The Ministry of Stories has been inspired by 826 Valencia, the young peoples’ creative writing centre and pirate supplies store founded by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari.
Dave Eggers talks about the work at TED
The idea behind his centre was simple. Eggers' teacher friends told him that the one thing lacked with their English students, particularly those with literacy issues and those for whom English was a second language, was one-on-one time. Eggers' guess was that would be enough people among his writer friends who will be willing to volunteer some of their time to help out, and so he found an empty space opposite the offices on Valencia Street of his literary journal McSweeney’s.
However, the city authorities told him that this space was zoned for retail: he couldn't just open it as a "school"; it had to sell something. So, inspired by the place's ship-like interior he opened it as "a pirate supply store" too: somewhere where you could buy everything that a self-respecting pirate would need - from replacement peg-legs to bird-seed for your parrot.
The idea has been so successful that 826 Valencia now has sister centres in New York, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, and Washington, DC, all working under the umbrella of the 826 National network. All together, these centres work with over 22,000 students across the country each year, providing one to one attention and writing support. Each centre also has a different shop “theme” and the success of their methodology is clear in the engagement and enthusiasm of the young people that take part in their programmes; the quality of the books published and sold; and the international reputation of the pirate, superhero, spy, cryptozoology, space travel, robot and time-travel supplies stores.
Last year, Fighting Words, a project similarly inspired by the model of 826 Valencia, was opened in Dublin by Roddy Doyle and Sean Love.
Fighting Words helps students of all ages to develop their writing skills and to explore their love of writing. It provides story-telling fieldtrips for primary school groups, creative writing workshops for secondary students, and seminars, workshops and tutoring for adults.
In its first month of opening, Fighting Words recruited over 300 volunteers, and their calendar of workshops is regularly booked up a year in advance. Students from a yearlong weekly project have just published a book of their own short stories, Fighting Tuesdays, and the centre’s programme continues to expand.