Richmond Young Writers teams up with local artists for bike-themed visual expressions of teen's literary works

Posted by: brad – Sep 16, 2015


With the UCI tournament quickly approaching, most people who live in Richmond have been trying to figure out how they are going to maneuver throughout the city. Suzanne Reamy, arts and writing liaison for Richmond Young Writers, has spent her time on more creative plans.

Richmond Young Writers (RYW), founded in 2009, is dedicated to developing local youth who hope to pursue writing careers or sharpen their skills for fun. Workshops are held for children from ages 9 to 17 at their Carytown location next to Chop Suey Books.

It has been Reamy’s job to come up with creative ideas for the enrolled children to write about, touching on different themed workshops throughout her time with the company. But this go around, she decided that bike themed stories would get the juices flowing.

“Years ago I had gone to a bicycle film fest in Carytown at the Byrd, and it was awesome," She said. "There were some really good film shorts that were really creative and I knew this was fertile ground for our writers.”

After working with 29 of RYW kids, 29 local and national artists will take the stories and turn them into visual pieces along side the written works. The final product will be on display at Artspace inside Plant Zero in RVA's Manchester neighborhood.

This will not be the first time Reamy has chosen to put some of her students work on display. She previously had the desire to hold their fairytale themed workshop stories in a public forum after stopping by the Artspace gallery. “I had gone to the gallery one day, and I thought ‘Why can’t our kids do that? If they can have a show, we can have a show!’- so I got linked up with Artspace that way.” She said. “We hooked the kids up with 10 artists from Artspace and the synergy was amazing.”

After the writing of the short works, the starting point of event began with an artist meetup. All of the children’s pieces were printed and laid out for the artists to choose from, and they were expected to pick a work of fiction that resonated with them. After then meeting with the author of their chosen story, the artist left to work on producing a visual piece that best fit their interpretation.

Artist Christopher Good said, “The moment I put pencil to paper I knew this would be a great piece.”

As a writer, inspiration is wildly important, especially at such a young age. Reamy felt that having adults who work professionally within their field would inspire the young writers to continue to pursue their goals.

“It makes them feel honored that their work is being taken seriously because a professional artist that is illustrating it in whatever their medium is,” said Reamy. “It’s such a good space to be reflective about their lives and that we take them seriously and we take them seriously as writers.”

Richmond Young Writer Maeve Hall, 15, from Bon Air, said, “Throughout the various classes I've taken with RYW's the teachers have tried to instill the following three things into all their students minds; let your first draft suck, we are often our own worst critics, and to never let your pen leave the page. Even though I have learned so much about writing through these classes, still one of my favorite parts of their program is how it is a judgement free zone, and a safe place.”

Reamy said the entirety of the group were elated to have their work showcased. Naturally, the older children were a little more apprehensive due to their own personal critiques, but all were ultimately open to the gallery showing.

A few of the artists from Artspace, though seasoned professionals, were also a little nervous about starting the project. Artist Aimee Joyaux said, “I’ve never actually interpreted or illustrated for a writer so was both daunted and intrigued.”

All, however, were excited to assist. Good was especially interested in the project because of his ties to the sport, calling himself an "avid cyclist." He's normally based on the West Coast, but he returned to RVA for the project as well as the UCI race.

"When I found out about this project I was super stoked about having a chance to participate, and have some tie-in back home and to the 2015 races," he said.

Good was also excited because he was assigned to work with a teen from the Richmond Cycling Corps, an all-Black team of cyclists form Richmond East End's Armstrong High School.

"I was completely sold,” he said.

Reamy spoke of the astonishing level of talent that the kids possess, and that she has to let their writing speak for itself. Joyaux said, “I loved the poem I received, absolutely loved it. I was amazed it was written by a 14-year-old and spent some time trying to decide if it was a boy or girl - it is written from the point of view of a young man but has a sensitivity more akin to a young woman - I loved that about it.”

The children were are all hopeful that people will be able to take something positive away from their pieces. Whether it be the inspiration to write, or to present your work to the public despite your nerves, they all want the audience will be pleased.

Richmond Young Writer Alex Wright (pictured above with Artist Johnny Hott), 11, from Glenn Allen, said, “I hope people will be inspired or at least enjoy reading it. Everyone has something that they want to do, but sometimes something holds them back. It could be a disability, not having enough money or not feeling encouraged by their family/friends/community. I want people to feel like they can follow their dreams no matter what's stacked up against them.”

Despite the age gaps, many adults would agree that the generations to come need to be set up for success. Reamy echoed this sentiment, saying the RYW program does a lot to aid in skill building.

“I wanted the kids to have an opportunity to collaborate," she said. "Because they’re the future.”

The artists involved all agreed that a lot of their motivation for signing up for this project was to do just that: inspiring confidence into for the kids, as well as providing inspiration for others.

Richmond Artist Bizhan Khodabandeh and RYW Makayla Talley

In addition to providing ample positivity for the students involved, the artist also want to be a beacon of light for the community.

“The whole point of Richmond Young Writers is just empowering these kids to be creative and to trust themselves and to share what they’re doing,” Reamy said.

Opening night for the event is September 18th from 7-9 in the main hallway of Plant Zero. Artist Dana Frostick said, “Artspace gallery will be installing a new exhibit during the week of the race, so it was a great way for us to have a visible presence in the Plant Zero Hallways that week.”

Words by Taneasha White