As a kid, I did all my real writing alone. School papers, yes, but those don’t count, those are what you’re told to write, not what you dream up on your own. If a place like 826Michigan had existed back in the day, I would have done my best to live there.

Fortunately for young writers, it exists robustly now, in Ann Arbor, and there are 826 outposts in other cities as well. Young writers require feedback from critical adult readers — critics in the best sense, engaged in the process of helping the young writer find a voice and a way, what to keep and what to leave behind — not just Mom and Dad telling them how awesome they are. (They need that, too, but for other reasons.)

And they need peers; not only friends their own age, but writers their own age, who struggle with the same issues and triumphs and frustrations that they do. The 826 organizations create a place where all of this can happen, weekly, monthly, yearly.

I’m glad to say that I was able to offer a workshop last spring through 826Michigan for a group of very dedicated, passionate young writers, and pleased to add that a story of mine, “Brandi’s Baby,” was included in the anthology Unsquared, to benefit both 826Michigan and the Neutral Zone, alongside works by Davy Rothbart, Thomas Lynch, Charles Baxter, and many other A2-ish folks, all of whom share the pleasure when a strong young voice gets up on its hind legs and roars (or whispers; each voice has its own proper volume). Because we all need young writers: who else will write all the fiction, poetry, memoir, non-fiction, etc. etc. etc., we’re going to read?