VCFA Young Writers Network expands programming thanks to $10,000 NEA grant

NEAVCFA's Young Writers Network received a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Challenge Grant this week, which will help expand the network’s efforts to connect professional authors with youth who are underserved by existing creative writing programs and underrepresented in children’s literature as a whole.

Specifically, the VCFA Young Writers Network will use the NEA Challenge Grant to bring author Karuna Riazi to young student writers in Portland, Maine. Riazi and two additional teaching authors will visit middle schools affiliated with Portland’s The Telling Room, a nonprofit literary arts program that seeks to empower youth through writing and share their voices with the world.  

“This Challenge America grant represents a big leap for VCFA Young Writers—allowing us to bring an extended writing program to children in one of New England’s most dynamic and diverse cities, with a partner we’ve long admired, and a young author who is already making her mark on children’s literature. It’s our dream team,” said Katie Bayerl, director of the VCFA Young Writers Network.

"The Telling Room has long believed in connecting young people with working writers. That's why we're so excited to be partnering with VCFA to bring Karuna Riazi to work with local students this spring,” said Nick Schuller, program director of The Telling Room. 

Riazi is the author of “The Gauntlet,” a lead middle grade title of the new Salaam Reads imprint at Simon & Schuster. A New Yorker of Bengali, African-American, and Native descent, she is a respected online advocate and blogger. 

She will visit Portland, Maine, for this special workshop series. New immigrant students in four classrooms will participate in a Skype kickoff session with Riazi, followed by eight interactive sessions with local teaching artists that use Riazi’s work as a launch point for crafting stories that explore self and community. They will also take part in an online exchange with students in rural New England, using story to connect across cultural and geographic boundaries. Riazi will join students for a final workshop and celebration, when she and students will share their work and engage the broader Portland community in considering the power of telling our stories. 

"As a child, I longed for positive representation of people like me in books, characters who could illuminate a path to self acceptance. This opportunity from NEA fulfills the next stage of that dream, allowing me a platform to reach back to young writers with whom I can share that light and the assurance that they too have a place in the writers' canon," said Riazi.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA Challenge America program offers support primarily to small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations—those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability. 

“It is energizing to see the impact that the arts are making throughout the United States. These NEA-supported projects, such as this one to the VCFA Young Writers Network, are good examples of how the arts build stronger and more vibrant communities, improve well-being, prepare our children to succeed, and increase the quality of our lives,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “At the National Endowment for the Arts, we believe that all people should have access to the joy, opportunities and connections the arts bring.” 

To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit

To learn more about the VCFA Young Writers Network and to make a gift, visit