Stratford Writers' Room

"More Than Just Art": Stratford Students Express Themselves in Writers' Room and New Book
Posted on 03/19/2024
Student at Microphone

Stratford student at microphone

Stratford STEM Magnet High School students regularly put themselves out there in the school’s Writers’ Room, where teachers and mentors help them develop their voices as they share personal stories and insights through the written and spoken word.

Now their work is out there in another form with the publication of a new anthology of the students’ writing.

Unstuck in Time, published by Franklin-based Flowerpot Press, gathers pieces by about 20 Stratford students who have worked with their teachers and Southern Word, a Nashville-based nonprofit that places writing and music mentors in schools and community organizations.

In 2022, Stratford and Southern Word opened Nashville’s first Writers’ Room next to the library on the East Nashville school’s second floor. It’s a place where students can go to write, collaborate, edit, perform, or just relax.

“The Writers’ Room, which we founded in the early days coming back from COVID, has been a way to connect student writers with artists from our community,” said Elijah Ammen, an English teacher at Stratford. “It's been a way for teenagers to process all the joy, sorrow, and complications of life in a supportive and encouraging environment. two students at microphone

“The poems, music, videos, photography, and more that have come out of the Writers’ Room are more than just art – they are students finding who they are and talking about who they want to be. I'm incredibly proud of our students in this anthology, as well as the hundreds of other kids who have been able to express themselves through working with Southern Word in the Writers’ Room.”

Henry Cervantes-Cruz, a junior who co-edited Unstuck in Time, said the Writers’ Room, which he discovered through a club that meets there, has become an important place for him.

“It’s always there if I want to work on something,” he said.

Sharing Their Work

On the last day of February, Henry and several other students gathered in the Writers’ Room to perform some of their work for their teachers, mentors, parents, and Flowerpot Press representatives. Vulnerable but strong, each student shared experiences and thoughts that have helped make them who they are in stories and poems about Stratford marching band experiences, challenging friendships, the character Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, and much more.

Stratford student in writers room at microphone

Henry shared “I Cope with the Holidays By...,” the piece he contributed to the anthology. It’s about escaping awkward family interactions through video games, which he plays frequently. (“Sonic the Hedgehog” is a particular favorite, among other platform and story-driven games.)

Video games “give me reassurance,” Henry writes.

“They showed me a running blue rodent, facing horrors. He never gave up, so I never did. A yellow mouse showed me teamwork, a red plumber showed me how to beat the odds, an orange fox taught me to believe in myself.”

“What makes me want to write sometimes, and especially present (my work), is this feeling of emotional connection I have to my writing,” Henry said in a conversation the week after the event. “Whenever I make something, I feel a sense of pride. That’s my work; I’m putting it out there. Of course, I have a sense of nervousness, but I’ve learned to feel great about myself. Not everyone can do that. I did that.”

Benjamin Smith, executive director of Southern Word, said the anthology and the Writers’ Room grew out of a “deep partnership” between Stratford and the nonprofit that has given students new opportunities for expression, growth, self-awareness, and understanding.

"When we can develop dynamic collaborations,” Smith said, “we open new worlds of possibility for the potential of our young people.”

Read More Student Writing

You can download Unstuck in Time, the anthology of Stratford STEM Magnet High School students’ writing, at Southern Word’s website.

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