50th Stories: Kids & War

Celebrating 50 Years of Teachers & Writers Collaborative

Teachers & Writers Collaborative is turning 50 years old this fall. To celebrate this milestone, we asked people who have been part of T&W’s work over the last five decades to tell their stories. Nancy Larson Shapiro, long-time T&W staff director and now chair of the T&W Board of Directors, reflects on the impact of war on the young people in T&W programs.

When T&W was founded in 1967, the Vietnam War was heating up. In addition to their concerns about students’ writing, many of the organization’s founders were active war protesters. I am thinking, particularly, of Grace Paley and Muriel Rukeyser. Sadly, the presence of war has haunted, and continues to stalk, generations of children. For example, in a 1991 Overview of T&W’s work, two T&W writers noted the impact of the Gulf War.

Poet Carol Conroy wrote: “One little girl whispered to me that she just couldn’t handle writing about war, couldn’t use words yet. She told me her brother had died in the war. For the rest of my life when I hear about our ‘light casualties,’ I’ll see her face, her stony grief throwing a devastated child into a wordless sea.”

And writer/poet Christian McEwen noted: “The kids knew a lot of words and phrases: Iraq, Kuwait, the United Nations. What they didn’t understand was how it all fit together.”

And Dennis Polanco, a student from PS 30 in Manhattan, gave us this poem:


War is a black dog fighting
a man for food and
they’re both angry, hungry
and smart
They are fighting
The man is all covered with blood
The man’s arm cut, the blood
is dripping, the dog
is still not dead

Nancy Larson Shapirois an educator and arts administrator based in New York City. She was the director of Teachers & Writers Collaborative from 1982 to 2007. She has worked and spoken exhaustively to advance the literary arts and co-authored to bookThe Point: Where Teaching & Writing Intersect(Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1983).