In the Spotlight
San Francisco, California Member Since: 2011
About: Gerald Richards is the CEO of 826 National. With twenty years of management and development experience at national nonprofit organizations, Gerald is a respected trainer and speaker on topics of youth and education access. He holds a BA in Film Studies from Wesleyan University and an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
What is the biggest challenge you face in promoting the craft of writing?
Getting people to understand that great writing skills are the key to future success, whether it be in writing or face-to-face communication. Also getting people to accept and integrate technology consistently across all of our programs.
How have you seen 826 National change over the last decade?
In the past ten years, we’ve opened up centers in seven cities [in addition to San Francisco] and are now helping nearly 30,000 students strengthen their creative and expository writing skills. The demand and need for our programs has continued to increase over the past decade.
How else has the organization grown?
More than 100,000 students have participated in our writing programs nationally, and some of the students who participated in 2002, when our first center opened, have come back to tutor younger students. This past year, 826 students took part in a White House celebration of poetry. Our centers have been lauded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and our founder, Dave Egger,s has been named one of Time’s 100 important people.
What does your office look like?
I head a national organization, so my office pretty much looks like an airplane. The 826 National office, though, is a modest, Dunder Mifflinesque work space, with a water cooler named Vanessa, after one of our high school interns.
What are you currently working on?
Building the infrastructure to take our youth writing and literacy model to scale nationwide, then worldwide.
What book you could read again and again?
Naked by David Sedaris. I laugh out loud each and every time.
What are you reading right now?
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Is there a book you are embarrassed to say you’ve never read?
I’ve never read War and Peace. Whenever people talk about it, I always try to change the subject to movie reviews.
What do you read when you travel?
I usually take the books by our students. I recently finished You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike, publishedby our 826LA center. I’m also reading Anywhere at Once by 826 Chicago. One hundred and six students from across Chicago wrote a continuous story about the adventures of lizard scientist, Dr. Scalius, and his two human companions. I mean, how is that not amazing?
Share your favorite AWP conference moment.
2012 was my first AWP conference, and it was in Chicago, where I got my MFA (at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). It was great to speak on the panel about what do with an MFA once you get it. During the panel, one of my mentors, Janet Desaulniers, stood up and affirmed that we are always creating, and creating art.