Make the Sky a Garden—October Newsletter 2017

Letter from the Executive Director 

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Poet Danez Smith is a St. Paul native who is having quite the year. Their poetry book, Don’t Call Us Dead, is a finalist for the National Book Awards, and is a powerful, complex, and moving collection. Here’s an excerpt from their poem, “dinosaurs in the hood”:

& no one kills the black boy. & no one kills the black boy. & no one kills the black boy. besides, the only reason i want to make this is for the first scene anyway: little black boy on the bus with his toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless

his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there.



In that poem, Smith reimagines the movie, Jurassic Park. This version is centered on kids that look like Danez, but instead of playing into the typical Hollywood trope that puts them up for extinction, this version would be about survival: survival against the dinosaurs, of course, but also against all the other forces that we know threaten young people of color. Smith’s poetry is much like their last line of that poem: “possible, pulsing, & right there.”

We at MOI could think of no better guest author for this year’s Young Authors’ Book Project than Danez Smith. Smith grew up in St. Paul and attended St. Paul public schools, so it is fitting that they will be returning with the MOI Crew to support this year’s YABP partner—the 5th graders at John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary in East St. Paul.

For YABP, MOI staff and volunteers will go to classes twice a week throughout the school year to support the students in writing poetry, personal narratives, and a variety of other types of creative writing. Students will create a portfolio of work, then edit and revise their pieces to be included in a published anthology. Smith will join the ranks of Marlon James and Kao Kalia Yang, our previous guest authors, and will visit the class throughout theyear to speak about their work. The project will culminate with Smith writing the foreword to the anthology.

As we embark on our third year of the Young Authors’ Book Project, MOI is reminded of how lucky we are in the Twin Cities to have such a vibrant literary community supporting us and our students. We eagerly head back into classrooms, ready to help another class of young authors put pen to paper, and we are thrilled to have Danez and their words by our side.


i did not come here to sing you blues.

lately, i open my mouth


& out comes marigolds, yellow plums.

i came to make the sky a garden.


For all our young authors who use their words to make the sky a garden,


Porthole into Programming


The leaves may be falling but new programs are sprouting at MOI! Our first official day of the Young Authors’ Book Project kicks off at John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary on Tuesday, November 7! We hope you’ll join us for Tuesday or Thursday classroom sessions from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm as we support two classes of 5th graders in becoming published authors alongside Danez Smith in a paperback anthology of their own design. Email our Program Director, Cross, for more information on getting involved or joining our carpool. Be sure to check out our work from previous school years!

A special shout-out to our After-School Homework Help volunteers who are delivering an average of 120 hours of free tutoring every week! That’s $3,000 of free tutoring for our students and families! Enrollment and attendance are at all-time highs, thanks to our dedicated corps of volunteers willing to plumb the depths of spelling lists and quadratic equations alike.

The Storytelling & Bookmaking Field Trip crew is clipping right along, too! Stop in a few minutes early and check out the week’s latest publications in our front window, featuring the art of our awesome volunteer illustrators and the remarkably creative characters of local elementary school authors. Poisonhead is especially charismatic.

Finally, we hope that you will set sail with us on our first-ever Personal Statement Dayadventure! We are recruiting high school juniors and seniors seeking assistance on their personal statements for college applications, as well as enthusiastic volunteers to join us on Saturday, October 28 at Roosevelt High School from 10 am to 2 pm. 

Ever wanted to go to Hip Hop High? Catch you back here next month with an update on MOI’s new creative writing partnership with High School for Recording Arts!

In the News

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St. Thomas makes college more accessible.” MOI is holding its first-ever Personal Statement Day to make college more accessible Saturday, October 28!

Give to the Max!

Join MOI on November 16 for Give to the Max Day. As usual, your donations will go toward keeping our programs free and fun!

Student Spotlight

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Recently, MOI hosted a fundraising event featuring Marlon James and three longtime After-School Homework Help attendees. The siblings each read original works written at MOI and they all blew everyone out of the water. Here’s one of their pieces:

Best Person Ever
I am as sneaky as a shadow ninja.
I am as genius as a working computer.
I am as jump as the Mario brothers.
I am as strong as a bull.
I am as chill as a starfish.
I am as amazed as Einstein.