Lesson of the Day: Point of View

By Zine Instructor Shaun

Whether consciously or unconsciously, an artist always takes a perspective in creating a piece.  A photographer chooses an angle, a writer chooses a point of view.

It’s one of the many literary concepts we cover in Zine.

Traditionally, there are three points of view.

First person (I, we)

Second person (you)—rare

and Third Person (he, she, they).

In Zine, I work to get young people writing about their emotions, their stories and who they are. Consequently, most of the writing that happens in zine is in the first person, intimating the author’s experiences.

Every so often, I ask zine interns to write from a different “I”.

In the case of this activity, I asked them to choose a person that’s marginalized by society and write from their perspective. To do this, youth writers had to use a combination of their imagination and their own experiences to intuit the thoughts of “the other”.

They put their pens to page and set out on a writer’s bold and difficult task to give voice to society’s voiceless. Here’s what they came up with:

 Marginal Voices

1.)  I am the one you see on the street corner every day, but you won’t even talk to me. Every day you see me you look at me in disgust and you say “get a job” or I’m sorry. if more people cared about life and the people in it, we wouldn’t have people like you, always making fun of me because of the way I look or even just the way I dress. My grandmother used to tell me that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. NOW IT’S YOUR TURN BE THE BETTER PERSON!!!!

2.) Holding this cardboard expression,
I remember the first time I did. Losing all hope remembering when I was a kid. Grown- ups quote, “stay in school, be a kid. Not small, dream big. Pour all your heart in it and see if it lives .”

But life happened. Life gave me this cardboard
I just stole the pen to carve my cry for help.
Cracked glass, I mean broken dreams
Don’t step on them– I’m still looking.

3.) As I sit here on this hard ass cot, waiting for my name to be called, I’m thinking about what I did to get myself here. I’m wanting to go back to that day when I made the choice that would change my life forever. I’m  thinking about how the world is going to be  in 2027. Is it going to be the same, felons and convicts can’t get a job or move forward with their lives, even after they already served their time and been categorized as screw ups, or will it be different? As I sit here  on this hard ass cot in this 8×4 ft cell and they call my name Inmate 1997521. I realize that once I get out ill never be the civilian Robert Alex Young. I’ll always be Inmate 1997521.


Thanks for writing, ziners. And thanks for reading, readers.

If inspired, sometime today, pick someone YOU see society marginalizing and write from their POV.


Writing with Street Youth in Crisis

Check out an article written by Zine Instructor Shaun McMichael on writing with youth in deep distress. Published on Pongo Teen Writing’s website, Shaun’s article details challenges and lessons learned.

It’s a relevant read for providers, writers and those interested in engaging youth through writing.


Youth in Focus comes to Zine

The Zine Project has just wrapped up a four day Digital Photography crash course brought to us by Youth in Focus.

Teaching Artist and Professional Photographer, Zorn B. Taylor taught the workshop, giving the youth a hands on opportunity to take their own photos and edit them in Light Room.

Check out some of the finished products from our talented intern photographers:

Photo by Ester

Photo by Ester, Zine Intern

Photos by Juan

Photo by Chevonna, Zine Intern

Photo by Juan, Zine Intern

Photo by Natalie, Zine Intern

Photo by Natalie, Zine Intern

Photo by Natalie, Zine Intern

Photo by Natalie, Zine Intern

Not bad for only four days. Our youth interns’ minds are fertile and sharp and with a little nurturing, they can produce some great stuff. The medium of photography is a particularly fruitful exercise for young people. It’s quick, hands on, and it prompts them to start looking closer at their everyday worlds, as you can see. Have a talent or a skill you’d like to pass off to young people working on an independent publication? Visit out Get Involved page or contact shaunm@ccsww.org to find out how you could share it with them.

Hair Tie

by DeWayne

I carry it with me no matter where I go, my hair tie.
It’s wrapped around my wrist
like a $500 bracelet or expensive designer watch. My hair tie
is my best friend. It’s with me through thick and thin.
It knows my struggle, my pain, because it has walked it with me.
My hair tie never disappoints
nor does it oppose. It merely stays close to me
 like a lover that is entranced by my every being.
I have had plenty hair ties in the past.
Plenty rubber bands and hair ties
that were faithful companions to me.
Now it’s my strung-out no-stretch, black hair tie.
 I can’t use it for my hair anymore,
because it has lost the vigor of its stretch
and won’t wrap around my hair anymore.
So it didn’t get demoted or promoted, merely moved
to where it finally rests
on my right wrist. It’s not a definite move
but it is one that we are happy with at the moment.
Double-layered, it doesn’t fall too far down my arm,
or raise too high up my hand. No.
It sits comfortable at my right hand, through thick and thin.

