Sometimes, all it takes is that one person in your life to show an interest in your passion for writing, and the rest is history.
I had the pleasure of interviewing five editorial board members of KidSpirit, a nonprofit online publication offering an inclusive and virtual writing space to a global community of youth who work collectively as writers and editors to answer life’s biggest questions. The editorial board features kids between the ages of 11 to 17.
The interviews below are with Maya Mesh and William Lohier, based in New York City; Nathan Zhang, based in North Carolina; Ameena Zehra, based in Toronto, Canada; and Samarth Jajoo based in India. I asked them a series of questions to learn how their experiences with KidSpirit have impacted their lives as writers and thinkers.
KidSpirit seems to have gotten the key to successful writing down pat for their editorial board members. It provides a special source of inspiration for young writers by connecting them with writers their age who have vastly different cultural and societal experiences from their own. They have the opportunity to read and analyze written work from all over the globe, building their appreciation for critical thinking. And while the young writers are strengthening their critical thinking skills, they are also developing their own writing in ways that they’d never imagine.
Reading another person’s work, challenging themselves to understand why a writer thinks the way they do, and researching are all pivotal parts of KidSpirit members’ ability to deepen their understanding of not just their own writing, but also how they understand each other’s worlds. It makes me wonder how much easier this world would be to live in, if we all just took more time to understand where we all come from and why we think the way we do. In a way, KidSpirit is fostering a future generation of adults that will have the ability to make our world a more constructive and peaceful place because they value the importance of understanding their next-door neighbors and their global neighbors, as well.
It’s inspiring to hear the honesty behind these young writers’ approach to their work. In a world where young students may struggle with high expectations and overloaded schedules, I wondered: where do they find the time to write?Some educators and well-known writers make a strong argument that a real writer must write every day. While that is very honorable, is it a realistic goal for everyone? It seems like the writers and editors at KidSpirit have been able to find the joy and purpose in writing without the pressure to write every day in order to feel like legitimate writers. Perhaps adult writers and writing teachers could learn something from this; that it isn’t the quantity of what you write but rather the quality, and that a huge part of being an effective writer is giving yourself time to think and simply breathe.
In my interviews with KidSpirit editorial board members I learned the value of family and community support for young aspiring writers. Wherever Maya, Nathan, William, Ameena, and Samarth end up after graduating, writing will almost certainly be a significant part of their lives. KidSpirit has shown them through communal interaction that writing is always a possibility no matter where you are, what you study, or what career path you eventually decide upon.
How were you introduced to KidSpirit?
Samarth: My sister used to write stuff for KidSpirit; she introduced me to it. My mom became the liaison for KidSpirit contributors in India around the same time—a lot of my family has been involved with KidSpirit!
Nathan: I started writing around middle school for fun and my dad decided to randomly send off this poem I wrote to this magazine for publication, and that’s how I found out about KidSpirit. It’s been like four years, and here I am today.
Ameena: An English teacher introduced me around grade 7 and now I’m in grade 11.
What does your writing process look like?
Ameena: It’s more sporadic. I don’t think I have a set regular process. Whenever I have the time or am inspired, I put pen to paper. There is no set formula.
Maya: I usually start out with outlines after we’ve talked to Elizabeth Dabney Hochman [founder and executive director of KidSpirit]. Once I come up with a rough draft, I hand it in and then they give me feedback on it and then other kids on the editorial board give feedback and then I go back and refine it and make it better.
Samarth: I let the whole piece develop in my mind before I write a word. Just thinking about it while doing whatever I am doing helps me write it the way I want it to be.
Nathan: I’m actually not that good at writing consistently. Sometimes I’ll go like a month without writing and sometimes I’ll write five pieces a month. It depends on how inspired I am and how much stuff I have going on.
How has KidSpirit helped to develop you as a writer and thinker?
William: You’re taking teenagers and putting them on an editorial board with way more experienced writers and I think that is really something invaluable as a younger person. It changed the way I read and opened a lot of doors for me and broadened my horizons for what it means to me to be a writer.
Maya: One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned at KidSpirit is how to critically evaluate pieces of writing. Just hearing all these kids around me who were so intelligent and careful with going through the pieces, the organizational structure. It was completely mind-blowing to me that a kid could have the capacity to go through these pieces and just help the writer transform it. You learn how to critically evaluate other people’s work, and it helps me to think through what I want to write using what I’ve learned in those editorial board sessions.
