Writing Gallery


My Grandfather’s Name // El nombre de mi abuelo

My secret code name
is Roberto Alemán The First.

It was my grandfather’s name.
He died right before Super Bowl 49.
He was born 1933 and he died at eighty-two years old.
The only time I saw him was when
I was two years old and the rest of the twelve years
was talking to him on a phone.
I was so devastated.
I had plans to go see him now it’s too late for me.
Now I carry his name in honor of my grandfather
hoping that he has a grandson
that’s the brightest and smartest
and knows that I love him.
R.I.P Grandpa Duermate Rilo.
Know that his son was raised by
the great father / grandfather.
A memory is that
I was walking in my grandma’s ranch
my aunts and cousins then grabbed my mamila.
I sat on the steps then all of a sudden
the doors popped open.

I saw my grandfather with a beautiful white horse.

A heavenly man who rests
with god and
will be a bright angel.

Mi nombre secreto
es Roberto Alemán el Primero.

Era el nombre de mi abuelo.
Murió justo antes del Super Bowl 49.
Nació en 1933 y murió a la edad de 82 años.
La única vez que lo vi fue cuando
tenía dos años y los doce años siguientes
hablé con él por teléfono.
Estaba tan devastado
Tenía planes para ir a verlo y ahora es muy tarde para mí.
Ahora llevo su nombre en honor a mi abuelo
con la esperanza de que su nieto
sea el más brillante y el más inteligente
y que sepa que lo quiero.
QEPD Abuelo Duermate Rilo.
Sepa que su hijo fue criado
por mejor padre / abuelo.
Tengo un recuerdo en el que
estaba caminando en el rancho de mi abuela
Mis tías y primos agarraron mi biberón.
Me senté en los escalones, luego de repente
las puertas se abrieron.

Vi a mi abuelo con un hermoso caballo blanco.

Un hombre celestial que descansa
con Dios y
será un ángel brillante.

Charlie the Seal

Charlie the Seal was born in the mountains. He lived on the brown, sunny rocks. His family lived there with him.

One day he was hot, so he climbed down the mountain and went to the water for a swim. He saw some catfish that were small and blue and caught one, because catfish smell delicious.

He got out of the water and the water felt hot on him. He went back to the smaller mountain and ate the fish. When it was nighttime, he fell asleep.

The next day, he saw other seals catching fish and playing in the water. He went in the water and swam for awhile, but then he saw the seals going to the top of the mountain, where they were playing and rolling in the snow.

Charlie joined them. They walked across those rocks, and the rocks felt hard on the mountain. Eventually, they went back to the medium-mountain and, when it was dark at night, they went to the cave and fell asleep again.

The baby seals squealed at night when they went away from their mothers. When day came, all the seals woke up and saw their baby seals had woken up, too.

So, the seals brought the baby seals down the mountain and showed the baby seals how to swim in the water. The baby seals went in the water and practiced swimming, and they did good by themselves.

After they had finished, the seals climbed the mountain and went to their caves and fell asleep because it was their bedtime, and the seals sleep a lot.


The following exchange is from our forthcoming Teen Writers Studio chapbook, I Just Like The Way It Sounds, to be released at 826CHI on Monday, June 5th. Join us for the release party and for three other events at Publishing Fest, a week of free release events across Chicago celebrating our students. Find more information on Publishing Fest here.

“Hello, class,” my art teacher sings in her whimsical tone, the one that only art teachers possess. “I want everyone to listen carefully. Your challenge today is to turn this piece of clay into a sculpture that represents you and your perception of life. It can be your own life, or it can be life in general. But I don’t want to see anything too simple or easy. Do not just sculpt a tree or an apple. I want you to think broader–more abstract.”

I peer down at the rigid lump of clay and slowly take the rolling pin and begin flattening and smoothing, running my arms back and forth until it is flat, smooth, and perfect. Untouched; untampered with.

           It was just like my life at the time. The only life I knew.

I was lucky.

           My family had never kept secrets before.

           It all started out with just a doctor’s appointment. My dad, a firm believer in taking as little time off from work as possible, decided out of the blue to go to the doctor with my mom.

           As they dropped my brother and me off at our neighbor’s house, I kept asking him that morning why he was bothering to take a day off from work for the first time since he’d gotten sick with pneumonia. No response, just a dull gaze, his eyes big.

Trying and trying.

The next day in art class, the same thing. I took a chunk of clay and flattened it out. It seemed so pure there, so pristine.

           My art teacher came up behind me.