One Thing I Carry

See the world through different colors

 By Josh

My glasses are small. Plain, black-plastic frame, with two tiny screws that fall out once a fucking day. When I first got them two years ago, they hugged around my skull so tightly that I’d constantly come down with headaches. Now, they’re so loose they make me think of my mother who has ten children. Gross. But unlike my mother, my glasses have been there for me. They make things apparent to me. They interpret my fuzzy, obnoxious world into a crystal-clear, high-definition Vizio flat screen playground.

Lesson of the Week: Sense-Imagery in Writing

By Zine Instructor Shaun

Good writers make things real. They transport readers to places they’ve never been and help them understand experiences they’ve never experienced.

A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to be poor. In trouble. Or homeless. And homeless youth feel that lack of understanding throughout their day.

Writing is one way to make people understand what it’s like. Writers do this by evoking the senses—sound, sight, smell, touch and taste. These are the ways we perceive things and from reflecting on our perceptions, we come to various conclusions.  If writers can make readers feel something, they can change the way they think.

I ask Ziners to pick an abstraction—an idea like freedom or peace or an emotion—like sadness or anger. Things that by themselves  aren’t physical. And I ask them to use similes that call upon each of the senses in order to make the abstraction a real experience. 

DeWayne picked “hunger” for his abstraction and here’s his poem:

By DeWayne

Hunger is the world that grips me
in the afternoon stretches of the day.
An empty loud, land
that screams with shrieks of intestinal pains.

Escape is no option, like being trapped
on a preserve and you are the wild animal,
panting and sweating, seeking, and thinking,
searching for your kill to come.

Hunger is Muhammad Ali
standing on the other side of the ring.
Just when you think you’ve dodged it,
Muhammad Ali swings with the right
and lands one right in your stomach,
making the pain unbearable.

Hunger is a parasite that would not be quelled
or satisfied until it has devoured
every morsel you try to consume.

In the world of consumption, hunger is poverty’s running mate.
First poverty strikes you down, and then hunger comes
running along like a sidekick bully
to kick you while you’re down and steal your lunch money,
leaving you poorer, hungrier, and in worse shape than you were before.
Now the deadly duo can strike again
with no restraint. At will.

Hunger is the title of a book
that recently made it to theaters
and topped the box office.
But for real—hunger sucks.

DeWayne defines hunger for us. The experience is visual, tactile and imaginative. The similes are idiosyncratic, intricate and fresh. After reading it we know what hunger is like for him specifically, but we’re also able to generalize it to the experiences other young men and women may be having in this city.

Even that last line alludes to the reality that some of us, who are distant from hardship, might think about hunger only as a movie.  But DeWayne closes with a reminder to keep things real.

Hungry for more? Check out our Zine Store to read more from youth describing their experiences through sensational writing.

Children of the Struggle

By Ashley

When I got to work one day, Shaun gave us the prompt: “I want, I need, I fear, I hope, and I love”. We only had two minutes to write about each idea. Here is my piece. Hope you enjoy.

The Children of the Struggle

worst day   beautiful

"Worst Day, Beautiful", by Ashley

I want to hear the crystal clear
water of the ocean
lapping up against the sandy sea-shore.
I want the world to accept me
for who I am,
and not a whore.
I want the gods
to guide me,
on a path that will bring me joy.
and I want to be treated with
not as a toy.
I need a blanket of love
wrapped so tight around my soul
that there is no way I could ever let it go.
I need my lips to be kissed softly,
and your tender touch on my skin.
I need coffee in the morning,
and a pick-me-up in the afternoon.
I fear failure and starfish.
I fear the loss of a person close to me.
I fear success and love .
I fear emotions,
but I will rise above.
I hope that one day,
my world can be harmonious,
and that life will be tremendous.
I hope the stars will not collide,
and that my cards will align.
I hope that I can learn how to make a difference in the world
so that one day the children of the struggle
don’t have to sleep in the cold.
I love that not everything has to be perfect to be beautiful.
I love that my smile is crooked,and that I don’t have to be a Barbi to be accepted.

I really enjoyed writing this piece because it was timed. I had to think of things to say quickly, stay on topic, and also sound good at the same time.

