Wisdom from the author Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes Uses Poetry to Connect Students to the Harlem Renaissance, Identity and Dreams

In her book, One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, award-winning, Harlem-born author Nikki Grimes features poetry by Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Clara Ann Thompson and other influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The book is a conversation between Grimes and the writers featured as she employs the Golden Shovel poetry form. As described by Grimes in the book, “The idea of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original…you arrange that line word by word in the right margin.”

The sixth-grade scholars in Mr. McCoy’s four Black History classes at Eagle Academy II in BedStuy, Brooklyn hit the ground running this fall as they immediately delved into One Last Word and researched the writers featured in the book. In preparation for Nikki’s visit the scholars wrote letters introducing themselves, their passions and interests to her.

Once some writing was underway, Behind the Book’s Teaching Artist, Candice, facilitated a workshop in which scholars created a mural inspired by Romare Bearden’s: The Block. The Block is a tribute to Bearden’s street in Harlem and the scholars each re-created a section of their own block showing barbershops, stores, churches, grocery stores and other symbols of their communities. Candice hung the scholar’s artwork all together so that Nikki was able to visualize the important elements of their neighborhoods. 


Scholars begin writing their own Golden Shovel poems using the first line of Georgia Douglas Johnson’s poem: Calling Dreams. 

The​ ​right​ ​to​ ​make​ ​my​ ​dreams​ ​come​ ​true

I ask, nay, I demand of life,
Nor shall fate’s deadly contraband
Impede my steps nor countermand.

Too long my heart against the ground
Has beat the dusty years around,
And now, at length I rise, I wake!
And stride into the morning-break!

The scholars wrote about their dreams and explored having to support family, going to college, jobs and different careers. Each scholar’s poem was embedded with their passion, interests and courage to share fears and obstacles. Mr. McCoy assisted the scholars in their writing process and once everyone had a first draft completed, Behind the Book volunteers came into their classrooms to serve as Writing Coaches. The scholars were thrilled to meet the volunteers and hear about their work and interests, while also sharing about themselves. The Writing Coaches helped get scholars from a first or second draft to nearly their final draft by assisting them to find creative word choices and to help in deepening certain concepts and narratives.

The weeks of work culminated in Nikki Grimes Day held at Eagle Academy II on October 23rd. Grimes spent one hour in a large group setting talking to the scholars about her life, work and influences.  Grimes was very open in talking about the way in which racism, poverty and homelessness had made her young life painful in many ways, but that the role of poetry in her life helped her navigate difficult moments. Grimes shared, “Nothing is more healing than poetry.”

Grimes read selections from several of her books, including One Last Word and Garvey’s Choice. The latter is a book written in verse about a young boy whose own aspirations and interests conflict with his distant father’s interests, and the way in which music allows him to overcome the pain of bullying and not being understood by family. Several scholars wrote about how they are viewed on the outside (“thug” or “troublemaker”) versus who they really are (“lover of family” or “scientist”) in their Golden Shovel poems, making Garvey’s Choice particularly relevant to their lived experiences.

After the larger assembly setting, scholars were divided into several smaller groups with some of them being chosen to share their original Golden Shovel poems with Grimes and their peers. This was also an opportunity for them to ask her questions in a smaller and more intimate setting. The questions asked were thoughtful with some scholars asking where she went to college and what inspires her to write and others asking about how she would summarize her life in three sentences and how did she cope and succeed in spite of having “a target on her back” (something she referenced during her talk about the struggle of being black in America). 

As is the case with all Behind the Book programs, every scholar received their own copy of One Last Word that was autographed by Grimes herself. The scholars were enthused to have met Nikki Grimes and hear her speak about her work. The program not only gave them this opportunity to connect with an author, but also a chance to explore their own identity and aspirations through writing poetry. 

Bring a Book to Life With Us – November 9

Please join us for our annual benefit event, generously hosted by Youth, INC at New York City’s Grand Hyatt hotel!

We’d like to thank the following sponsors:

The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp
Sidley Austin
Penguin Random House
Allen & Overy LLP
Threadstone LP

We’d like to also thank our event co-chairs, the Behind the Book Board of Directors, Brian Goldrich, Susies Marples, and Muffie Meyer.

And we’d like to thank the Intrepid for lending us items for the event!

