Today, 826CHI proudly releases, We Are Worth More Than the Universe, an anthology of writing from our summer 2018 Middle School Writers Camp and High School Writers Camp. In this collection of poems, stories, and essays, the students of 826CHI offer suggestions to school lunch staff, contemplate the many facets of identity, and share their pick for the best expensive steakhouse in the city (Swift & Sons). While the collection is a sampling platter as surprising and varied as the students themselves, all of the pieces share a boldness. These intrepid young writers invite us to explore the farthest edges of their known universes by sampling new food, new fears, and new genres.
This past summer in Eat Your Words, our culinary-themed writing camp for middle school students, writers ages 11-14 from across the city examined their relationship with food. In "Where I'm From," Lauren S., grade 8, writes "I am from Pad Thai and Calamari. From the women who made me the beautiful dancer I am now. Because of them, I love Pad Thai and Calamari."
Not only do these students reflect on their personal and cultural histories with food, but they also turn their sights to the present as they describe the moment of eating foods both delicious and abhorrent in dazzling sensory detail. In "Chocolate Chip Flavor" by Nico. C., grade 8, the poem's speaker contemplates a chocolate chip with a display of similes as rich as the chocolate itself.
"As rich as Prince Harry.
As dry as the Sahara Desert.
Yet it still melts in my hand.
Oh, chocolate chip.
Now I know
Where the term “bittersweet” comes from."
Meanwhile, in the bluntly titled, "This is My Nightmare," Scarlett L., grade 6, writes of her lunch meat, "The beef is as gross as an old sponge that was left outside."
Equally evocative is the writing of our High School Writers Camp, who experiment with genres ranging from futuristic screenplay to satire to Poe-inspired horror story. The students push themselves out of their comfort zones in both form and subject, daring to confront deeply personal topics like anxiety, depression, and feeling otherized.
In his biting satire, "Women's Beauty Standards," Isaiah O., grade 9, critiques society for pressuring us to be perfect and perpetuating the belief that you have to be conventionally attractive to be worthy of love.
"Are you not pretty enough?
Are you constantly looking in the mirror and cringing at the sight of that monstrosity staring back at you? Say no more!
Head to your nearest plastic surgeon and ask him to change any part you don't like about yourself! While you're at it, why not just have him change everything about you?"
These young writers are able to engage critically with the media and examine the root causes of their own insecurities. These high school writers defy form and genre to defy those who dare to define and belittle them. In "The Elements of War," Hannah H., grade 11, presents us with a war-torn fantasy word where young people alone hold the keys to peace and salvation. A universe away, back on Earth, in "The Comfort a Child Gives" by Alex M., grade 12, a young single-mother comes to terms with the fact that she "might not be the ideal mother....but I promise I will never let you go." The narrator finds strength in herself to keep going. "A mother, with or without the help of a father, will love her child unconditionally."
We Are Worth More Than the Universe follows writers on journeys through uncharted territory. Pick up a copy at the Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co. on 1276 N. Milwaukee Avenue, and let these middle and high school writers inspire you to lean into the unknown and trust yourself, as that is the only way to grow. As Mercury R., grade 11, writes in their poem, "From a Loner to a Soulmate,"
"Trust in yourself, trust me,
that you don't hurt me or anyone.
That you, me,
we can be free of the fearful voids that hold us.
Trust you are worth more than the world.
Trust we are worth more than the universe."