Yetis in Egleston?

October 5, 2007
By

David Taber


Gazette Photo by John Swan
826 National Founders Ninive Calegari and Dave Eggers flank 826 Boston Executive Director Daniel Johnson (center) as supporters visit the group’s new 2,500-square-foot writing and tutoring center at 3035 Washington St. in Egleston Square. 826 Boston is a non-profit helping students ages 6 to 18 develop their writing skills.

New writing center is on the case

EGLESTON SQ.—If Sasquatch is considering taking up residence in Egleston Square anytime soon, he or she should not count on staying anonymous for long.

Come November, if all goes well, the neighborhood will be home to the new Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute.

So Bigfoot beware. 826 Boston, the new local chapter of a non-profit organization dedicated to helping students ages 6 to 18 with expository and creative writing, is moving in.

Founded by award-winning author David Eggers, 826 National currently has centers in seven cities. In most cities, 826 community writing centers include storefronts and writing centers in the back. New York City has the Superhero Supply Company and Seattle is home to the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company, featuring “rare imports from other planets.”

The Bigfoot Research Institute, operating out of an Urban Edge-owned building at 3053 Washington St., will feature a product line including “basically things any cryptozoologist would need,” said 826 Boston Executive Director Daniel Johnson. “Field notebooks, binoculars, casting supplies to make casts of Sasquatch footprints, specimens—a gnarly furry hand in a jar.”

A team of students, writers, artists and architects are currently working on designing both the product-line and the space, Johnson said. They have, among other things, toured area research centers, including labs at MIT for inspiration, he said.

The purpose of the stores, according to 826 National’s web site are, “To raise funds, inspire creativity, and advertise our programs to the local community.”

All of the writing center’s programs are free, and, in some cities, store sales account for as much as a quarter of the writing center’s annual budget, Johnson said. Otherwise, it relies on private and institutional donors and fund-raising events.

While planning for the center, 826 Boston has already begun conducting workshops at area schools, starting last year with English High. As the new school year starts, it plans to continue that work in schools within a mile radius of the site, including the Hernandez School and Trotter School in Dorchester.

Johnson said he hopes to begin hosting field trips and workshops before the November grand opening.

One popular event 826 hosts for classes, he said, is its storytelling and bookmaking workshop. Guided by a storyteller, students come up with a story. The fruit of their collective imagination is simultaneously projected onto the wall by a typist and an illustrator. When the story reaches a “cliffhanger,” Johnson said, the students break off and write their own endings.

Individualized books are then bound and “published on the spot,” Johnson said.

Students are handed their finished books by a velvet glove appearing from behind a curtain, he said.

Hundreds of volunteers have expressed interest in working with 826 Boston, Johnson said. Proficient volunteers will be able to offer any type of workshop, which involves writing.

The center will begin after-school drop-in tutoring Monday through Thursday in January, Johnson said.

His own resume includes a ten-year stint as a bilingual education teacher, time working as an artist-in-residence at a Chicago hospital and a job leading poetry workshops at a prison. “So this is a natural extension of what I have been doing,” he said.

826 Boston can be contacted through their Web site www.826boston.org.