Writers! Writers! August's Supporter of the Month is the Helen Zell Writers' Program!

August 3, 2013 | 826 Blog Post

We here at 826michigan are fortunate enough to share a town with the University of Michigan.

UM brings us more, and more impressive, volunteers than we can count: from PhD students who lend their science and math knowledge to our tutoring programs to Residential College undergraduates who bring creative prompts to workshops, and everything in between. (Nothing says that PhD students in science and math can’t be creative, or that RC undergrads can’t rock out some eighth-grade algebra in tutoring!)

One of our most fruitful and most mutually (we hope!) enjoyable relationships with the University of Michigan is with the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, also known as the MFA Program in Creative Writing. The Helen Zell Writers’ Program has helped us out by sponsoring events like our annual festival of student-written plays, supporting MFA students as volunteers, and helping us connect with writers for literary events.

Jia Tolentino is a student in the MFA program who, for the past year, has facilitated our weekly committee meetings for the Best American Nonrequired Reading (an anthology of writing selected in part by students from 826michigan, and highly recommended to all!). We asked Jia a few questions about 826michigan and life in Ann Arbor.

How did you hear about 826michigan and why did you want to become involved?

I’ve read the Best American Nonrequired Reading series since I was a teenager and always thought I would surely end up in the nonprofit world – that was before I decided to give writing a try first – so I’d long been an admirer of the entire 826 umbrella. I also love any community program that combines creative writing with bright young people, so I jumped at the chance to work with the high schoolers on the BANR selection committee. 

What’s your favorite aspect of life in the Ann Arbor area?

I really enjoy the quiet, leafy friendliness of Burns Park, which is where I live, and it’s lovely to be able to bike pretty much anywhere I need to go. And of course all the breweries. 

We also connected with Megan Levad, Assistant Director of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, who over the years has done more for 826michigan than we can really reckon.

How did you hear about 826michigan and why did you want to become involved?

I first heard about 826michigan when I got involved in the first 24-Hour Theatre benefit, in 2007 (I was one of the actors!).  I continued to attend 826michigan events, and after I became the Assistant Director of the MFA Program at Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program), I wanted to help our graduate students get involved more directly with 826michigan — Catherine Calabro (now Program Manager at 826michigan) was volunteering there during her postgraduate fellowship, and she encouraged us to promote 826michigan to the rest of the students.

What’s your favorite aspect of life in the Ann Arbor area?

My favorite thing about life in Ann Arbor is the people — so many people in this area are involved in inspiring, innovative endeavors, whether as artists, entrepreneurs, or activists.  There’s always a new project to check out. (I’m especially excited about The Lunch Room opening soon!)

Thank you very much, Megan and Jia and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program! We, too, love Ann Arbor’s breweries and we too are looking forward to the opening of the Lunch Room. So much in common! We’re proud to share a town with you.

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