           “Is this really all you can come up with?” she asked.

           I silently shrugged.

           She bent down next to me, sighed, and whispered straight into my right ear, “Do you think life is perfect and flat like this?”

           I shrugged again.

           “Sometimes life needs a bit of forming to help you grow stronger,” she told me. “That’s what I want you to try and convey through this project. Tomorrow, I want you to start over again. You may smooth out the clay, but then I want you to make something you see as perfectly imperfect.”

           I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I didn’t know what she meant. Not yet, at least.

           I was lucky.

           We all sat at the table that night. Sandwiches for dinner. I pressed my water glass against the wooden table.

           Trying and trying.

           I already knew.

           We didn’t wash the dishes that night.

           My little brother, barely nine years old, hurried downstairs to watch television, his life so protected and smooth, like his own soft cheek.

           The words didn’t strike me at first.

           Mom is sick.

           My parents sat close together and my mom cried as they delivered the news. I held her hand, soft and always smelling like the hand cream she kept in the car.           

           The next day brought another doctor’s appointment. My head spun as I realized my life, the clay that it had once been, smooth and flat like when you run your hand over your old baby blanket, was now changing.

           Pieces were being torn off, squished together, built and then torn down and now a great big lump of nothing.

           I went to art class angry that day. I didn’t flatten the clay like I normally did. I began to mold and twist and form this piece of clay, my hands working detached from my mind, making the clay into the most imperfect, unbalanced, complex sculpture that seemed to include my every gnarly emotion and joyful feeling and each sensation in between.

           My art teacher came over to me that day and said, “That’s what I like to see. That is real life.”      

           Two months later, my mom had surgery.

           As I fought through school that day, I felt a numbness, almost as if the clay weren’t even there anymore.

           It had been taken to the kiln, for its final stage of transformation.

           Trying and trying; smoother and smoother.

           That night, I came home from school.

           She was there, lying on the couch, her familiar cobalt-blue robe wrapped around her like a swaddle, shaped like a sleeping newborn, like an unfinished sculpture, molded from flat clay, perfect and new.

I dug into my backpack and pulled out the finally finished sculpture. I hadn’t bothered to smooth over it with a glossy layer of paint or make it more colorful. It was just there and stayed there, finally a peaceful, set object that could not be fixed or flattened anymore. It reflected the sun that afternoon ever so slightly, as we all breathed a sigh of relief that this era of unknown and somber was finally over.

           I am lucky.

An Exchange of Letters Between: Henry M, Matthew G, & Santiago N

The following exchange is from our forthcoming Young Authors Book Project, P.S. You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust. Henry is a sophomore at Amundsen High School and Matthew and Santiago an eighth grader at Emiliano Zapata Academy. Scroll to the bottom to read their author bios!

Dear Matthew,

    Today I am going to write about something that I like to do. I like to read Amulet books. The Amulet books are the best comic books I have ever read (and the only comic books I read).

    I wonder if you like any sports like soccer, volleyball, basketball, or baseball. Or, do you like any video games? Do you like watching scary movies or cartoon movies?

    Other things I like are songs like “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. I like listening to the song and thinking about if the song could happen to me. I wonder, which part of the song do you like?

    Well, Matthew, I think this is all. Goodbye and read you next time. I mean see you next time!

Santiago N.

Dear Santiago,

    I like to watch the Bears play because they’re really good. Also, I watch soccer on TV sometimes but not all the time. My three favorite songs are “Hit the Dab,” “I Gotta Feeling,” and “Thunderstruck.”

    I like those songs because all of them have a really good beat. Also “Thunderstruck” has a really heavy beat that shakes up my mom’s car when we listen to it. What are your favorite songs? Do you like AC/DC? If you like the band AC/DC, that is good because me and you will have something in common.

In conclusion, I hope to see you soon to find out if you like the band AC/DC and what songs you like, other than the one by Twenty One Pilots that you mentioned in your letter. Also, I hope we can be friends. What brand of shoes do you like?


Dear Santiago,

    Hi, my name is Henry. I’m Matthew’s partner in English class for the letter writing assignment. I noticed in your letter that you have a lot in common with us. For example: both of us like sports and music. In my letter, I will tell you a lot about myself.

    I’m an avid fan of sports. I especially like cross country, swimming, and downhill skiing. I enjoy cross country, as I enjoy being fast and just getting a good workout. It gives me a chance to get outside and get fresh air. I get motivated to run by the terrific advice from my coach, teammates, and family. Me and Matt also did downhill skiing with our school’s Special Olympics team in January. This was especially fun, as we made new friends and tried something we had never had the opportunity to do. I am also on the swim team, which is a great sport to compete in.

