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Monday, August 29, 2011

Writing for 8 Hours and 26 Minutes on 8/26 Day in Honor of 826 Valencia

Posted By on Mon, Aug 29, 2011 at 11:00 AM

A volunteer writes for eight hours and twenty-six minutes on 8/26 Day. - KATE CONGER
  • Kate Conger
  • A volunteer writes for eight hours and twenty-six minutes on 8/26 Day.

Last Friday, August 26, writers gathered at 826 Valencia to participate in the 8/26 Day Write-a-thon, a marathon run not on foot, but on fingertips and imagination.

The participants ranged from middle-aged, Mac-toting adults down to preteens with pencils, all writing to raise money for 826's literary efforts. The Write-a-thon is the brainchild of 826's Youth Advisory Board, a group of students who generate programming, conceptualize events, and perform outreach to the community. Its mission is twofold: to unite and expand the writing community, both locally and globally, and to raise money for 826 Valencia's free student programming.

As you probably know, 826 Valencia (named after its Mission district address) is a non-profit community organization founded in 2002 by Nínive Calegari and Dave Eggers that offers daily tutoring and workshops for youth to strengthen their writing skills. It's also a pirate paraphernalia store. If you frequent the neighborhood, you've likely noticed its playful window displays and its crowning illustration by comic artist Chris Ware. Since its debut, the idea of mixing literacy and piracy has caught on, and seven more chapters have opened across the country.

  • Kate Conger

Each chapter marked 8/26 Day with festivities of their own, but only the Boston and San Francisco chapters hosted Write-a-thons. The Write-a-thon is styled after typical marathon races -- participants raise money for their participation through pledges and donations, receive a bib (with an identifying word, such as 'chiasmus' or 'farce,' instead of a number), and let their creativity run wild.

Words take precedence on Write-a-thon bibs. - KATE CONGER
  • Kate Conger
  • Words take precedence on Write-a-thon bibs.

Instead of covering distance, the competitors span time, writing from noon until, of course, 8:26 PM.

A few worked intently from start to finish, but many took breaks to text, chat, and load up on the provided refreshments. No one wins the Write-a-thon, and there aren't rules, so the competitive edge that's traditionally at the heart of a marathon was not a part of 8/26 Day. Writing prompts were provided to jumpstart the uninspired into poetry or prose.

Later in the evening, representatives from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto joined in, contributing to the communal feel. (The Grotto is an office space for writers who crave the structure of a traditional work environment.) The Grotto will lend a hand again later, when it hosts The Grotto School, a one-day intensive writing workshop to benefit 826 Valencia, on September 17. If you're feeling especially philanthropic, 826 Valencia's fundraising continues into fall with lectures from Joan Didion, Anne Leibovitz, Miranda July, and Michael Ondaatje.


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Kate Conger

Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.


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