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Stories of Impact

Arts and Culture

Youth Uncover the Wonder of Words and Self-Expression with InsideOut Literary Arts

“This program shined a light on what I could do with words. Through writing, I found a new person that I didn’t see before.”

-InsideOut Literary Arts poet

Oak Park, MI (March 2024)“Mr. Justin! Mr. Justin! Mr. Justin!” An all-out chant echoed like a chorus through the Oak Park elementary school hallway, greeting the surprised InsideOut Writer-in-Residence, Justin Grappuso-Cook, as he entered the classroom. On this day, Mr. Grappuso-Cook would lead the students in one of his inspired writing exercises, awakening young minds to the wonders of words. Students were so excited; they couldn't contain themselves.

It’s experiences like these that form the emotional core of a beloved organization in Detroit. Founded in 1995, InsideOut Literary Arts provides metro Detroit youth with high-quality, life-enhancing literary arts experiences. Its Writers-in-Residence program places professional creative writers like Mr. Grappuso-Clark, into classrooms to partner with teachers, serving students on a weekly basis throughout the academic year. In 2024, the Walters Family Foundation is proudly funding writers in residencies in Oak Park schools.

Elementary and Middle School students work in their classrooms with a Writer-In-Residence to build their literacy and creative writing skills.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

“There's something madly magical about a person who is deep in their artistic craft being in front of the classroom,” says Suma Karaman Rosen, Executive Director, InsideOut Literary Arts. “The students are excited to show up, they’re excited to learn. Through writing, they discover that their words have value, that their voice has value, and that they as a person have value.”

Guided by the artistic mentorship of the writer, students explore and celebrate their identities, engage in meaningful dialogue with their peers, and learn how to express themselves more freely and powerfully. By encouraging youth to use writing as a platform, students build academic and critical thinking skills and emboldened social-emotional wellbeing.

“Writing helps these young people process how they are feeling,” says Karaman Rosen. “Whether it’s journaling about a breakup or writing a poem about climate change, it’s a tool that helps them channel their emotions in a difficult world. Writing is something that anyone can do at any time. It doesn't cost very much. And it's always there for you.”

At the end of every InsideOut year, students become published authors. Their work is recognized in an anthology and a public celebration. Friends, family, and students gather to hear the young writers read their work out loud. “The experience can deeply affect the trajectory of their lives,” says Karaman Rosen, as she recalls former students who have come back decades later to reflect on the impact of the program. For many students, InsideOut is the beginning of a new chapter. We can’t wait to see where the story takes them.

Oak Park Students will have their work published through InsideOut Literary Arts.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.