WATCH: Creative-writing nonprofit 826CHI helps students become published authors

The Secret Agent Supply Co. is also home to the nonprofit organization 826CHI. (Taylor Anthony/MEDILL)

By Taylor Anthony
Medill Reports

What may seem like a bookstore on the outside is actually more than that. 826CHI is the local chapter the 826 National organization, a nonprofit that offers creative writing workshops and field trips for students ages 6-18 with the goal of having students become published authors. Their works are then sold in the bookstore known as the Secret Agent Supply Co.


ANTHONY: The Secret Agent Supply Company is not just any ordinary bookstore. This location is home to 826, a nonprofit writing, tutoring and publishing center dedicated to amplifying the voices of Chicago youth.

LIZA HALE: We have a variety of different programming. We have our field trips that take place here in the writing lab, and we’ve got quite a long waiting list of teachers who want to bring their students to our writing lab.

The wonder and excitement as they enter the space through the secret door through the Secret Agent Supply Store, they are like, “Where are we? What’s going on?”

ANTHONY: These field trips provide students with a space for creative writing, something that has been cut from the curriculum in many schools. 

REMY GUZMÁN: I think it’s important to have spaces like this because it … it, you know, we try to make it looks a little like, you know, classroom but not necessarily.

ANTHONY: At 826CHI students have the chance to go beyond what they may be learning in their English or language arts classes. Today Mason Elementary students are taking part in the “script this” workshop, which is a screenwriting class for elementary-age students.

ROBIN REID DRAKE: So we got to explore a little bit about what are the pieces that go to put together to create a script? They got to act out a scene from SpongeBob, learn a little bit about what it means to read a script, how dialogue should appear on a script.

 MASON ELEMENTARY STUDENT: I think this was a good group program today because every kid got together, and we were all thinking and we used our minds. And we thought about our story. And I liked it.

ANTHONY: Another program the organization offers is the teen writers studio, where seventh through 12th grade students come to work on any story they want to write.

HALE: It’s also community building as a place for that workshop environment of let’s read your story and offer feedback and then be able to really, again, present your writing in this finished beautiful book.

ANTHONY: Students meet weekly for writing workshops throughout the school year, eventually working together to produce a published literary chapbook.

WARINGA HUNJA: Today, we were working on the foreword of our anthology that’s going to be published in May, which is a collection of the beginnings of stories from all of them. All my students are pretty much working on novels.

INGE: I’m in the process of three different novels. I’m kind of trying to make it kind of “Harry Potter”-ish, but the main character is a werewolf.

ABIGAIL: So I mostly just write about things that happen in my life, but to some extent novel I’m writing about right now is kind of like, it like teeters the line of like the real world both,oh, I guess, fantasy.

HUNJA: We aim to publish all of our students’ work, so at the end of the day, really we want them to have something finished that they’re proud of.

ANTHONY: The publications will then be sold up front at the Secret Agent Supply Store. 

ABIGAIL: I’ve been wanting to be an author since I was in sixth grade, and I’m finally getting a chance to actually do it.

HALE: I think the bottom line, it makes the students feel like they matter and their voice matters, their stories matter.

GUZMÁN: Student writing is important. And I think that it is like key.

ANTHONY: The national 826 organization is the largest youth writing network in the country. Last year, the Chicago chapter served over 2,000 students and will continue making student voices heard as published authors.

In Wicker Park, Taylor Anthony, Medill Reports.

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Taylor Anthony is a video and broadcast specialization graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @taylorathonytv.