    I have some questions to ask you as well. What type of music do you like? What do you like to do for fun? Do you have any favorite TV shows or movies? My favorite bands include Twenty One Pilots, Daft Punk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slipknot, and The Beatles. When not in school, I enjoy playing video games, singing, and helping cook. My favorite TV show is Doctor Who  and my favorite movie is The Dark Knight.

I hope you find me to be a very cool and talented guy. You seem like a cool dude from what I’ve read in your letter!

Until next time,

Dear Matthew and Henry,

I wish I could write you each a letter, but I think you are both so cool so I am writing you both in this letter together. I hope you like it.

The first thing I would want to write to you guys is about my person or place that is special to me. I don’t know about you, but my special person is my mom. Why, you might ask? Well, my mom is always cooking for the family (sometimes my dad helps). She gives us a lot of things and we don’t even give anything to her. My mom is shy but tough. Why? Well, because when we (me and my brother) get in trouble, it is like she is Bowser and I am Mini Mario from Super Mario Brothers. Sometimes I win in the video game, but in real life it is always like GAME OVER. My mom makes the most delicious food and I smell her cooking every day. YUM! When she makes beans you have to step two feet away from my brother. (I actually don’t mean this in a mean way.)

Another thing that I am going to be talking about (well, actually, writing about) is what freedom means to me. To start this up, I think freedom means to me that you can do anything you want. Once on a dark, dark night, me, my brother, and my little sister were in my room playing Wii. My mom was sleeping in her bed and we got to play alone. I think that was freedom.

Do you both like video games? If you do, which ones? Do you have consoles? Do you like music? How about Legos? I can’t think of any more questions. Read you next time.


Dear Santiago,

    I have a lot to tell you about high school and my experience skiing on my school’s ski team with the Special Olympics. It’s really fun because you get to ski down hills really fast, and you do it with kids just like you who have disabilities too. That is what makes it fun. The coolest part is when you get a medal, and the medals are very shiny and very cool looking. I have never fallen on skis before when going down a hill in a competition, but I have fallen during practice.

Have you ever been bullied at school before? I used to get bullied at school and it was not fun. It also hurt me inside and made me extremely angry. If you get bullied at school, I understand how you feel.

I hope you meet me in person so I can talk to you, so we can be friends, and so I can walk around with you in the hallways of Amundsen.


P.S. I won three medals skiing this year in the Special Olympics!

Dear Santiago,

    I have an interesting story to tell you today! It’s about how I won a gold medal in downhill skiing. I will explain how even if you aren’t the best at something, you can practice and keep trying to get better. Follow me down the slopes as I tell you how, with enough practice, you can achieve anything!

    It began in January 2016. I was on my way to the Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena, IL. It was my first day skiing with my school’s Special Olympics Ski Team. After a three-hour-long bus ride of eternity, we made it. Within an hour, I would be skiing! The first challenge, however, came when we were getting into our ski gear. Getting on the bundles of clothes was okay, but it was the boots that were the main challenge! After getting bundled up, we walked down to the equipment room, where the boots and skis were. Me and my teammates Matt, Noel, and Henry all struggled to fit the boots on! After help from coaches Mr. Ward, Mr. Craig, and Mr. Binder, we learned how to walk in the boots. Boy, was it painful. They were heavy and felt like they were made of lead! After that, we learned how to take our skis off and how to fall. Both were equally a bit challenging, but getting up took a while, as we had to slowly move our arms backwards and walk backwards to get up.

    Then, the second day came along. That day we learned how to do a “pizza” with our skis to slow down and “french fry” to go fast. We went down the Bunny and Rookie’s Ridge trails. Going down the hills and learning how to slow down was a breeze for me. I also learned how to turn, which I wasn’t as good at. I kept crashing and nearly hurting others! However, after getting help from Mr. Ward and Mr. Craig, I slowly got better. I even got to do down a bigger hill. It was kind of scary, but I’m used to it now. After a long day of skiing, we were just one day away from the competition.