To purchase your ticket, visit us here:




Meet the Author: Paul Griffin

Paul Griffin is the award-winning author of middle school and young adult books including Ten Mile River, The Orange Houses, When Friendship Followed Me Home, and Burning Blue. During the twenty year period between graduating from Dartmouth and Penguin Random House publishing Paul’s “first” book he worked several jobs – including as a butler, a bartender, a cook, an EMT, dog trainer and a driver. These and other personal experiences have greatly informed Griffin’s body of work as he draws upon the people and places around him.

Paul’s most difficult and rewarding work was teaching, which he continues to do when he’s not writing. Griffin is passionate about helping young people learn how to tell their personal stories, working with both Behind the Book and Literacy for Incarcerated Teens.

Paul’s latest book Saving Marty was published in September.

Behind the Book: How did you initially get involved with Behind the Book?

Paul: In 2008-09 was at Brooklyn Book Festival and was approached by Jo [Umans] about Behind the Book. I thought it sounded really good. I also was already doing work in schools so the programming at Behind the Book sounded familiar. Since 1989 I worked for the Creative Arts Team out of NYU and I was in the Conflict Resolution Unit. We worked with schools and dealt with issues such as school shootings, HIV, domestic violence, bullying, teen sex, gang reconciliation.

BtB: What does it mean to you to be able to interact with young readers and help them develop a love for reading/writing?

Paul: I am actually less concerned with the reading than I am about storytelling. I tell the kids that it is critical to be able to tell your story I tell kids to “give me you in 2 [minutes]”. You always have to be able to tell your story whether it’s to talk to a judge, when you’re looking for a job, when you’re going to school. I ask them to explain: what is your dream and what inspired your dream. A lot of the boys say basketball and I ask them to show me why you like it—tell me something about your love of basketball that will make me remember you.

BtB: Were you always a reader/writer? Was there a particular person or book that inspired you to love reading/writing?

Paul signs copies of his book for students at DeWitt Clinton High School

Paul: I was also really inspired by movies. I remember in 1976 Rocky came out and everyone was so excited—my mother’s side is Italian—because this was an accurate representation of a guy who could be from the block. That was when I was starting writing. I realized that writing can change your life—you can write yourself to freedom. I was writing scenes and made little films with my grandfather. We would have about four minutes of film and I had to figure out how to write a story from the scenes we had, which was a great way to learn. I also learned how to edit from making these little films. I loved Invisible Man – thought it was a revolutionary way to tell a story. I also really liked the Star Wars book based on the movie. I love sports books like Baseball When the Grass Was Real. Also, my father was an English teacher and once and a while he would give me something really good to read.

BtB: What advice would you give to our young students as they work their way to a
published piece?

Paul: Most important thing is to celebrate everyone’s success—you have to be happy for
anyone in your field who finds success as if it was you. [When you’re writing] don’t put yourself into the book. Write about the story. If you get hit you just have to get back up— if you give it up you’ll never be happy. Don’t focus on the results. Focus on the process. Don’t allow critics to frame what you write—stay off the internet. [Writing] is a zen thing—you have to do it everyday. Write about the people you love. Surrender to the people in your story and let the outcome be what it is. Your editor is always right; they will be with characters as much as you will be so listen to him/her—it’s a team process. Make it less about you, surrender to the characters, listen to your editor and be open hearted about—make it about what the story is.

BtB: What’s a fun fact about yourself? Do you have any interesting or unique hobbies?

Paul: I pole-vaulted in college. I wanted to get a really good education and Dartmouth had the first undergraduate film school and to get in I really wanted to distinguish myself.

BtB: What’s your favorite book/short story that you’ve written and why?

Paul: My favorite things are those that I worked on with an editor—I like to have the company of an editor. They make my writing so much better.

BtB: What authors inspire you and why?

Paul: Current ones: Jacqueline Woodson, I loved her book Feathers. The writing was so
incredibly beautiful—this was a book that proved narrative fiction can be poetic and still be tight and have a fast paced story; Susan Collins—I thought The Hunger Games was amazing in that it created a movement—that book did a lot for young women, it was huge to have a big, big story that feature a young woman and it really changed what books could do; I recently read a debut See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng—it had such beautiful writing about a young boy, it didn’t feel like it was written by an adult but wasn’t cutesy; Lauren Wolk—her first book Wolf Hollow was compared to To Kill a Mockingbird – she is such an empathetic person and her new one Beyond the Bright Sea, which came out this spring, is so good it’s timeless; Matt de la Pena’s first book still grabs me – it felt like he was so free and his character Sticky was so engaging and endearing. I read Old Man and the Sea at least once every year.

Paul chats with students one-on-one.

BtB: How do you narrow down what you’re going to write about? Do have always know before you start or do you figure it out along the way?

