At this year’s Printer’s Row Lit Fest, 826CHI is releasing This Is What It Feels Like to Exist, the latest publication from the students of Teen Writers Studio, a year-long creative workshop in which high school students meet twice a month to engage with our city’s creative community, write together, discover new contemporary writers, and publish a collection of writing every June. What does it feel like to exist? According to the writers of the 826CHI Teen Writers Studio, existing feels like belting “I Want You Back” with your mom on the way home from violin lessons, like catching and releasing butterflies, like being mesmerized by someone’s laugh. It feels like making new friends, losing a loved one, and hoping to be accepted by a new country and new city.
In the book’s foreword, poet Tara Betts describes being gripped by sentences, held close and shaken as students’ worlds unfolded before her. “Yes, young people may write about losing a grandparent, growing up in the city, the being in school blues, and things that are perfectly normal for any young person to write about, and they should.” These young authors are using their voices on the page to explore their identities, to create a space for themselves for sharing their opinions, frustrations, and pride.
Every page in This Is What It Feels Like to Exist sets the stage for a new perspective. Alongside our student authors, you will relish in the joy of being greeted by Abby’s kitten “Tiger”, grieve alongside the community “with sidewalk vigils and a teddy bear / tied to a tree”, and find yourself rendered breathless by the landscape of our city, finding home in the ways its movement punctuates your day. High School senior Kyla, in her title poem “Seeing My Neighborhood from the Window Seat,” writes:
“This part of the city has no light
And we are forgotten
And from above the darkness swallowed us
Can’t tell whether or not it is water or land
Or a hole in the city
And this is what it feels like to exist
Without anyone seeing you”
This collection of stories, memoirs, and poems will having you looking at our city and the experiences of the youth who call it home with new eyes, seeing the dark spots of these students’ realities, anxieties, and fears, and their glowing pride in their city, their loved ones, and themselves. Betts characterizes this collection perfectly when she states, “Within the flip of a page or two, I was wiping the screen that I imagined in my head clean.” With every piece, This Is What It Feels Like to Exist takes you somewhere new. There is no one way to feel like you exist, and together these young writers capture just how expansive these feelings are.
Please join us for the Teen Writers Studio Release at Printer's Row Lit Fest on Saturday, June 8th from 2pm - 3pm and for our Teen Writers Studio Community Celebration at 826CHI on Friday, June 14th from 5pm - 7pm, and celebrate with us this momentous collection and the teenage writers behind it.