New Orleans students share fantastical stories for Mardi Gras season

This year, for the third year in a row, some New Orleans public school students and alums had their writing shared through an unconventional publisher — a local bakery.

The nonprofit 826 New Orleans has partnered with local schools and students to publish fictional origin stories (or “porquoi stories”) for how king cake came to be. In partnership with the Made in New Orleans Foundation and Gracious Bakery, those short stories are taped on the outside of Gracious’ king cake boxes the week before Mardi Gras.

We spoke with Brooke Pickett, the Executive Director of 826 New Orleans, about the project. In previous years, students would visit 826’s site or a community center to taste king cakes before they write about them.

This year, they were teaming up with Homer Plessy Community School for the project and planned to have cakes delivered to the school. Unfortunately, COVID-19 case levels rose and school returned to all-virtual learning the week they were scheduled to drop them off. Plessy’s teachers made the project work nonetheless, orchestrating virtual writing sessions with their students.

Gracious Bakery’s Instagram account highlighted the project

826’s Young Writers’ Council, which includes students from many schools, also contributed stories. Because the pandemic meant fewer schools could participate overall, Gracious is using top submissions from prior years, as well.

King cake by Gracious Bakery

“I think it’s really exciting for students to know that people they’ve never met and never heard of are reading their words and listening to their stories. That alone is transformational,” Pickett says.

We are pleased to share two of these stories. One is by Isaiah Simon, a Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School graduate who wrote his story as a senior, and Teliyah Francis, who wrote her story when she was a third grader at Arthur Ashe Charter School.

Cake for the Culture

by Isaiah Simon
Isaiah Simon was born in New Orleans and graduated from KIPP Renaissance High School [now Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School]. His college plans include studying mass communications and psychology. He would love to open up his own therapeutic writing center. On an average day, Isaiah is working to better himself so that he can better others. He loves to write poetry, which is where he first found his passion for writing. He knows that he will be great, with hopes to open up for Nicki Minaj one day. He also wants to have several books and television shows that he will write and direct. He is an up-and-coming YouTuber, patiently waiting for the moment where the world can see his name in lights.

The King Cake

by Teliyah Francis
Teliyah Francis likes to listen to music, to swim, and she is sassy.

This Mardi Gras looks very different due to COVID-19, as does our students’ school year. With these short stories, our young people help us preserve some of what we all love about carnival season — the whimsy, the magic, and the king cake.

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