Get a sneak peek at Rashawnda Williams’ introduction to “In The Light,” 826DC’s second-ever anthology!
Introduction to “In The Light”
By Rashawnda Williams
Editor of To My Kin: Stories and Poems Written by Youth on Black Joy.
Several years ago, I was a very young writer sitting in the same seats as these young authors, attempting to figure out how to express myself. Some of my fondest memories include taking the metro on the green line to the Columbia Heights area, where 826DC is located. This was back when the 826DC storefront was filled with different mythical creatures and was known as the Museum of Unnatural History. It was at this location, where I attended weekly writing workshops, that I discovered my voice and developed a passion for poetry I never knew I had. I was able to go from not even identifying as a writer to a published author at the young age of 14. These were powerful positive experiences for me during my formative years. As I continue to reflect about that time, I am flooded with memories of participating at the National Book festival and reading one of my poetry pieces alongside Dave Eggers! I will never forget that my reading brought tears to my mother’s eyes and to many others in the crowd. It was such an honor to participate at this grand festival. However, it never would have been possible without my affiliation with 826DC and Dave Eggers.
826DC, for many years, felt like more than just a safe space; it was a third space—an intersection between school and home. The 826 network became an extended family to me, and, after graduate school, I went on to work for 826 Boston, which allowed me to inspire young writers like myself. I can relate to how these young writers must feel, becoming full blown published authors at their age. That is such a major accomplishment! Speaking now as an adult, it is a reminder of how life brings things full circle.
As we continue to live in unprecedented times, it is critical that our youth have spaces and opportunities to express themselves and share their truths. It is not often as adults we hear directly from youth and it is a privilege to read their writing and delve into their experiences. Washington, DC and the youths’ experiences coming from all over the city, from a variety of backgrounds, is reflected as a major theme throughout this anthology. As a native Washingtonian myself, I have a great sense of pride belonging to a city with such a distinct and diverse culture.
DC has a heartbeat of art and culture that extends from Go-Go music to Mumbo sauce to H Street festivals to cherry blossoms to row houses to museums and all the way to monuments. This is some of the glue that makes our city such a special place! I have 826DC to thank for helping me as a young writer, who learned to capture and express these cultural experiences through words. There is a sense of pride and feeling of empowerment that comes with being able to articulate and create vibrant images of moments that have shaped your identity. This collection of writing will make you see the world through a totally different lens and perspective. These youth have been historically excluded from the canon of literature, so this anthology is rare and very much needed.
Most importantly, their words are the cultural threads that represent the vibrancy of our city.
Within these pages, you will hear students share where they are from and their hopes and dreams. You will laugh; you will cry. From E.A.’s Where I’m From, claiming proudly being from “dreams super loud,” to the excitement of Jenny R. meeting her little sister for the first time in the story, A Boy? A Girl? She effortlessly transitions from English to Spanish. It is important for her to know she can do that and that bilingual writing is valued. I was able to smile at the quirkiness and creativity of I.E.’s Foofy the Intergalactic Kitty. I felt connected to London H. in his Talk the Talk story as he learns to embrace his identity and not label his blackness as monolithic. Bernaiah J. writes about the Anacostia river and its toxic waste, which inspires a call to action. Lakayla C. speaks out about her feelings towards gentrification. She made me pause, as I related to her feelings of watching her city change before her eyes.
Further, this anthology is not only humorous, it also offers a little educational history. For example, it explains the reason our city is coined “Chocolate City” and the history of Go-Go music. These questions are answered in essays by Ambriah J. and E’niya W. I felt the strongest emotions while reading Joseph B.’s My Grandma and Me; he grappled with her loss to cancer and he continues to hope for a cure.
I had that same hope, as his story reminded me of my late father’s battle with cancer. I was also able to express my feelings around this thanks to the 826DC staff and the then Executive Director Joe Callahan. There were moments like these throughout reading the anthology that I was again reminded of the power of writing! I was reminded how it can be used as a vehicle for healing, social change, and empowerment! This is exactly what these young authors have accomplished.
There is an anonymous handwritten note in the book, where a student asks the question: how do you know when you’ve succeeded at something? They answered, “when you feel accomplished, when you feel proud, and when you can celebrate.” This perfectly captures how these young authors should feel. I am proud to feel connected to them and excited knowing that you as a reader will also feel the same.
“In The Light” will be available at 826DC’s storefront, Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Company, on May 5th, 2022! In the meantime, you can preorder this stunning anthology at bit.ly/InTheLightBook.