Lesson of the Week: Setting–Places of Safety and Belonging

By Zine Instructor Shaun

Usually in the first week of zine, I ask ziners to write about a place—a place they feel or felt safe.

This can be a challenging prompt for some of them who may be staying in shelter one night, at their aunt’s the next night and who knows where after that. One youth might have spent the night—a mid-winter down pour—huddled up in a Honey Bucket. Another might have found an uncomfortable, but dry, respite in a parking garage.

Many of them have to look to the past for places that resembled normalcy—as exemplified by a youth we’ll call Amelia:

House on 18th St.

Collage by "Amelia"

House on 18th street
an excerpt from Amelia’s Confessions of a Broken Heart

No matter how the day went, I could always go to this place and feel warmth. After 7 years of being away, it was still home… and to this day even though no one in my family lives there— it is still my home. A home that has history as you peel back the layers of paint in each room.  Memories in every square inch of the property.

That house built who I am today. The tree in the front yard was planted the day I was born and my first cat is buried beneath it. The little back bedroom was once my mother’s but was later occupied by me.

This house reminds me of a time when my family was happy. I still to this day catch myself sitting across the street, day dreaming about the happy past. This house was a HOME. A place where I remember my mom at her best. The front yard had tall beautiful flowers, soft green grass and kids playing. The tree house was the place Madison, Cody and I would spend long summer days. Warm laughter from within the home.  A safe place I wish was still mine.

In Zine, we value the longing we often find in youth writing. We consider it a healthy way to mourn. And having experienced upheavals in which they may or may not have had a choice, they often haven’t had a space to process what they’ve lost and how that loss affects them.

Ideally, though, we don’t want to leave them with a feeling of loss.

Part two of my lesson on setting comes with an invitation to think of a place in which they find strength.

To get their minds going, we read an excerpt from Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street in which the narrator finds empowerment through the image of three small trees growing outside her less-than-ideal home:

            “Let one forget his reason for being, they’d all droop like tulips in a glass, each with their arms around the other. Keep, keep, keep, trees say when I sleep. They teach.
            When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then I look at the trees. When there is nothing left to look at on this street. Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be.”

            This passage serves as a model for a lot of things our writers could emulate—internal rhyme, lyricism. But also how to find an image of power in our often drab surroundings.

            After reading this passage, a youth we’ll call Jamison wrote his own version:

An excerpt from Jamison’s zine Unhinged 

     I sit under them listening to them share secrets in the wind. On some nights you can hear them, and feel the call, and I wish other people could hear it but sweet songs make beasts of men with chainsaw grins.

One tree for body, one tree for mind, and one tree for spirit. Their tendrils my divine intercessor for things I could never know but always feel.  I lust for that knowledge like their roots lust for water. I need the inspiration as much as they need Sol’s kiss. And the trees feel like they are part of me and I can take comfort in laying prostrate, letting my soul root in the ground that’s there but not quite there;  my own little quantum Eden…

            These trees are my teachers and my brothers, and are we not our brothers’ keepers?  In a million different realities in a million different moments I exist in them all, if only for a second. And I swear I can hear them saying,

“Don’t forget us when we’re gone.”

Jamison arrives at a place of belonging where not only his body, but his soul can take root.

This is a very different picture from the listless transience he experienced on the streets—full of hostility, violence and estrangement.

A few short weeks after writing this, this young man got into housing.

Many factors led to him getting there—a strong will and a good case manager. But it could also be said that the writing he did in the Zine Project provided an opportunity for him to envision an alternate sense of place in which he could find peace.

We mourn, we imagine, we move on.

Seattle Teen Writing Project Spotlight: Pongo Publishing

by Zine Instructor Shaun

Everybody’s got to start somewhere and for me that start was Pongo.

Pongo Publishing is a Seattle Non-profit dedicated to writing poetry with youth in institutional settings, specifically King County Juvenile Detention Center and Western State Psychiatric’s CSTC (Child Study and Treatment Center).

Check out this powerful video to hear more about how they use writing to engage youth in trouble:


 As a poetry mentor with Pongo, you get to be that person who cares.

Before Pongo, I was just an odd ball Psych./ English Major. After three years with Pongo, I was ready to launch my own version at The Zine Project.

Pongo enriches its mentors with great approaches and techniques for producing writing with youth who may or may not have written creatively before. I used them at CSTC and I use them everyday at Zine to help young people create writing about their feelings and narratives.

To find out how to volunteer with the Zine Project, check out our volunteer page.

To learn more about Pongo, their method and how to get involved, visit their website at pongoteenwriting.org.