Writers in the Schools’ new Executive Director, Giuseppe Taurino, earned his MFA from the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Prior to being the Executive Director of Writers in the Schools (WITS) Houston, he served as Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. Giuseppe also served as the Manager of Capacity Building Initiatives for the Houston Arts Alliance, and as Executive Director of Badgerdog Literary Publishing in Austin, Texas. Giuseppe has also worked as a writer-in-residence with Writers in the Schools (WITS) Houston, taught undergraduate and postgraduate English and Creative Writing, and served as a Fiction Editor for Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. He's been awarded a Donald Barthelme Fellowship in Fiction and scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. His stories and essays have appeared in American Short Fiction, B O D Y, Epoch, Green Mountains Review, New South, The Potomac Review, and elsewhere. Giuseppe is also a co-curator of the Poison Pen Reading Series, a contributing editor at American Short Fiction, and was a founding Advisory Board Member for the Houston Flood Museum.
Dear WITS Community,
Long before I’d ever even read a novel, much less entertained notions of writing my own, I loved being taken away by my nonna’s (grandmother’s) endless stream of tales: about the Italy she and my parents grew up in; about my dad’s persistent courtship of her oldest daughter—my mom; about the many, many mishaps and near misses she and my nonno watched their thirteen children struggle through between birth and adulthood. My favorite stories, though, revolved around the family’s migration to New York City in the early 1970’s. I loved hearing about the chance encounters and twists of fate that proved to be so pivotal in my parents’ (and most of my mom’s family’s) decision to remain in the states, as opposed to returning to la terra patria. Hearing those stories made me feel intimately connected to my family, as if my existence were a natural extension of theirs, an inevitable consequence even. For all intents and purposes, Nonna was my first creative writing teacher. Her tales spurred my own desire to write and explore and create and, to this day, those stories make me feel secure of my place in the world.
The point being, at least for me, that nothing is happenstance. Of course, some occurrences stand out more than othersand we rarely know, in the moment, what will become a memory—but in the end, everything is everything, as they say. Individual moments work in relation to one another, they build off one another, until what you have is a life, full and lived, ripe with texture and complexity, a sum that is far greater than its many incremental parts. Whether she meant to or not, my nonna taught me that.
Between my time in grad school and the year following it, I worked as a WITS writer-in-residence at over 40 placements. Over the course of those years, I found myself thinking often about my nonna and the stories I’d grown up with, about my own path as a writer. Listening to the stories and poems that blossomed in those workshops, I couldn’t help but smile and be moved by the connections my young students were making to their worlds, to their experiences, to their own unique perspectives and journeys. I felt proud of the work I found myself a part of. Here was a program (WITS) that not only facilitated the telling of young people’s stories but celebrated them. A program that granted permission and built a community that created a space for young people to engage the worth of their experiences and imagination because of the value they brought to the world. No questions asked.
We live in a world that too often emphasizes what’s next, while de-emphasizing the past, a world that shifts and changes and rarely slows, much less encourages reflection, a world that often feels disconnected and literally isolates people. If ever there was a time for storytellers and poets, I would argue it’s now. For stories and poems not only connect us to where it is we and our families come from. And they don’t simply deepen our understanding of our own lives. They create the lens through which we view the overall human condition, a lens that brings into focus the very significant impact a singular moment or experience, lived and expressed by a single human being, can have on the course of that life and others’.
I will never be the same because of my nonna and the connections she helped me forge, and in turn my daughter and her kids will never be the same. I believe that. And I believe many of the kids I worked with will never be the same because of their opportunity to be part of a WITS workshop. This is the kind of impact I believe WITS has. And, after an organic—albeit winding—journey through the arts, nonprofit and education sectors, this is the kind of work I am excited to come back to.
Looking ahead, my vision for the organization is simple. I want Writers in the Schools to be an organization that acts with conviction because, as my favorite public-figure NY Jets fan (yes, I am a proud, long-suffering Jets fan) Gary Vaynerchuck likes to say, “Conviction is the north star that keeps you on track, helping you be tenacious throughout your journey, despite the inevitable difficulties.”
As it relates to WITS, my convictions can be summed up straightforwardly. I firmly believe WITS is the preeminent literary arts education organization in the country. I absolutely believe that engaging children in the joy and power of reading and writing is transformative. I absolutely believe that WITS empowers young people to find their voices and take ownership of their stories. And I unequivocally believe that WITS helps bolster the work of educators by unlocking pathways toward critical and creative thinking, which are the foundation for lifelong education in and out of the classroom.
As we move into the organization’s next chapter, I want to thank you all, genuinely, for choosing to be part of WITS.
To our teaching-artists, past and present, thank you for dedicating your time and talents to enrich the lives of our young writers in the classroom, in the community, and on the stage.
To our school partners, thank you for your faith in our ability to support your diligent efforts to nourish and bolster your students and campuses.
To our funders, thank you for entrusting us with the opportunity to steward your generous support toward the realization of our mission.
And to our extended community of supporters—parents, grandparents, WITS alumni, past and current board members, past co-workers, sponsors, gala patrons, Space City Slam judges and audience members (I’m sorry if I’ve overlooked someone!)—thank you for helping WITS grow from an idea that sprouted in the hallways of the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program to a Houston institution that has had the privilege to vitally contribute to the development of thousands of young people over the course of 40+ years.
And thank you all, in advance, for your continued support toward helping WITS reach its full potential as we work toward facilitating a sense of literary community, and strive to continue to enrich the lives of young people with quality arts programming which will, in turn, help transform the way they see themselves, the world, and their place in that world.