Providence’s Write Rhode Island Grows Literary Community from the Ground Up

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Melanie Eusebio, Classical High School Senior and author of a short story selected for inclusion in the Write Rhode Island short story anthology Photo: School One

Rhode Island’s literary legacy stretches from 17th-century founder Roger Williams to Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri today, with connections along the way to literary titans like Margaret Fuller, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft. Today’s literary community continues to be vibrant and home grown, with state organizations like the Rhode Island Center for the Book and private community organizations like LitArtsRI and the Association of Rhode Island Authors creating spaces where written works can be created, shared, and talked about.

Alongside these, Write Rhode Island has become an important center of literary arts and community for schools throughout the state. It was developed in 2016 in partnership between two local writers and Providence’s School One, a small independent arts high school on the East Side that offers a challenging curriculum focused on the humanities, including the literary arts.

The school already focused on a strong humanities curriculum, but in 2016, School One’s Director of Literary Engagement Diana Champa began to build connections with literary organizations in the state. She remembers, “We knew we wanted to create more programs for teens, but we weren’t sure that a seminar on a Saturday or evening classes would work, so I approached Taylor Polites and Hester Kaplan with the idea for a statewide short fiction competition that would have a companion anthology. Hester and Taylor are both authors and had experience as editors and in the publishing world and from the first conversation they were on board!  It couldn’t have been better.” Head of School Christopher Hayes added: “By supporting a writing program like Write Rhode Island, we encourage students from across the state to find their voices and communicate in new ways. Our creative offerings, which also include art and music, give students the kinds of connections that are central to their daily experience.”

The young writers selected for the 2024 Write Rhode Island short fiction anthology at the Newport Art Museum. Photo: School One.

Write Rhode Island’s creators see writing and storytelling not only as a literary art, but as a crucial tool for self-understanding and formation. Telling stories is not simply entertainment, it is a process of analysis and critical thinking. It is one of the unique capacities of human beings. Inviting young people across the state to create stories, to depict a common world or the worlds of their imaginations, fosters skills of expression and interpretation. This work is foundational, creating not only literary culture but capacities of understanding and thought that will serve these young people throughout their lives. As always, the stories they write also tell us something about ourselves, not only about the state of our world and our fears and anxieties, but also about our possibilities and hopes. The 2024 anthology of short fiction included themes of climate change, abusive relationships, gender and queer identity and discovery, friendship and love, grief and loss as well as humor, recovery, escape, and achievement.

The flagship short fiction competition launched that year and produced its first anthology in 2017. Since then, thousands of Rhode Island students across public and private schools as well as home-schooled students have participated in Write Rhode Island workshops and programs. This past weekend, Write Rhode Island, School One and the Rhode Island community of students, families and supporters gathered at the Newport Art Museum for a celebration to honor the young writers in the eighth annual youth fiction competition.

Each year, through a blind-judging process where the names and other information about the writers are concealed, dozens of volunteer readers evaluate the hundreds of submissions received, and professional writers serve as guest judges to select the best twenty stories. Each year, the program grows, and readers and writers are moved and impressed by the thought, energy, and emotion these young writers put into their work.

In addition to the short fiction competition, Write Rhode Island offers a creative writing summer camp and has created essay and writing programs focused on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the immigrant experience, stories of place, and this year, a new graphic novel and comics program called Pictures with Words, developed with the generous support of the state Humanities Council.

Write Rhode Island is proud to share an excerpt from a story written by Melanie Eusebio of Classical High School in Providence. Her story Fall was one of the twenty stories selected for inclusion in the 2024 Write Rhode Island short fiction anthology. While another year of Write Rhode Island’s work has just ended, the program is already gearing up for their summer programs and the launch of the ninth year of workshops and contests this fall.

For more information about this year’s winners, Write Rhode Island and ways to get involved, follow this link.

Taylor M. Polites is a Rhode Island-based writer, educator, and researcher. His first novel, The Rebel Wife, was published by Simon & Schuster and his work has appeared in anthologies as well as arts and news publications. He works locally to cultivate an awareness of history, storytelling and community. He was a Community Practitioner in Residence at the Swearer Center at Brown University and is the recipient of the 2018 award for Public Humanities Scholarship from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. He teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Maslow Family Creative Writing MFA program at Wilkes University. You can find out more at taylormpolites.com. 

Looking toward the city of Providence from Neutaconkanut Hill. Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel

Fall by Melanie Eusebio (excerpt)

One of the Notable Stories included in the 2024 Write Rhode Island Short Fiction Anthology

“You came.”

