The Young Authors Greenhouse kicked off a fundraising drive Friday morning with a star-studded benefit concert and breakfast.
On hand were My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and seminal author Dave Eggers. James performed, as did a rad collection of Louisville-connected musicians like Teddy Abrams, 1200, Scott Carney, Tyrone Cotton, Carter Wood Sartor and Rachel Grimes.
Before the music got started, Young Authors Executive Director Jeannette Bahouth addressed the crowd to explain the nonprofit’s mission — “To inspire students ages 6 to 18 to grow their imaginations through writing, to see minds open and pencils move,” she said.
While the musicians on stage were an impressive collection, the crowd was more impressed by the songwriters who joined them to perform four original songs — 15 students who have spent the year in creative writing classes offered by Young Authors Greenhouse.
For the last week, those students have been working with the aforementioned musicians to create original songs based on the students’ poems. Four new bands came out of the arrangement, each consisted of three or four students and two music professionals.
James addressed the crowd after they got a chance to hear some of those songs.
“We’ve been working with (the students) for the last week on these songs, we’d been in our own small group,” said James. “But then yesterday, I heard everybody else’s songs, and it was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe how good each song was. I was like, is this really as good as I think it is? And it’s like, yeah, it’s really that good.”
Between songs, Eggers interviewed the students, asking in-depth questions about the process, addressing central themes in their work, the practice of revision, and what it was like to collaborate. After one song, “Hope is Currently Untitled,” Eggers asked the students of the band The Daydreamers why hope was an important theme in their music.
Thirteen-year-old Jayda Gist-White had a simple answer, which was no less heartfelt for its brevity.
“Because hope is change,” she said.
The songs addressed a variety of subjects — from philosophical musings on the nature of hope to a snapshot of the heartbreak one feels when a friendship disintegrates. No definite plans have been made for recording and releasing the songs, but reps from SonaBLAST! Records were on hand, and they seemed to like what they were hearing.
While Young Authors already has been working with students, the program is in the process of renovating their new home in Portland’s Anchor Building. Friday’s event was part of an effort to raise the funds needed to realize Young Authors’ vision for the space.
And it sounds like it’s going to be quite a space.
The author spoke to the crowd about the genesis of 826, which had in flagship chapter in San Francisco. Looking for a location to house that first program, 826 found a space that came with some strings attached.
“The building was zoned for retail, so they made us sell something in the front of the building,” said Eggers. “That’s why we came up with pirate supplies.”
Portland’s Young Authors won’t be provisioning pirates, but they’ll have an eccentric and art-centric shop in front, as Bahouth outlined when she addressed the crowd.
“Half the store is an underwater sea monster research center, and the other half is an airship emporium,” she said.
In fact, when the fundraiser’s attendees entered the Anchor, art installations of driftwood, clouds, seaweed and a ladder to the sky hinted at the quirk in store for the retail space, which will front for Young Authors, offering whimsical wares created by locals.
That local connection is vital to the program, explained Eggers.
“The Young Authors Greenhouse will be part of a national network that supports each other anyway they can, but everything is homegrown,” he said. “The staff is always local, all the ideas are always local, all the volunteers are local.”
Located in the center of the tables were items Bahouth said offered a taste of the kinds of stuff that will be available in the store. Those items reflected the dual theme of the retail space.
Vials emblazoned with the title “Sky Writing” offered a variety of messages, single lines written by the students, each tucked away with some tiny clouds in a glass vial with instructions printed on the sides: “Uses: Dream Inspiration.” The similarly sized “Message in a Bottle” also included lines of student-sourced poetry and had more down-to-earth functions: “Communication and Buoyancy Experiments.”
Prints of some of the students’ poems were also available, created by Louisville-based artist Brad Vetter.
If you’re excited to see a program that will offer real help to residents while adding a distinctive retail concept to Portland’s rejuvenation, follow the instructions Jim James gave the audience before the event ended.
“Get involved,” he said. “It’s amazing working with these students and, you know, if you don’t have the time to get involved but you’ve got some money, send some money. Because we can use it to build this place out.”