Paul: I used to try and think about what story could sell but not anymore. Now I just follow the characters and let the story happen from them. My characters come from the people in my life. I write about people I hang out with and what they all have in common; they are all people that confront challenges and even if they don’t overcome them they can still find hope. I try to focus on my formative relationships. These are the people that you are spending your time with and they will give you the most [inspiration]. I always start with the character and never plan plot out.

BtB: Do you have any kind of writing process?

Paul: I write everyday. I wake up early at 3:15 am and write (I’m usually at my desk by 3:30 am). It’s nothing fancy. But this is the most peaceful part of my day. I like to write in the dark. I usually get about six hours of writing, depending on the rest of my schedule for the day. I always read at night, even if it’s just fifteen minutes.

BtB: Anything new in the works?

My new book came out September 19: Saving Marty. It’s a middle grade novel about a pig that thinks he’s a dog, but it’s really about a kid who needs a friend; he is looking for his father who died before he was born. I also have one coming out in the spring called Skyjacked. It is a YA novel for Scholastic’s Clubs and Fairs, which puts out different versions of books geared towards kids who aren’t big readers—I love working with them.

This guest blog was penned by Sarah Jane Weill, who will graduate from Bowdoin this spring! She spent her summer with us and a bunch of authors, in between playing competitive field hockey. 

One Partner = 10,000 Books!

Thanks to a partnership with KPMG Families For Literacy (KFFL), we are now giving away more than 10,000 books per year!

If you’ve been following our programs for some time, you know that we commit to giving each of our students the book they study with us. Though we’ve generally given more than one per student, never before have we been able to reach numbers this high. With approximately 2,000 students to whom we distributed these 10,000 books, we’ve been giving an average of five books per student! This way, we’re enhancing not just their classroom experience but their out-of-school hours and even their summers.

KPMG Families For Literacy was founded in 2008 to address a pressing need in low-income communities – books! A lack of books in the home is one reason low-income children can lag behind their peers from more wealthy households. KFFL partnered with First Book, a national organization that offers free or deeply discounted books to schools and literacy nonprofits like Behind the Book.

KFFL also had the important directive to involve not just the staff of KPMG, but their families – spouses, children, and even KPMG “alumni.” This year, the organization is chaired by Debbie Ozanus and Lisa Arnig, who are married to KPMG’s Deputy Chairman/COO and Vice Chair of Market Development, respectively. Their outreach to the extended KPMG family has helped grow the program significantly – KFFL is now active in each of KPMG’s 100+ offices worldwide!

We caught up with Anthony Skoda, our main contact in the New York office and a proud dad to a pre-school-aged son. Early on, professionals from KPMG who were involved with Behind the Book noted our focus on schools in low-income communities. Because KFFL’s efforts focus on distributing as many books as possible to students that really need them, they felt that we were the perfect partner to help. We’re one organization with 16 school partners AND we deeply love books! So of course we agree. According to Anthony, “being able to work directly with so many schools that desperately need books has been really a win – win.”

We are now lucky to count ourselves one of the largest partners of KFFL’s New York office. We bring books to schools, and have invited representatives from all our school partners to visit our office for bookfairs. They love to stop by and pick and choose what they want and – let’s be honest – we love stacking books high all across our conference table and through our shelves! The photos you see here are all teachers and librarians at the book fair here at our the Behind the Book office.









This partnership has been great for us on so many levels, but we’re proud to say the great people of KFFL have walked away with one important new skill. Per Anthony, “We are able to see which books are appealing to the larger student population and which are real hits within the classroom.” We hope that new knowledge makes his and his colleagues’ families love this partnership as much as we do!

Thanks Anthony and Anelise, and Glen and Cristina, and everyone at KFFL for all that you do for NYC’s kids!

Meet the Author and Illustrator: Selina Alko

One of the best things about our jobs here at Behind the Book is getting to meet and speak with the authors behind the stories that we love. We think you feel the same way, so we’re profiling some of our amazing partners. We hope you’ll follow along to learn more about the people we get to work with.

First up is Selina Alko, author of several acclaimed books including: The Case for Loving, I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother, Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, and B is forBrooklyn.

Her books are colorful, optimistic and purposeful, dealing often with themes of inclusion and diversity. The Case for Loving has been a huge hit here at Behind the Book, with at least five different programs based on the book last school year.

