J. Ryan Stradal may be best known as the New York Times best-selling author of “Kitchens of the Great Midwest,” but he also happens to be one of 826LA’s very first volunteers! Time travel back to 2005, and he was right there with us in Venice. Fast forward to today, and J. Ryan’s never-ending support of our students and our mission is still going strong thirteen years later.
How and when did you first become involved with 826LA?
When 826LA first opened in Venice in spring of 2005, my mom had just passed away. I was a fan of Dave [Eggers]’s books, but what I was really looking for at the time was something useful to do that’d be helpful to other people to get my mind off my grief. I ended up co-leading the second-ever Workshop (one that I still teach today) and was a regular at After-School Tutoring. It’s been thirteen years and I’ve been coming back ever since.
Any favorite or memorable 826LA moment(s)?
My favorite projects involved the ones where I got to go to the schools around L.A. County, and interact with students in their own neighborhoods. Most of these involved the book projects. I have extremely fond memories of my time at Inglewood, Roosevelt, Garfield, Manual Arts, and Susan Miller Dorsey [High Schools] in particular.
“In 2005, I remember working with a third-grader named Carlos… I ran into Carlos last year at the 826LA fundraiser. Even twelve years later, I recognized him. He’s a college student now.”
Has an 826LA student ever said or done anything that has stuck with you?
Wow, so many. I’ll go with the first. In 2005, I remember working with a third-grader named Carlos on his math assignments. He hated math and wasn’t the strongest at it, which reminded me of myself when I was his age. Working with him, we had fun with it, until the assignment had him laughing, and his work improved. It struck me how just a little bit of one-on-one interaction, which I never had with math at the time, could turn a person’s attitude and results around. I ran into Carlos last year at the 826LA fundraiser. Even twelve years later, I recognized him. He’s a college student now.
Since you’re a writer, is there any advice (writing or otherwise!) you’d like to impart on our young authors?
Don’t be afraid to share it. That’s how it improves. And write what matters to you most.
You’re an incredible supporter (fanboy?) of 826LA events! (The Half Half Half Half Half Marathon, the 826LA Holiday Lit Mart, and next month’s Hot Dish just to name the most recent events!) What keeps you coming back?Everything — the students, the staff, the fellow volunteers. It’s a wonderful community of thoughtful, generous people and it’s introduced me to several lifelong friends.
Ok, rapid-fire time:
Hot Cheetos or Takis? Neither, sadly. Fritos?
Oxford comma or no oxford comma? All Oxford, all the time.
The past or the future? If working with local students has taught me anything — the future.
In honor of J. Ryan’s dedication to 826LA, here he is hamming it up at 826LA events to support our students and programs through the years:
Interested in becoming the voice of Mr. Barnacle during an 826LA Field Trip? Sign up to become a volunteer here.
Read more pieces from our Writing the Way at 826LA blog series here.