“Of course I did.”

Katrina was getting ahead of herself. The idea of the interaction ran through her head so many times a day, she was beginning to doubt it would ever happen.

She had missed this weather. Autumn had crept around the corner so quickly, like a sneak attack, as if summer had never existed. It always looked like it was about to rain, but Katrina never minded it. The leaves, all shades of orange and scarlet and a warm lemon yellow, scattered across the entirety of Neutaconkanut Hill, almost covering any trace of the paths that have ever existed. They look like her hair. Katrina instinctively made the connection as she stared down at it but let the memory blow by her with the wind that blew her own tar-black hair out of place. It wasn’t long enough to tie up, so she just let it be. And anyway, it was no use reminiscing, was it? Not when today, Jay’s autumn colored hair would become a reality. Today was the day they’d see each other again.

Traveling had always felt useless to Katrina. She had never seen the appeal of packing up your things in search of other things. Not when everything she had ever needed or wanted was always in front of her. Katrina’s entire life, she had watched parents, sisters, and Jay slowly leave Providence. Not for any specific reason really; just in search of something missing. She still didn’t understand. Maybe it was easier to be content for Katrina. Content with the cold, snowstorm weather, when she had spent so many nights falling asleep next to the fireplace, then the chilly mornings when her roommate had woken her up, screaming about leaving it on all night. And then the slightly too warm summer mornings when she’d spend all day with the freezer open because although she liked any kind of weather, it simply became too much for her, and that same roommate, Poppy, made her pay extra for the electricity bill.

Poppy, her overexcited, pushy roommate, was the one who had convinced Katrina to get out of their small, two-bedroom apartment in the first place. She had been ready to lie in bed all day and ignore the three calculus assignments her professor had assigned a week ago, when she got that text. I’m around if you’re around. The shriek she let out earned a bang on the wall from the neighbors, but she barely heard it over her own shock, feeling her stomach drop and all of the heat in her body rush to her face. Poppy had jumped out of the shower, her frizzy blonde hair appearing brown from how soaked it was. Katrina couldn’t even speak—looking back on it now—she simply showed her freckled-face roommate the message, who shrieked just as loudly. The neighbors were ready to move out by this point.

“You…should meet her,” Poppy had said to her after slight hesitation, reaching for her phone with the hand that wasn’t holding up her towel, but Katrina yanked it away, shaking her head furiously.  “Well, she can’t come here. Clearly.” Poppy gestured around the room, dirty Radiohead t-shirts and baggy jeans filled her floors. It was impossible to even see the floors with the fruit snacks wrappers that surrounded her bed, Poppy stepping on a couple as they talked. “And the living room’s a mess too. I told you Gio’s coming to help me finish–” Katrina silenced her with a look. Not particularly mean; just sad. Sad enough for Poppy to stop talking and move on the next thing, adjusting her towel a bit. “Go, okay? There should be clean clothes in the laundry basket.”

Katrina didn’t like the color pink, but that’s the only thing her roommate’s closet consisted of, so there she stood, in a pastel pink dress and a matching pink sweater, because not even her hoodies were washed. At least she could wear her Doc Martens: good for crushing leaves with every step, walking towards the bench she always found herself at. It was right beside the parking lot, facing the kiddie playground, which was always empty this time of day. Katrina imagined the children taking their after-lunch nap on those little mats they put out in school.

She remembered when she first met her. Katrina had first moved to Providence from Seattle at the age of five, and she never regretted it for a second. Anthony Carnevale Elementary was easier, and a lot better than her preschool back in Seattle. The teachers always had smiles on their faces. They were never a problem. The only issue was her classmates, who’d make funny faces at the lunchboxes of Fish amok her mother would lovingly pack her. It wasn’t until a freakishly eager red-orange haired girl sat beside Katrina and took a bite out of it to show that it was absolutely harmless, that everyone stopped judging.

“Jay,” the girl had introduced herself with a mouthful after being satisfied with her results, and Katrina laughed louder than she ever had in her life.

“Katrina,” she said, with an awkward smile plastered on her face.

Jay and Katrina, lucky enough to have been placed in the same class all throughout their elementary school years, became friends, and inseparable, immediately. Nothing else mattered. It was years before Jay realized she didn’t even know Katrina’s favorite color. Yet, she was the only person who ever called her Kat. Jay and Kat; “it just flowed better,” Jay insisted during every hang out, every lunch break, every second she got in between classes, and even during their fifth-grade graduation, when she pestered the teacher to introduce the two of them side by side: Always Jay and Kat.