The Case for Loving details the story of Loving vs. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that ultimately led to the landmark decision to legalize interracial marriage. The book received three starred reviews and honors including The NAIBA Carla Cohen Award for Free Speech. Together with her husband, illustrator Sean Qualls, Alko has impressively managed to introduce young kids to issues relating to human rights and the Supreme Court. It was the couple’s first collaborative project.

Selina currently lives in Brooklyn with Sean and their two children, and most recently celebrated the publication of Why Am I Me? – a book by Paige Britt that she and Sean collaborated to illustrate.

Behind the Book: How did you initially get involved with Behind the Book?

Selina: I think it was about four or five years ago that I did my first visit using my book B is for Brooklyn with kindergarteners. I was thrilled at the opportunity to be in the classroom setting with authentic Brooklyn kids learning their letters and using my book to help them connect to their neighborhood.

BtB: What does it mean to you to be able to interact with young readers and help them develop a love for reading and writing?

Selina: It keeps it REAL. It is so important for me to get out of my insular world (my studio, where I write and paint alone) to interact with young readers. It also helps me feel more balanced and keeps me in touch with how kids think and act.

BtB: Were you always a reader/writer? Was there a particular person or book that inspired you to love reading/writing?

Selina: Yes, I’ve always been an avid reader and storyteller. I consumed everything Judy Blume in my tween years, and adored Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss in my picture book days.

BtB: What advice would you give to our young student writers as they work their way to a published piece?

Selina: Write what is closest to your heart. What do you care about? What excites you? What makes you feel sad?

BtB: Do you have any interesting or unique hobbies?

Selina: My favorite food is cheese.

Also, I like to do a thing called “Dance Walk”… it’s when I listen to music (on headphones) while both dancing and walking the loop of Prospect Park usually (but not always) with a pack of other dance walkers.

Selina signing a copy of her book for a happy student!

BtB: What’s your favorite book/short story that you’ve written and why?

Selina: It’s hard to choose, but The Case for Loving has a special place in my heart. The book tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested for being in an interracial marriage in Virginia in 1958. I enjoyed learning all of the details of their journey to eventual victory in their 1967 landmark Supreme Court win, forever changing marriage laws and helping to pave the way for people like me and my husband to marry (I am white, he is black). Plus, Loving vs Virginia is the most perfectly named Supreme Court Case EVER.

BtB: What authors inspire you and why?

Selina: Jacqueline Woodson and Matt de la Pena…for their economy of words, the truths they tell and the topics they write about.

BtB: How do you narrow down what you’re going to write about? Do you always know before you start or do you figure it out along the way?

Selina: I figure it out along the way. I may chose a topic and how it evolves depends upon what I learn in the research process.

BtB: Do you have any kind of writing process?

Selina: Well, I finally got a laptop so now I can take my writing outside of my studio. I used to write in a cafe on paper with pencil and then transcribe back in my studio.

BtB: What are you working on now?

Selina: I am working on a biography of the Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell which I’m really excited about! Did you know she overcame polio as a child and taught herself to play guitar?

BtB: I know you illustrated The Case for Loving with your husband—what was it like to get to do that?

Selina: Since it was our first collaboration (we’ve just completed our fourth) it was a bit tricky to figure out the logistics. But once we got our system down, it was really nice to have help solving creative problems. We got to the point of being able to finish each other’s sentences (visually)–so to speak.

Our thanks to Selina and to guest blogger Sarah Jane Weill for giving us this insight!

Selina with a whole class of students at PS 4.


Superbosses at DTCC

We’re honored to thank two supporters who came together for an exclusive event on August 28. First, we’d like to thank Sydney Finkelstein, author of Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, who donated his time and expertise on our behalf. He spent the morning detailing the common characteristics of the “superbosses” he meticulously researched over ten years. As someone with firsthand knowledge of the techniques that some of the greatest talent incubators have in common, he was eagerly sought for one of our exclusive corporate readings.

Second, we’d like to thank The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp (DTCC) a critical financial markets infrastructure provider who works to ensure the stability of global finance markets, and who was also our corporate sponsor for this reading. DTCC has supported our work and volunteered in the classroom for several years. For this event we worked with their START network, an employee resource group which supports early to mid-career employees with professional development and networking opportunities.

The DTCC START network has over 1,000 members globally, representing 20% of the corporation’s growing workforce with members in 11 global locations. Each of DTCC’s seven employee resource groups host a month of activities each year, and offer other events throughout the year.

An author as respected as Sydney Finkelstein has strong appeal outside START’s core membership, and his speaking engagement garnered approximately 200 attendees across DTCC’s offices in Jersey City, Boston, Tampa and Dallas.  The earliest registrants were provided with copies of Sydney’s book, courtesy of the START network, and questions from participants indicated that people did their reading in advance.

