Gaby R. is a fifteen year old two-time Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate Finalist and a young writer and student at 826LA. Gaby and her three siblings have been part of the 826LA family for the last seven years, taking part in just about every program that 826LA has to offer. Currently, Gaby and her siblings are involved in 826LA’s Tuesday and Thursday Night Tutoring, After-School Tutoring, Summer Writers Workshop, and Write On! Summer Camp programs.
Writing isn’t always easy
I used to get really frustrated writing. I didn’t really like it, because I didn’t know what to write or how to write it. And I was really shy. But not anymore! (laughs) There was this competition in fifth grade, and we had to write about a trip. At 826LA, I always used to sit with this one tutor, Daniel. I remember one of the first days he was all by himself at the big table, and I was like, “Ah, I gotta join him. I can’t let him sit by himself.”
Daniel was really nice when helping me write stories, because he wouldn’t force me into it. He was like, “Alright, we can do this if you wanna do this.” And so I wrote about when I went on a trip to Sequoia, but I forgot to turn it into the competition. I still wrote it though! And I was really happy and proud.
I like the tutors here because they’re kind of looser than teachers, but they know their things. It’s cool because sometimes when I’m talking to a friend at school, I’ll say, “Oh yeah, me and my friend Kevin talked about this.” And their like, “Who’s Kevin?” And I’ll say, “Oh, he’s my tutor.”
“With a short story you have to describe the roses, and the bushes, then your eye following up the windowsill or something like that. With poetry, you can just break it apart and add weird things to it.”
“So this one time at 826…”
I talk about 826LA too much at school sometimes. My Spanish teacher knows about 826LA because every day we have an abieto, a prompt we have to do, like “What’s one of your favorite moments?” And I write, “Oh, so this one time at 826…” It’s the people. They’re cool, you can talk to them. And I’ve gained experience on how to talk to adults, because they’re everywhere!
I like it because I have friends here that I made that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t come to 826LA. Like my friend Vince. He went to my elementary school, and then in fifth grade I went to a different school. But when I got to 826, I was like, “Oh yeah, Vince. Hi!”
The “free-ness” of poetry
Now I like writing short stories and poems. I really like poetry because of the free-ness. Writing a short story you need to follow through. But poetry, with every stanza, every line, you can describe one scene and not have to fully describe it. You can write a line and then switch to something else, but it’s still the same scene, just a different aspect of it. With a short story you have to describe the roses, and the bushes, then your eye following up the windowsill or something like that. With poetry, you can just break it apart and add weird things to it.
I always try to put myself in the character’s shoes. I try to completely erase what I think of things or what other people think of things when trying to create a character.
“I like making things without getting messy”
When I’m at 826LA, I’m like, “Alright, I need to write!” I usually start stories at 826LA and then write over the weekends if I have time. I’ll sit at my computer until I finish a story. And I make sure it’s a good story, because there’s a difference between meeting a deadline with a story and meeting a deadline with a story you like and are proud of. You don’t just want to turn in something you wrote the other day. You want to be like, “Finally! My story gets to be printed!”
“It’s different when you’re asked to read something that’s not yours. You didn’t write those words, so you don’t know what you’re reading. Once you read something you write, it’s in the way you would say things. It’s different. It’s like, “This is what I’m saying.” And not, “This is what someone told me to say.”
It’s weird because people don’t necessarily believe me when I say, “Oh yeah, I published a book. But it’s not just my book…I share it with other people!” When I tell people I go to tutoring, they say, “Oh…why?” And I’m like, “What do you mean? It’s a great place! It’s cool. We get to write books!” I show my books to people I trust, and it feels really nice. I like writing because I like making things without getting messy (laughs).
I like reading what I wrote on the stage at 826LA. I like sharing my work, so I always raise my hand to read. I don’t think I’m shy anymore because it’s different when you’re asked to read something that’s not yours. You didn’t write those words, so you don’t know what you’re reading. Once you read something you write, it’s in the way you would say things. It’s different. It’s like, “This is what I’m saying.” And not, “This is what someone told me to say.” It’s a different feeling. Once you get used to reading aloud what’s yours, you get better at public speaking and you feel proud.
Growing up with 826LA
I like having my whole family come to 826LA, because you don’t get left out. My siblings are really young, so they just kind of grew up with 826LA. And everyone knows us, or at least knows one of us. I wasn’t the first one to come to 826LA. My older brother was here for a year, and then I came. There are four of us siblings. It’s weird because everyone says, “Oh, you’re part of the R.—- family.” And I’m like, “Yup, that’s me!”
It’s weird because I was on the Young Authors Award Wall (an award given to one student writer per chapbook throughout the school year), and then my brother Gerardo was there, and then my sister Emily was there, and Ale hasn’t gotten it yet. So we’re all like, “Ale, come on!”
Now that I’m at 826LA, I don’t feel like I did when I did when I was in fifth grade, or fourth grade. I don’t feel like I can’t do what I want to do. It feels like I can do things that other people can’t do because I’ve been here for longer. Not privilege-wise, but privilege in the way that I have the privilege to feel comfortable at 826LA because I’ve been here for a longer time than other students have.
“Now that I’m at 826LA, I don’t feel like I did when I did when I was in fifth grade, or fourth grade. I don’t feel like I can’t do what I want to do. It feels like I can do things that other people can’t do because I’ve been here for longer.”
Since I’ve been here for a long time, I’ve known the volunteers and staff. Kristin (former 826LA Director of Operations), who recently left, she helped me sign up for the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate Competition. Kristin helped me send everything in, and then I got nominated to go and read as one of the finalists. It was cool because a lot of people came, and I got to invite a friend of mine from another school. She did that two years in a row, so I’ve gotten to read as an LA Youth Poet Laureate finalist twice! I thank Kristin, because if she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have read what I wanted to read aloud to other people I didn’t know. When people read and hear my writing, I hope it shows them that I can write.
Read Gaby’s piece “Am I?” from the upcoming 2018 Summer Writers Workshop chapbook here.
Read more pieces from our Writing the Way at 826LA blog series here.