Why I Write: Gerald Richards on Storytelling and 826 National
Date: October 19, 2011
Summary: Gerald Richards, CEO of 826 National, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students with creative writing, discusses how writing is vital to his work and to the success of 826.
I started writing to create worlds that were very different from my own reality. I grew up in Harlem, and many times it wasn't safe to play outside. So I watched a lot of TV. Science Fiction to be exact, and Star Trek in particular. I began inventing and writing about all kinds of imaginary places and people. I let my grandmother read my stories, but they made her think I was strange. I kept my writing in a box under my bed.
I was a film major in college, which made me a better writer. It was the power of observation, creating characters and fleshing out a scene that made what I wrote so much richer. When I write I visualize the character and their actions. It's like an internal movie in my head.
Much of the writing I do now is for work. The ability to write a good grant is enhanced by the ability to write a good story, the story of your organization and the lives affected by the work you do. The better you can tell the story, the more effective the grant proposal is. I have always been told I write great grant proposals.
A lot of the research for writing a good grant comes from knowing your constituents and you can only do that by interacting with them, participating in the programs, and offering help. When I was a development director I always made it a point to meet the students, participate in the programs as a volunteer, and know what our organization did inside and out.
A few years ago I wrote a fictionalized account of my relationship with my grandmother— what I knew it to be and what I wish it could have been. It was an extremely cathartic experience because it allowed me to detail some pent up emotions and frustrations surrounding my childhood.
I wound up looking at old pictures, processing through a lot of my memories, and in the end, separating fact from what I wished was fact. For a fictionalized piece it became an intensely personal work. Which is probably why it's still in a box in my apartment.