Sydney’s presentation was followed by a panel of DTCC professionals, all of whom were familiar with Superbosses and who were able to give concrete examples of the techniques being put to use in their workplace. One leader, for example, hired an oboe player for a finance job, to insert outside thinking into a group dynamic (key superboss technique). Other leaders spoke of being mentored by superbosses, who had encouraged them to move upward and onward when the time was right, but who also took them back when new positions became available. All of the panelists agreed that the community of past employees surrounding a superboss is a clear indicator of their success.

Those of us at Behind the Book and all our present and future employees are happy that we got to attend and learn as well!

Many thanks to Sydney for appearing on our behalf, and many thanks to the team at DTCC for organizing a flawless event.

September Reading at KGB

Welcome back to another season of readings – the thirteenth! – by celebrated and up-and-coming authors whose literary explorations remind us of the joy and human connection behind storytelling in any form. Behind the Book is proud to welcome returning authors Hannah Tinti and Victoria Redel, whose deeply humane and lyrical stories transport us into lives we might never want to leave.

 Hannah Tinti is a writer, editor, and teacher.  Her new novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, has been optioned by director Matt Reeves, producer Michael Costigan, & Endemol Shine. Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores the relationship between father and daughter after the mysterious death of his wife/her mother, what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.  Her short story collection, Animal Crackers, has sold in sixteen countries and was a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway award.  Her best-selling novel, The Good Thief, is a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, recipient of the American Library Association’s Alex Award, winner of the The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and winner of the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Voices Award.  In 2002, she co-founded the award-winning magazine One Story, where she is now Executive Editor. In 2009, she received the PEN/Nora Magid award for excellence in editing, and in 2014 One Story won the AWP Prize for Best Small Press. In 2011, she joined the Public Radio program, Selected Shorts, as their Literary Commentator, interviewing authors and actors about the importance of literature and reading. She co-founded the Sirenland Writers Conference in Italy with Dani ShapiroMichael Maren, and Antonio & Carla Sersale. She has taught writing at New York University’s Graduate Creative Writing Program, Columbia University’s MFA  program, CUNY, and at the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

“A master class in literary suspense.” The Washington Post

“This is a convincingly redemptive and celebratory novel: an affirmation of the way that heroism and human fallibility coexist, of how good parenting comes in unexpected packages, and of the way that we are marked by our encounters with each other and the luminous universe in which we dwell.” Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

 Victoria Redel is the author of three books of poetry and five books of fiction.  Her new novel, Before Everything, about longtime friends who come together to care for one of their own, is an unflinching and affecting look at how one woman’s final days change the lives of those around her.  Her novel The Border of Truth weaves the situation of refugees and a daughter’s awakening to the history and secrets of her father’s survival and loss.  It was a Barnes and Noble Great New Writers Discovery Selection.  Loverboy was awarded the 2001 S. Mariella Gable Novel Award and the 2002 Forward Silver Literary Fiction Prize and was chosen in 2001 as a Los Angeles Times Best Book.  Loverboy was adapted for a feature film directed by Kevin Bacon.  Swoon was a finalist for the James Laughlin Award.  Her work has been widely anthologized and translated.  Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals including Granta.com., The New York Times, O the Oprah magazine, Elle, and Bomb, amongst others.  She is on the graduate and undergraduate faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, and has received fellowships from The Guggenheim Foundation, The National Endowment for The Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center. 

“Redel has crafted a lyrical ode to female friendship, proving that bonds can somehow be made of iron and elastic, sometimes strong and sometimes frail. – Booklist (starred review)

Redel’s new novel brings to mind Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.”  – BBC Culture’s Ten Books to read in June

Summer School! My Chinatown with Kam Mak

In Kam Mak’s book My Chinatown: One Year in Poems, Kam tells the story of his first year in New York after immigrating from Hong Kong as a child. He was struck by – and unhappy with – the differences at first, but with time was he was able to embrace those differences and realize the similarities the two cities have.

This summer, two classes of second and third grade students at PS 375 in Harlem were struck by the differences and similarities between Chinatown and their own neighborhoods and cultures. At first, things like dim sum and Chinese dragons seemed odd and foreign to them. However, after reading Kam’s book, writing their own poems about the similarities and differences they saw and researched, and visiting Chinatown, the students were able to appreciate the differences and understand the similarities to their own lives and experiences, as Kam once did.

