National Writing Project

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.

About the Author Gerald Richards is the Chief Executive Officer of 826 National. With twenty years of management and development experience at national nonprofit organizations, including the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship where he served as the Executive Director of the Bay Area office, Gerald is a respected trainer and sought after speaker on topics of youth and education access. He is interviewed regularly on these topics and has appeared on NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN's Anderson Cooper's 360, and The Michael Eric Dyson Show, as well as in articles in publications including The San Francisco Examiner and Inc. Magazine. He has also served as an education expert for national marketing campaigns promoting creativity in and outside the classroom. In 2008, he was named one of 101 African-American Champions for Youth in the Bay Area. Mr. Richards has a BA in Film Studies from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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