Art & Literacy Project

Art & Lit Project: Blackout Poetry

By Liz Delaney, Social Media Intern

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At Words Alive, we strive to inspire young people to read by showing them how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new. Once a year, we welcome our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) students to participate in our Art & Lit Project, a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us" is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. This unique exhibition is designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border!

Alongside the art project, ABG students made new meaning from the book’s pages by creating blackout poems. In The Radius of Us, we learn that art is a powerful tool for expression from one character who refuses to speak after his traumatic journey to the U.S.; and the poetry here is designed in black and white to honor the illustration style he used to tell his story.

Blackout poetry is a transformative creative writing process. John DePasquale from Scholastic states, “the words for blackout poems are already written on the page, but it’s up to the blackout poet to bring new meaning and life to these words... Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces.”

In this collection, you’ll find an array of poems written from the words of the same story – a reflection of the way in which we all perceive the world around us differently. A few of their poems can be seen above and some of our favorites read:

“I felt alone through the dark/heaviness pressed down on me/I wanted rest./I left/I am free”

“I’m struggling/my heart is racing/my eyes are blurring/I feel the/p/a/i/n”

“beautiful/love/my heart/is insane”

Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego to see these poem and the student’s art work in person! RSVP for the event here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.





Art & Lit Project: Doing Our Small Part to Help Asylum Seekers

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern & Sara Mortensen, Communications Manager

Image of a student holding up the welcome cards she wrote to asylum seekers.

Image of a student holding up the welcome cards she wrote to asylum seekers.

Every year, Words Alive facilitates an art project with our teen students. “The Radius of All of Us” is a unique exhibition inspired by Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us, designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border. Through creative writing and art, students connect the novel to the world as they explore themes of perception and transformation and grapple with the complex issues of trauma and immigration.

In The Radius of Us, Phoenix, one of the main protagonists, is an asylum seeker from El Salvador. He fled his home country due to gang violence and is looking for a new start for himself and his younger brother. As we connect Phoenix’s immigration experience in The Radius of Us to what’s happening in our world, we are doing our small part to help those seeking asylum in our community.

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Working alongside Jewish Family Service, we’re collecting donations of new socks and underwear — the items most requested by people crossing the border. All youth sizes and adult size small are needed. The clothing will benefit families staying at the Jewish Family Service shelter for asylum seekers. Jewish Family Service is a “client-centered, impact-driven organization working to build a stronger, healthier, more resilient San Diego “ that makes a “difference in the lives of more than 32,000 people every year”. These donations are extremely important and needed due to the fact that these people are trying to start a new life in a new country.

In addition, students at many of our classrooms are writing welcome letters to refugees and asylum seekers. In The Radius of Us, Phoenix has mixed experiences when he comes to the United States. He is welcomed into the home of Sally and Amanda while at the same time he is seen as suspicious and dangerous by other members of the community. By writing these welcome letters, students will be helping to make refugees and asylum seekers coming through the San Diego border know that there are people who are rooting for them to succeed in the United States and that there are people who are happy that they are here.

At Words Alive, we are proud of our students for taking part in this project to help others. Please donate today if you can! We are accepting sock and underwear donations at the Words Alive office until June 4th. You can also donate at our Art & Lit Exhibit, where you can see our student’s final art projects. Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute.

The Radius of All of Us: Words Alive's Annual Art & Lit Exhibit

At Words Alive, we believe that reading becomes truly exciting, joyful and inspiring to young people when they see how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new.

Once a year, we work to bring books alive in a different way for our ABG students by welcoming them to participate in our Art & Lit Project. ABG students participate in a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment – all while having fun and creating their very own piece of art.

Words Alive's Adolescent Book Group brings books alive for teenagers facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, violence, teen pregnancy and impact by the justice system. Trained Words Alive facilitators deliver a Common Core-aligned curriculum of hands-on projects, creative writing exercises and discussion prompts specifically designed to spark students’ love of reading, enhance critical thinking skills and boost self-esteem.

About the Book

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us" is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt.

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Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?

Through working on this project, students will connect the novel to their world by exploring themes of perception and transformation while grappling with the complex issues of trauma and immigration.

About the Art

This thought-provoking work, designed by community artist Sue Britt, showcases the deep ways in which students can connect literature to art, themselves and the world.

The characters in the The Radius of Us perceive and are perceived in ways that evolve as their stories and personalities are better known to others. Perceptions and the words we use to describe other people and ourselves create the radius of each of us; each word forming a boundary of limitations.

Words around the circle represent labels that are placed on the student by others or themselves.

Words around the circle represent labels that are placed on the student by others or themselves.

But as we trust enough to share our inner selves, our circle can expand and be blown wide open; although, as realized through literally blowing alcohol ink across the page with a straw, breaking these boundaries can be a challenging process with unexpected results. And still, the words that make up our circle do not go away but remain part of our transformed selves.

Relationships are represented in the work through each drop of ink within the circle. Initially, each drop forms a hard edge, but as drops collide and interact with one another, they change shape and color to symbolize the ways our relationships with others affect who we are. Behind each work, a transparent color reflects the light we shine on those around us.

Each student’s radius, created on translucent paper, comes together with their peers’ work to form a phoenix – a mythological bird reborn from its ashes – a symbol of how trust and sharing with others can lead to personal growth and transformation.

To see the culmination of our students’ work, and the final phoenixes, join us for a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego. RSVP for the event here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.