By Givens Parr  

JUNE 21, 2012 9:56 a.m. Comments (4)

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Ugly Words, a new program to inspire students aged 6 to 18 to write, is the brain-child-in-bloom of Adrienne Burris, a graduate of Clemson University’s Creative Writing program.

Though the project is freshly hatched, Burris already has a successful event behind her, a live website and a handful of donors to back her vision: to help “kids build confidence in themselves and in their writing and (to) know that they have a valid point of view.”

Burris said Ugly Words events and age-specific workshops are free and intended for students aged 6 to 18 from all backgrounds. The organization is seeking nonprofit status, which she said will help it to grow and become part of a solution she sees as a need in the community that can no longer be ignored.

“Greenville does not have a free, accessible writing program right now,” Burris said, a deficiency she considers especially regrettable in view of the widespread apathy and even fear she said many schoolchildren associate with putting pen to paper.

“Kids today in a lot of educational settings see writing as something that’s very difficult, that’s ugly, that’s unnecessary,” she said. “It’s something that they want to do the minimum required on just to get a grade. It’s not something they do because… they have something to say.”

Her goal, Burris said, is to help students “reclaim writing and reclaim words from something that’s ugly to something that’s a tool to express themselves.”

Positive feedback is the key to the Ugly Words method, she said. “Praise the good things. Confidence in what you have to say has to come first, and then once you have that down you’ll be willing to accept criticism.”

Whether a student’s starting point is a paragraph or a single word, Burris wants “to meet them where they are, find that starting point and build up.”

The inspiration for Ugly Words came in 2008, when Burris heard author Dave Eggers speak at Clemson University about Project 826, a national charity Eggers founded to improve the writing abilities of schoolchildren in his San Francisco neighborhood. Burris tucked the idea away in the back of her mind as “what I would like to do one day.” She used Project 826 and a similar Texas-based program, Austin Bat Cave, as models as Ugly Words took shape.

Burris is soliciting like-minded and passionate teachers from elementary, middle and high school backgrounds to advise and collaborate with her. With the support and experience of an advisory board, she hopes to infiltrate local classrooms with enriching workshops and support for overburdened teachers.

Teachers often don’t have the luxury of working on writing with a child one-on-one, Burris said. She hopes to combat this problem by providing the materials, energy and vision to facilitate teachers’ “dream projects” like a class literary magazine.

Burris is also excited to present Ugly Words Staycations, which will customize the Ugly Words workshop experience to the needs of partnering classrooms and youth organizations. Events and Staycations in the works include a code-cracking spy school at Frazee Dream Center, blanket fort building in the Greenville County Library, a “Hunger Games”-themed workshop in Falls Park and more.

Burris hopes Ugly Words will also include free drop-in tutoring when she finds an accessible location for the project. She envisions a space with readily available tutors, “not a sign-up thing,” where “diverse groups of students can share their experiences with each other and just enjoy themselves while they’re writing.”

To learn more about Ugly Words, go to, where you can donate, volunteer or register your child for a free workshop. Contact Adrienne Burris at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .




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