Upper School Writer Program Thrives

Upper School Writer Program Thrives
Friends Select School
Upper School Writer Program Thrives

Full Select News
Upper School Writer Program Thrives

To enrich the educational experience of upper school students and celebrate Philadelphia’s vibrant arts and culture, Friends Select School established the upper school Visiting Writer Program in 2019 with support from the John M. Dallam ’49 Endowed Fund. Each year, a distinguished Philadelphia-based writer is invited to engage with students and share their expertise, insight, and literary talent. This annual initiative not only fosters a love for literature and creative writing but also aligns seamlessly with the school’s commitment to social justice, strategic partnerships, and Quaker principles. 

“The program celebrates our city, rich in the arts and full of creative expression. Under the guidance of a seasoned professional who teaches workshops, leads classes, meets with clubs, and performs and reads their work, students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the power of words to make and shape worlds,” said current upper school English department chair and program advisor Suzanne Morrison. “The Visiting Writer Program takes a holistic approach to literary engagement. These interactions not only nurture students’ creativity and voice but also expose them to the real-world applications of writing in addressing social issues.”

During the summer months, English department members meet with upper school director, Chris Singler P’20, ’22, ’27, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Toni Graves Williamson, and director of city curriculum, Margaret Smith, to brainstorm local writers to invite. The esteemed author is always local and is often someone who writes about the city as well. “Our first visiting writer, Iain Pollock, for example, hit the literary scene with his debut collection of poetry, Spit Back a Boy, which features lyrical and narrative poetry in and around the streets of Philadelphia,” explained Suzanne.

The Evolving Program
The evolution of the Visiting Writer Program is aligned with shifts in the field related to digital platforms and technology. “In the ever-evolving landscape of the digital age, the program seamlessly adapts to the changing currents of writing and storytelling,” said Zoë Blatt, upper school art and digital media teacher and faculty advisor for The Falcon (Friends Select’s student-run news publication). “It not only magnifies the digital nature of reporting but also emphasizes for students the pivotal role of writing in filmmaking, podcasting, and beyond.” 

Student work produced during the Visiting Writer Program is published at the end of the school year in The Cauldron, Friends Select’s literary magazine, which is over a century old. Suzanne hopes to further engage students in planning this program in the future. “I plan for the program to evolve by collaborating with a committee of students, perhaps through The Cauldron or a literary club,” she explained. “Doing so would be a great way for students to research and learn more about writers in the city, compile a list of finalists, and then reach out to those writers.”  

Former Poet Laureate of Philadelphia Yolanda Wisher’s visit in 2022 inspired Noah Hall-King ’24 to explore poetry. “This program inspired my love for creative and personal writing as it became a way to express myself, my feelings, and anything I ever wanted to say through metaphors, symbols, and hidden messages. I fell in love with personal writing because of this program,” he shared. Motivated by the Visiting Writer Program to improve his craft, Noah attended the Summer Workshop for Young Writers at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. He also placed as a finalist in the city-wide competition for the distinguished Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia. 

“I hope students will use the program like I have and seek the most out of their high school writing experience by submitting their work to publications or competitions; but make sure that that is not the only reason they write,” Noah said. “And most importantly, students should submit to programs that foster their love of writing, like the Summer Workshop For Young Writers at the Kelly Writers House for rising high school juniors and seniors.” 

At the heart of the Visiting Writer Program is a dedication to embracing the diverse cultural tapestry of Philadelphia. The city, renowned for its rich artistic heritage, serves as a resource for the exploration of creative expression. In addition, the school-wide commitment to social justice is evident in the selection of writers and the themes explored in the workshops and classes. “In many ways, this program has diversity at its core; we are committed to introducing our students to writers of diverse genres with diverse perspectives and stories to tell,” said Suzanne. “Often, these stories provide the opportunity for meaningful conversations about race, identity, and social justice—a testament to the school’s dedication to creating a more inclusive and equitable society.” 

The upper school Visiting Writer Program stands as a testament to FSS’s unwavering dedication to its Quaker philosophy and strategic initiatives. By hosting diverse voices that contribute to our commitment to becoming an antiracist institution, the program embodies the school’s motto of being “in the city and of the city.” “Through meaningful engagement with a variety of perspectives, we not only enrich our academic environment but also actively contribute to the broader dialogue on equity, inclusion, and our urban community,” Zoë said.  


Past Visiting Writers


 

Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters
Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters is the Philadelphia Theatre Company Terrence McNally Award Recipient for her play, Acetone Wishes and Plexiglass Dreams. She’s a recent alum of InterAct Theatre Core Playwright, a current American Theatre Group PlayLab artist, and a 2022 Sesame Workshop Writers’ Room Fellow. She serves as the Lead Artist on the Philly Asian Performing Artists’ Playwrights Project. 

For the Visiting Writer Program, Stephanie performed, taught, and led writing workshops in the upper school. She also directed the upper school play, Clue, and joined Friends Select full-time last fall as an upper school drama teacher. 

Yolanda Wisher
After a program hiatus owing to the COVID pandemic, Philly-based poet, singer, and educator Yolanda Wisher visited Friends Select to teach a social justice workshop and a writing workshop. She was joined by V. Shayne Frederick from her Afroeaters band to perform her poetry during an assembly. In the social justice workshop, Yolanda shared some of her work from her School of Guerrilla Poetics, a space for people to learn to mobilize communities through poetry. In the writing workshop, she shared some of her work with students, answered questions, and provided writing prompts. Yolanda was named Poet Laureate of Philadelphia in both 2016 and 2017, and her work is nationally commissioned.

Iain Pollock
Iain Pollock is a poet and author of Ghost, Like a Place, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and Spit Back a Boy, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. 


His poems have appeared in many literary outlets, including African American Review, American Poetry Review, and The New York Times Magazine. Iain attended school, lived, and worked in Philadelphia for many years; at present, he directs the MFA Program at Manhattanville College, where he edits the literary journal Inkwell


The John M. Dallam ’49 Endowed Fund

The John M. Dallam ’49 Endowed Fund supports the needs of the English department to enhance curricular initiatives. Special emphasis is directed to cultivating a love of learning as it relates to reading, writing, communication, and the dramatic arts.

John established the endowed fund in 2016 to provide meaningful experiences for Friends Select students that match those he encountered. What makes John’s desire to give back to Friends Select especially moving is that after leaving Central High School to serve time in the army, John attended Friends Select for only one year—his senior year—in order to receive his high school diploma. In his short time at the school, John felt he received attention and care that was unmatched by any other school he had attended.

John proudly shared one particular opportunity he had at Friends Select that left 
a lasting impression on him. He was chosen by teachers as a representative for the school on a weekly radio show, KYW’s Junior Town Hall Meeting of the Year, where he made quite the impression. “I was asked to return for another appearance and was informed I was the first person, at that time, to ever be invited back,” he said. “You can imagine how good that made me feel. There were many similar opportunities presented to me by my teachers at Friends Select. It was those experiences that helped to shape  my life.”

To learn more about supporting Friends Select’s endowment, please contact Christine Jefferson, chief development officer, at 215-561-5900 x3141 or chrisj@friends-select.org