering writers like Danticat and Reeves might feel professions in the arts and humanities are more legitimate on the one hand, and on the other, they're encouraged and empowered to express themselves.

"We’re giving them that opportunity because we know that they have a lot of stories to tell and we want to hear them," says De Greff. "We want to create a community and a home and a safe space. That’s a big part of our mission as well."

That community and safe space are sure to have positive effects in the future, but there's also a legible way for them to make an impact now. Through various methods — a zine, a letter-writing project, or an end-of-summer showcase — students' stories are shared as much as they are crafted and honed. The children at PageSlayers are ideally given the kind of emotional and intellectual support needed to carry them through not only their school day but their whole lives.

"If you give kids the space and the time and you actually believe in them, they’re amazing," De Greff reflects. "I’m blown away by the levels of emotions, the use of metaphor and simile and personification. It’s not the first time they’re hearing these terms, but the teachers push them to take it further. I think that they will make a lot of people feel like when they were kids, they were underachievers."

Currently, PageSlayers is seeking funding for next year's program. The Knight Foundation is offering a matching grant if the program can get enough financial support. They've already received a WaveMaker Grant and a community grant, but there's still a ways to go before they're eligible for the Knight Foundation money. It may seem a no-brainer that these children are a worthwhile investment, but for those who are unconvinced, this Friday's PageSlayer End-of-Summer Showcase could change their mind.

"It makes me feel like there's hope in the next generation," says De Greff. "They’re gonna write about dragons, but they’re also gonna write about cookies and heartbreak and their grandmothers. It’s the universality — you might go into Opa-Locka and think you’re not going to have anything in common with a 9-year-old, but you leave knowing that you do.

"And you might cry."

PageSlayers End-of-the-Summer Showcase. Noon to 1 p.m. Friday, July 27, at 780 Fisherman St., Opa-locka; pageslayers.com. Admission is free.

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