By Jasmine Browley | May 10, 2018

When Deidre McGraw decided to host a conversation around youth literacy during a 2017 On the Table conversation, she never imagined that it could birth poetry workshops, each featuring a successful writer. From her roundtable discussion, one singular point rang true: She needed to do something to make children want to read and write more.

“We wanted to introduce young children to the wonderful art of poetry,” said Deidre, a Northwestern Medicine technical analyst and co-founder of the Woodlawn Community Summit. The On the Table talk prompted the idea to pair a professional writer with children in an effort to spark interest in literature. As a result of her incredible conversation and with the integral help of her friends, Jawanda Hairston and Elizabeth Gardner, Deidre applied for and won a $2,500 Acting Up award in 2017. This led her to invite her cousin, Pulitzer Prize winning poet,Tyehimba Jess, to speak to 6th – 12th graders about expressing thoughts and feelings through writing that same year at the University of Chicago.

“The event gave youth who have an interest in writing and poetry an opportunity to meet a new role model,” said Deidre. “He’s from an urban environment, just like us, and he has succeeded as a professional writer and poet.”

Following the reading, the youth participated in a one-hour, hands-on writers’ workshop entitled “Phone Book.” It was facilitated by Asadah Kirkland, writer and founder of the Soulful Chicago Book Fair.

As a follow-up to the successful event, Deidre aims to launch a mobile workshop series.

“We’re very grateful to have been a recipient of an Acting Up award, which proved instrumental in allowing us the opportunity to expand our initiative,” she said. “It provided us with funds to buy supplies, plan a future follow up youth workshop and organize a fun, writing raffle, but most of all, it helped us make children smile.” 

Deidre McGraw

For more information about the poetry series, visit

Pictured above: Deidre McGraw took her empowering On the Table conversation about youth literacy and turned it into the Student Writers’ Workshop featuring Pulitzer Prize winning poet Tyehimba Jess in June 2017. The event was funded with the help of her Acting Up award.

Pictured above: Deidre McGraw (far right) poses with the aspiring young writers and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Tyehimba Jess (center) at the Student Writers’ Workshop that was funded with the help of her Acting Up award.

Pictured above: Asadah Kirkland of the Soulful Chicago Book Fair speaks with the young students about the importance of literacy at the Student Writers’ Workshop that took place in June 2017 at the  University of Chicago.