The students’ introduction to Chinatown came through reading Kam’s book and discussing it with him. The book takes the reader through a year through Kam’s eyes when he first moved to Chinatown as a young boy. After learning about Kam’s experiences, the students were able to see Chinatown for themselves on a field trip led by Kam, visiting specific places he mentions in his book.

On the way downtown, the students chattered excitedly about what they knew of Chinatown. No one seemed to know much about it, though one boy proudly spoke of going to a park in Chinatown once with his family. Then one girl tried to one-up him by saying she had seen Chinatown many times out the window of the D train as she passed overhead (she later pointed excitedly at the train when we passed it). The strongest opinions that the students expressed were about the prospect of eating dim sum (although none of them had ever tried it), some claiming it would be delicious, others scared by the idea of trying something new.

Throughout the field trip, the students drew pictures of the places they visited and wrote descriptions of what they saw, heard, smelt, touched, and tasted. At first, Chinatown seemed very strange to them. Tanks of fish they had seen in the illustrations in Kam’s book seemed scary up close, kumquats a strange item to carry in a candy store, and dim sum far too unfamiliar. As the day went on and Kam encouraged them to be open to trying new things, they were excited by the new experiences. They especially enjoyed the dim sum. One boy even informed me that “it tastes like nothing I’ve ever eaten. It tastes like heaven!”

Equipped with first hand knowledge of Chinatown, the students spent the next workshop researching more about a specific facet of Chinese culture, with topics including food, games/sports, school, Chinese New Year, festivals, animals, symbols, language, family, art and music, and cities and landmarks. Using what they saw in Chinatown and information they found through their research, they created venn diagrams of the similarities and differences between their topic in the United States and in China. For example, one student’s diagram laid out dim sum and kumquats as Chinese food, mac and cheese and steak as American food, and tea and noodles as foods we have in common.

In the following workshop, the students created two headed spiraling dragons with a Behind the Book Teaching Artist, representing the two cultures in terms of their chosen topics on the dragon’s heads. In the final workshop, they worked on bringing the ideas they researched through their venn diagrams and represented through their dragons to create a final poem about what they learned and thought about the different cultures. In writing these poems, they focused specifically on using onomatopoeia, simile, and descriptive language, as Kam Mak does in his book. The resulting poems and art showed the candid views of students on how they viewed a different culture and how they viewed their own.

This guest blog post was written by our summer intern Emeline Bookspan, who not only worked in our office but volunteered in the classroom to help the kids with their research and writing, and chaperoned their field trip!

Meet our new Director of Programs: a Q&A with Alana


Behind the Book would like to welcome our newest staff member, Alana Benoit, into her new role as Director of Programs! Alana will be managing the Program Coordinators, showing administrative support to them, and also thinking more broadly about how to develop programs and how to build the organization. Our summer intern, Klea Kalia, sat down with her to see what she’s all about:

Tell me a little about yourself.

I was raised in Harlem and currently still live in Harlem. I’ve been in arts education and programming/youth development for a little over a decade since graduating college.

What was your most recent job prior to this one?

I was a high school teacher at an all-girls Catholic school, grades 9 and 10, and I taught english and writing. It was definitely an eye-opening and rewarding experience for me. Working with a lot of young women and being a part of their growth and empowerment as they came into their own identities was something that transformed me, too, as a person.

How do your past work experiences fit with your position at Behind the Book?

I think it brings together all the pieces. My job now requires me to do a lot of thinking around program structure and development of programs but also thinking about how to be in a classroom with students and developing and teaching programs there, so it all comes together in the end with my background.

Were you involved with Behind the Book previously? How did you find us?

It happened to be by chance. I was looking for a director’s position because I was ready to jump back into the programming world from teaching, and I was looking for an interesting and small organization with a big heart, and this one spoke to me the most.

What is your favorite thing about your new job so far?

I love how passionate everyone is about the work that we do. It requires a lot of time and commitment, and I’ve found that everyone here is really dedicated to making things happen, so that’s something that I’m very inspired by, and I’m inspired by the youth and their engagement and their interest in learning and reading and writing.

Fun facts about Alana:
She has two cats and a box turtle!
The last book she read was Hunger by Roxane Gay and would definitely recommend.
She has been a pescetarian for 17 years!
She loves TV–big GOT fan–and couldn’t live without music.
Her personal philosophy is to be you no matter where you are.

We are so excited to welcome Alana into her new role and look forward to working with her here at Behind the Book! We’re also super grateful to our summer intern Klea Kalia who wrote this and two other guest blogs!