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Acclaimed Local Poet Encourages Summer Reading, Writing

Students interested in writing, reading should consider Pittsburgh’s Young Writer’s Institute, local poet and YWI director Stacey Waite suggests to USC youth. Several spaces may still be available!

Several spaces may still be available in this summer’s Pittsburgh Young Writer’s Institute in Oakland, and with this being acclaimed poet Stacey Waite’s last year as director, it is a definite don’t-miss for young writers in grades 4-12.

When Stacey Waite was in high school, she thought she wrote poetry. But when she studied poetry in English class, the poems she wrote differed from what she learning. 

“Maybe I’m not a poet, ‘cause all these guys are dead, and they just say ‘hark’ and ‘shall’ and things,” she said she thought.

But then in college, she met “real” poets: people who were reading, and writing, and who were actually alive. 

“Poetry isn’t as narrow of a field as people sometimes think it is,” she told USC students when she visited recently.

During the last week of school and the day before she would defend her PhD dissertation on alternative methods of reading and writing instruction, Waite visited several eleventh grade English classes to share some of her work with the students.

Waite has won numerous awards for her works of poetry including her chapbooks “Choke,” which won the 2004 Frank O'Hara Prize for Poetry, and “Love Poem to Androgyny” which won the 2006 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest.

Several years ago, Waite was introduced to Slam Poetry, a lively, expressive art form that combines poetry and dramatic performance. She was soon recruited for Pittsburgh’s “Steel City Slam Team” and travels and competes with the group. 

“I have to make you feel like I’m connecting with you but in my head, I have to be ignoring you,” she said. "‘Cause if I’m in the middle of a poem and think ‘That’s a cool shirt,’ it’s over.”

She shared two performance pieces with the students that recalled challenges of her tomboyish childhood. “Aunt Liz Whittles a Wooden Dollhouse” told the story of a disappointing birthday where Waite received a girly dollhouse hand-made by an aunt. The end of the poem relates the horror of the aunt’s return visit where it is discovered that Waite painted the house in camouflage colors and was using it as a base for her G.I. Joe figurines. 

“On the Occasion of Being Mistaken for a Boy” shared the story of when Waite was the female catcher on an otherwise all-boy little league team and was asked by the umpire, “You got your cup on, son?” Waite’s poems weave humor into the often difficult experience of growing up, and her direct and engaging speaking easily held her audience’s attention.

Students immediately related to Waite’s poetry’s sense of humor and blunt subject matter, but the literary devices and broader questions about humanity are not lost on them. 

“These poems mean something, but they’re also really easy to understand,” said one student. “I would really like to read more poetry like this.”

Waite is also the director of the Pittsburgh Young Writer’s Institute, which will take place this year at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning from July 11-22 for students in grades 4-12. The program runs Monday through Friday during the above dates from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students will have the opportunity to attend workshops on various writing styles or themes, as well as meet with visiting writers, participate in writing groups, and meet individually with adult writing mentors. There may be a few available slots remaining in their Oakland session.

Waite promises a variety of writers and experiences to participants: “If you hate my guts, there will be people there cooler than me,” she said. “If you’d rather cut your arm off than write a poem, this isn’t for you.  But I hope you take away from my visit that poetry doesn’t have to boring, that there is something for everyone. Find something fun to read this summer.”

For more information on the Pittsburgh Young Writer’s Institute, contact the Western Pennsylvania Writer’s Project – Young Writer’s Institute at 412-624-6557 or email wpwp@pitt.edu.

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