Delivering Poetry With Pizza in New Orleans

Delivering Poetry With Pizza in New Orleans

The alum-led Pizza Poetry Project is a delicious celebration of National Poetry Month, youth voice, and the vibrant youth literary community in New Orleans.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

On Pizza Poetry Day, New Orleans pizza arrives hot, with a fresh poem written by local youth. Established by the youth writing nonprofit Big Class, the Pizza Poetry Project teams with some of the best pizza joints in town to publish and print poetry from students ages 6 to 18 on pizza boxes across the city in honor of National Poetry Month.

Now in its fifth year, a total of 1,500 pizza poems have come through Big Class via submission or through one of the many community and school-based writing workshops it hosts.

Started in 2010, Big Class has served more than 3,500 underserved students by offering free, innovative writing programs. Co-founded by Teach For America alum Doug Keller (Greater New Orleans ’09) and supported by a growing team of 400 volunteer tutors, artists, copy editors, and designers, the organization runs short-term writing and publishing collaborations with public schools and teachers around New Orleans. Lasting several weeks, the programs allow students the chance to work together toward a final project that is shared with the community in a public reading and celebration.

Student poem on pizza box.
On Pizza Poetry Day, New Orleans pizza arrives hot, with a fresh poem written by local area youth. Established by the alumni-led youth writing nonprofit Big Class.

This year’s Pizza Project will culminate with a published anthology and the Big Class Young Writers' Council selecting the most standout pizza poets to serve as Pizza Poet Laureates, all with the help of a team of professional poets, educators, and volunteers.

True to its name, Big Class started as an actual big classroom project for 43 first graders in 2010. Like many of the programs at Big Class, the Pizza Poetry Project is a platform for expression, joy, and weirdness, and a way for a community to collaborate toward a common creative goal.

"There's something that scares us about writing—it freezes us up," Doug explains. "The validation of knowing that what you wrote takes up space, the composing process of writing, and the idea that someone outside the classroom cares what you have to say, helps you feel heard."

Before heading south to teach first grade language arts with the corps in New Orleans, Doug worked as a writer for the video arm of the satirical publication The Onion. While working in New York, Doug was inspired by the fun, creative student publications he’d seen at Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, home to 826NYC—a chapter of the nationwide 826 network of writing and tutoring that serves urban youth and their communities founded by author Dave Eggers and award-winning educator Nínive Calegari.

Drawing from that inspiration, Doug found that the experience of students working together to produce and publish their work helped cultivate a sense of possibility and confidence. “It helped build a momentum and stamina, especially when they see how all the hard work pays off,” he says.

As word of the student publication spread throughout New Orleans, several teachers reached out to Doug about the need for similar work in their classrooms that would privilege often-marginalized student voices and give under-resourced youth opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills through project-based learning and volunteer support. And so Big Class was born.

Student poem printed on top of a pizza box.
Now in its fifth year, a total of 1,500 pizza poems have come through Big Class via submission or through one of the many community and school-based writing workshops it hosts.

Pizza and poetry, it’s a match made in literary heaven, but it’s only one of the many projects on Big Class’ plate. More recently, Big Class officially joined the national network of youth writing nonprofits, 826, and will open a writing center in the 7th Ward this summer. The 4,500 square foot innovative community space will give 1,500 budding student writers access to writer's workshops, field trips, after-school programs, and more. Just as at the other 826 centers, the center will also have a specialty theme, the New Orleans Haunting Supply Co—a theme created by young people that exists for young people.

Hungry for more? 

Here are a few favorites from pizza poetry day you might enjoy. 

Praises of Sunlight

Sunlight, you wake me up in the morning flashes
Us with your bright light,
Gets rid of the night and brings the light better
Than the rain,
Better than the wind,
But brings colorful flowers in the summer
One of the biggest, brightest, roundest,
Stars warm me up inside all the way
In space shining down in my place

– Ire'Ane
Grade 5, Phillis Wheatley Community School

 

Ode to My Own Self

Being my own awesome self
It makes me happy
At all times
Being my own self
It makes me
Do my work
Being my own self
Makes me cool
And amazing
And kindful

– A Girl Being Her Own Self, AKA Lyric
Grade 3, ReNEW Shaumburg Elementary

 

Roaches Got To Go!!!!

Roaches,
I hate them, I ate them, I kill them
I step on them
They make my day
So let me tell you about roaches
They eat your trash
Munch, munch, munch
They big and fat
Yup, yup, yup,
You step on them, you flush them
But let me tell you about them 9th Ward roaches
They big and scary
They look like a blackberry
Clean up your rooms kids
And they will go away forever

– Brandon
Grade 5, Phillis Wheatley Community School

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