Most teens who come through the library doors think of writing as something they have to do for school, which is exactly the mindset that Armena Ketchum, the teen library associate at Austin branch library, 5615 W Race Ave., said that she seeks to break. 

“Sometimes, teens get opportunities to write only when they’re told to,” Ketchum said. “But we are trying to engage teens to just let go. Just to express their vision.”

On Oct. 3 and Oct. 17, Ketchum held two workshops designed to encourage teens to write what comes to mind, without worrying about what it looks like or even whether it even makes sense. The idea, Ketchum said, was to get them comfortable with expressing their thoughts, feelings and ideas on paper. And she encouraged them to keep writing on their own on regular basis.

The workshops were part of Write Across Chicago, a city-wide initiative designed to encourage teens and adults in all parts of the city to write and share their writing with others. While the initiative only runs through October, Ketchum said she intended to do more workshops once a month in the future.

Write Across Chicago is the brainchild of Pete Zemelman, co-director of the Illinois Writing Project. His organization works to promote writing and literacy throughout Chicago area and northern Illinois. 

The organization teamed up with the Chicago Public Library system, Chicago Bar Association and other organizations to encourage libraries, schools and other organizations to hold writing groups, workshops and open mic sessions in as many parts of the city as possible.

As part of its most recent renovation, Austin branch library got a dedicated teen area and a teen librarian. As Ketchum noted, the area was still a bit of a work and progress. In the long run, the library wants to do more to make the section distinct and beef up teen-orientated programming.

 When asked her experience in writing, Ketchum said that, while she was attending University of Wisconsin-Madison, she got an opportunity to write a column for one of the college newspapers. Originally, it was a simple question and answer type feature, but it grew – and it gave her an opportunity to explore her potential as a writer the way she never could before.

“No one ever pushed me to do writing or journaling until I started working for the newspaper,” Ketchum recalled.


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...