Bensonhurst students showcase their first published works in Ditmas Park bookstore

bensonhurst students taylor & co.
Three student writers and winners of a literary contest are displaying their works in Taylor & Co. bookstore.
Photo courtesy of Gabriel Fontes

The shelves of a Ditmas Park bookstore are temporarily stocked with the works of some talented local Bensonhurst students.

Almost 90 young writers from the Leaders High School, a public school focused on project-based learning, entered a writing contest by Taylor & Co. Books as part of a school project. Each entrant wrote a collection of brief vignettes or personal accounts similar to Sandra Cisneros’ famous novel “The House on Mango Street,” which chronicles a year in the life of a 12-year-old girl in Chicago. 

Gabriel Fontes, a 10th grade English teacher at Leaders, organized the competition as a way to encourage student to develop their writing voices and to inspire literary creativity. 

“The idea was really to give students a place to shine and have a lot of affirmations going into the school year,” Fontes told Brooklyn Paper. “We’re always searching for ways to make projects meaningful and authentic and have an authentic audience of purpose.”

Fontes speaks at the book launch held at the Lafayette Campus Library.
Fontes speaks at the book launch held at the Lafayette Campus Library. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Fontes

Fontes said he wanted the kids to walk away from this project with an internalized confidence, as they often come to 10th grade with little to no belief in their writing abilities.

“Sadly, so many students enter 10th grade without a writer identity. They don’t see themselves as a writer,” he said. “Maybe they’ve had discouraging comment or feedback in the past and I think it can be a very narrow idea of what it means to be an excellent writer.”

One winner, a Aiman Sajid, a 10th grade student at Leaders, said that while she isn’t sure if she’d consider a longtime career in writing, it was nice to have her work recognized. Participating in the contest gave her a new perspective on writing. 

“I just wrote about random life experiences and how they affected my mindset and it just kind of showed how I observed things,” she said. 

Bensonhurst students at Taylor & Co.
Young writers celebrated their works at the launch party. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Fontes

Only three winners where selected by local poets Andrew ColarussoSampson Starkweather, and Paige Taggart, and chosen to have their work displayed Taylor & Co., one of southern Brooklyn’s only independent bookstores. Colarusso, the owner of Taylor & Co. and a former writing professor, jumped at the opportunity to form an encouraging environment for budding novelists, as he held similar writing opportunities when he was still teaching. He said he considered it a “joy and privilege” to be on the other side of helping students showcase their work to the community.

“I love any opportunity to foster relationships, develop talent, develop competence and encourage young people to recognize that they are more capable than they might realize,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “They’re more capable than society might give them indication of.”

Winners were invited back to the bookstore for an official meet and greet on Nov. 6. Patrons got to meet the writers, purchase signed copies of the vignettes and ask the authors questions. 

Taylor & Co. owner meets Bensonhurst students.
The winners and Fontes met with owner of Taylor & Co., Andrew Colarusso, who helped choose the winning pieces. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Fontes

“It was very sweet,” Colarusso said. “We wanted to know what some of their aspirations were and what were some of their thoughts on writing.”

The authors also held a book launch at the Lafayette Campus Library where they posed for pictures, met with other students and read some of their work. The books are still periodically showcased in the Taylor & Co. window displays, and bookworms are able to purchase the works with all proceeds going directly to the authors.