Samarth: KidSpirit has taught me to look at the same story from different angles and have empathy for whatever opinions people may have. For a writer, KidSpirit’s editors are great. Not only do they help refine a particular piece with a lot of feedback—they will make sure you understand how you can become a better writer!
Nathan: As a middle schooler I never thought my writing would be considered publication quality. I’m really glad that they decided to publish me because it gave me a big boost of self-confidence and it inspired me to keep writing. If I didn’t have KidSpirit I would have given up on writing. It really motivated me to produce a higher quality of work.
How and where do you gather inspiration for creative writing?
Samarth: The awesome work other writers do!
Maya: I think I and other writers really draw our own inspiration from our own experiences. Being in such a diverse place as New York City, we really have the opportunity to meet all kinds of people all the time, and so when we are faced with a certain theme it’s all about what experiences we had that most relate to a prompt [provided by KidSpirit] and what really makes us motivated for it. KidSpirit is never going to pressure you to write something—they encourage a lot—but it really has to come from us, and that’s why we have been able to produce really amazing work.
Ameena: Part of it is research. anything that I can learn a little bit more from, and seeing if I can think of anything on my own. Spending a couple of hours just brainstorming and thinking really helps.
William: Knowing people that come from so many different places and different experiences. A lot of inspiration also comes from being inspired by another writer’s work.
What is your favorite piece that you’ve written for KidSpirit?
Nathan: My favorite piece is something I wrote a while ago about Chinese culture. I put a lot of research into that piece and I spent a lot of time editing it. It’s not my best work but I’m still really proud of it.
Ameena: I think I really liked doing the “interfaith connection” pieces because it challenged me to think about my own background and my own religion and how that connects to the topics that they give us.
Maya: I really loved my piece “Caught in the Middle.” I really got to explore my experiences about not only being biracial, but being in this interesting position of being a person who doesn’t meet the normal standards of everyone. People don’t really expect me when they hear ‘a Jewish girl’ or ‘a Latina/Ecuadorian woman.’ I really got to reflect on my experiences with various family members and my Jewish community.
Does writing with KidSpirit help you to navigate having multiple identities?
Maya: I think writing does help because it’s just my thoughts and I’m not being enforced by anybody else about what I should be feeling or thinking or how I should have interpreted that comment or joke. Writing has been really liberating in that sense. I think labels are so important because they are a part of who we are, and they tell our story.
Where do you see yourself after high school?
William: I’m planning on trying to double concentrate in African American studies and English.
Nathan: I have two main academic interests; one of them is English and the other is computer science.
Maya: KidSpirit has really taught me that everything is writing. Whether you’re an accountant or an astrophysicist, writing is all about communicating ideas, and communicating ideas to other people effectively and good writing means you’re a good communicator. I love history and political science. I’ve also been really influenced by my parents who are both entrepreneurs. I’m at this weird crossroad between history, political science and entrepreneurship.
Samarth: Hmmm. I’m not sure! I enjoy a lot of things: math, economics, physics, design, programming, and more stuff.
More about KidSpirit and how youth contribute to the online magazine:
The managing editor at KidSpirit, Jessie Insley, assigns specific writing opportunities for each magazine issue. Editorial board members are given articles, poems, and artwork in different departments for which they are responsible. However, kids are also encouraged to submit proposals for articles, videos, and artwork.
The New York editors, the home-based editorial board for KidSpirit, review and edit pieces submitted by a network of editorial boards, as well as independent contributors, from around the world. A network of adult editorial staff members compile each of the editorial board members’ feedback and send it to the writers. Editorial board members also collaborate via online editing workshops held through video chats throughout the year, discussing and reviewing pieces for publication.
There is also an opportunity for all editorial board members to connect, sometimes for the first time, through an annual Global Editorial Board video chat where the annual KidSpirit award winners—selected by KidSpirit’s all-youth editorial boards to recognize outstanding work in personal essays, poetry, artwork and expository writing—are announced and upcoming themes for the platform are discussed.
To learn more, visit: https://kidspiritonline.com
Victoria Richards is a writer, educator and poet. She was born in Queens, NY and raised in Houston, TX. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and mentors 1st grade students in Harlem Children’s Zone. Some of her work has been featured in The Inquisitive Eater, The Alchemy Magazine, Eleven and a Half Journal and more. Lastly, she is a connoisseur of all things Black girl magic.