Recess Blog

College Sponsors Teen Lit Fest

By Rob Schroeder
April 19, 2017

For the second straight year, Chicago teens will be diving into literacy, and adults aren’t allowed in the room.

The teen-organized ChiTeen Lit Fest takes place April 21-22 at Harold Washington Library and Columbia College Chicago, bringing together young writers, poets, artists, lyricists and media creators from around the city for a weekend of studying, producing and sharing literary works of all genres.  The UIC College of Education is a co-sponsor of the event.

“Those of us from the College are volunteering, and the headliners are adults, but outside of that this is all about writing from the teen perspective,” said Rachel Gruen, PhD Literacy, Language and Culture student.  “It’s their programming, their event.”

Teens perform a spoken word piece at the 2016 ChiTeen Lit Fest.

Teen organizers are aiming to double attendance to 600 this year.  The event begins with an exclusive preview event at the new American Writers Museum, slated to open in May.  Headliners for the weekend include the Sun Bros, who create anime-type graphic novels; author and poet Nate Marshall, who will be examining the intersection of poetry and hip hop; Megan Stielstra, author of “Once I was Cool” and a performer and essayist; Eric May, author of “Bedrock Faith;” and Tara Mahadevan, a freelance hip-hop journalist focusing on music discovery and emerging artists.

“A lot of workshops are focused on writing that is not just text,” Gruen said. “Teens will be looking at graffiti as writing as resistance, writing through gaming, writing and self care.”

Throughout the school year, teens and the adult advisory board have designed outreach to CPS schools to bring teens from all over the city to the fest.  Lead-up events have taken place in schools around the city, and the adult advisory board worked with teachers to develop curriculum leading up to the event.  Gruen says this advocacy is key for students who may not normally participate in events like the fest.

Nate Phillips, PhD, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, says the College’s sponsorship of the event is key to the College’s urban-focused mission.

“Young people can see the College of Education as a place for them, and UIC in general,” Phillips said. “We want to make a connection from our work and the UIC Center for Literacy to teens’ writing.”

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