    After an exhausting day and a night of restless sleep, the competition was finally here. I was confident that I would win some gold. Me, Matt, Noel, and Henry were all a little nervous, but we all hoped to go on to the championships. We all were allowed an hour of practice before the games began, so I went over to my usual Rookie’s Ridge trail for a few laps. Mr. Ward, Mr. Binder, and Mr. Craig were all confident we’d do great!     When I was ready to compete, I got a little more nervous, as I felt I was going to do badly. However, after racing down and avoiding the colored flags, me, Matt, and Henry made Amundsen proud by winning gold! Unfortunately, Noel didn’t qualify, but we still cheered him up and told him he did great anyway. In the end, I’ve learned that with enough practice and confidence, you can achieve anything!


Dear Matthew and Henry,

    Some weeks ago in a school not very far away, it was Valentine’s Day. And on Valentine's Day, we had a dance. Do you guys have a dance when it is a holiday?

    My Valentine’s Day started fine. I usually come late to school and I forget things and my day is not the greatest, but this day started okay. It was Tuesday, so I knew 826CHI was coming to write with us during literacy class. Time passed fast with them in our class, then I had to finish my social studies project on the computer before I could go to the dance. Then Ms. Ramirez said, “Okay, students. Line up.” I checked the clock: 1:00 p.m. The dance! I was almost done with my project—only two more sentences and then, I was finally done!

I was happy because at the end of the hall I could hear the loud music coming from the gym. Outside, I saw my classmate Balta and he told me, “Crystal is waiting for you.” I said, “Okay, thanks.” When I went inside the gym, the music was even louder. I asked my friends Jacob and David if they’d seen her. “Nope,” they both said. A few minutes later, my brother came toward me. “Hey, bro.” I had totally forgotten about him. He was with our neighbor, Heriberto. Heriberto is a cool kid. I couldn’t find Crystal, so for a lot of the dance I was mostly hanging out with my brother and Heriberto.

I finally found Crystal, and we got to talk and dance for what felt like five minutes. I did not bring the card that I was going to give to her. Instead, I bought her candy. It went fine for me. Oh, I forgot to tell you: if you were wondering who Crystal is, she is the girl who I’ve been going out with for three weeks.

See you in June, I think.


Dear Santiago,

    I think it was very cool and brave that you were able to dance with Crystal. I was never that brave in eighth grade. The one time I was brave was when I sang and performed with my school’s rock band. I had to work up a lot of courage to sing, but I had a ton of fun, even with a couple of mistakes.

    This was in eighth grade, a month before I would graduate from middle school, and it was the day of my school’s variety show. One of the performers was the school rock band, for which I was one of the singers. We’d been practicing for months. I got to sing on a couple of songs, “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream and “Do I Wanna Know” by the Arctic Monkeys. I typically get nervous singing on stage, but I felt a lot more confident that day.

    It was showtime and I was on stage, singing casually for the first song with two other singers who were sharing a mic. It was a little uncomfortable because the stage was so small. Then, on the second song, the other mic broke! I was the only one singing. I quietly and nervously sang more of “Do I Wanna Know,” but remembering that the show must go on, I gathered confidence to continue singing! By the end, I felt a lot more relaxed and the crowd even cheered me on, seeing that I sang bravely no matter what happened.

    What do you think of my story of bravery? To answer your question about if Amundsen holds holiday dances, the answer is no. However, we do have fun homecoming and winter dances! Hope you are well!

P.S. Good job again on dancing with Crystal! smile

Henry M is a fifteen-year-old from Chicago who attends Amundsen High School as a sophomore. He enjoys participating in his favorite sports, which include swimming, running cross country, and competing in the Special Olympics, for which he holds an impressive two gold medals! Outside of school, he loves listening to rock music, cooking, reading, and practicing guitar. In the future, he would like to be a chef, like Gordon Ramsay, except without getting mad or yelling at other chefs!

Santiago N is a shy student who likes to watch, play, and read about Star Wars. He spends his time playing Five Nights at Freddy’s. He is also a Minecrafter. He plays with his brother and friend. When he grows up he wants to be a video game maker or an actor. When he was little he was a kid, he didn’t like to read. Now he has a lot of books he can read with his friends and family.

Matthew G goes to Amundsen High School and is sixteen years old. He is a very strong person who loves dogs. At home, he lives with his brother Dan, his mom, and his dad. He also loves to read and ski. Other people like Matthew because they know that he is a kind, strong, and nice young man. He is also a good reader and writer. At school, he is a very hard worker every day. He was a person who got bullied at school a lot, but that is done and he is now very liked at school. Matthew is very athletic and very strong.

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Interviews & Reflections From The Students Of 826CHI’s 2017 Pitchfork Music Writing Intensive

by the 826CHI Teen Press Corps

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