9th graders at Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH) began working with author Paul Griffin through Behind the Book more than three months ago. The students read Mr. Griffin’s Ten Mile River and later wrote their own pieces that Behind the Book compiled into an anthology titled Masquerade of Minds. This rainy afternoon, Behind the Book staff and supporters joined teachers and students from CHAH at Random House headquarters to celebrate the release of their anthology. Gathering in the L’Amour room with a beautiful view of Manhattan, the group chose to arrange their chairs in a circle to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere. After each person introduced themselves, a student presented Mr. Griffin with a copy of the long-awaited anthology. Teacher Michael Hirsch then read the book’s preface – which he had written – aloud, describing the creative journey that his class and Mr. Griffin embarked on together when they began their program with Behind the Book back in March.
After Mr. Griffin and several CHAH staff members spoke about the process, the students had the opportunity to flip through Masquerade of Minds and admire the polished final product of their efforts. Two students read their pieces aloud, growing more confident as they went on, and the group then discussed the subject matter and inspiration behind the writing. Both pieces discussed issues such as rape and teen suicide, and the students’ honest take gave a realistic voice to their young characters. Mr. Griffin encouraged the students to keep writing no matter what profession they choose, and even said that he would consider passing on their future writing to his agent!
The group mingled and discussed their feelings about the program, now that they are able to look back from the finish line. One young writer said that he enjoyed learning about the different jobs that are necessary in producing a book, including the role of the writer and publisher. He also shared that he wrote more naturally and discovered a genuine voice while participating in this program. Other students said that their favorite part of the program was meeting Mr. Griffin, and that he surprised them with his charisma.
Random House had generously donated copies of Julia Alvarez’s Before We Were Free and Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy, which the students picked up on their way out. Mr. Hirsch pointed out that by reading these books over the summer, the students can advise CHAH and Behind the Book on which texts they find appealing to their age group, and perhaps these books will be used for future literacy programs at their school. This fall, Behind the Book will continue working with this group of students and will start collaborating with the incoming 9th grade at CHAH. Each year, we will add on another grade until every student at the school is working with Behind the Book.
The leftover copies of Before We Were Free and Mexican WhiteBoy will likely be lining the shelves of CHAH’s library in the fall. For now, here’s to a summer full of good books!