Memphian to Meet: Nat Akin

Posted on June 1, 2014

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stormyboothBy Kendra Lyons

Paul N. Akin Jr., has always gone by Nat, “except for one failed attempt to be known as ‘Paul’ during an Optimist-league baseball season” when he was ten. “It didn’t work out.”

After earning his degree in English and History from the University of Tennessee and his MA in English with a thesis in creative writing from the University of Mississippi, Akin moved to Nashville and swore he wouldn’t be back to Memphis, the place where he grew up. “Like a true Memphian,” he explains, “I did move back, and am very glad of it now.”

Akin is the director of Outreach & Education for Crosstown Arts and has become immersed in his latest creation, story booth, a program for middle and high schoolers that allows them to finish up homework, work on creative writing exercises, and write stories of their own. Participants in story booth are able to create a story from start to finish, and in the end, produce a hardcover version of their book.

Akin says, “Todd Richardson (Art History prof at U of M and co-director of Crosstown Arts) is a friend, and I remember distinctly the day he sent me the link to a TEDtalk by the fiction writer Dave Eggers, and asked if I knew of the program Dave Eggers had started, 826 Valencia. I watched it at my desk over the stack of student papers I needed to grade, and it was one of those few real “a-ha” moments for me. The idea Eggers presented was so simple and profound that after I watched it, all I could think is, this has to happen here in Memphis. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, which I think was Todd’s plan. I’d recommend the twenty minutes or so of Eggers’ presentation to anyone. Completely inspiring, and it gives the direct inspiration of story booth’s beginnings.”*

story booth is intended to empower students and provide them with the opportunity to think for themselves, which translates in to their role in the greater Memphis community, instilling a sense of self worth and responsibility within the students. Akin believes that getting students into a space outside of the traditional classroom is an excellent method of furthering a middle or high schooler’s educational experience.

Akin explains, “Our hope programmatically is that young people begin to develop their own creative voices through one or many of the workshops we offer, and that they gain the confidence that comes from seeing a creative project from start to finish. We also want the story booth space itself to be a place that they can take ownership of and be proud of, a place where they interact with interested people in the community and with professional artists and don’t feel at all talked down to, in the programming, or in the design of the space itself. They set the values for how they’ll work with each other in here, and, I’m hoping over time, that they’ll make the real decisions of how this program actually works best for them.”

Akin believes that the story booth initiative ties in directly with promoting confidence and self-worth among our youth. “They need to know they have stories that are worth hearing, stories that only they can be the ones to tell.”

Upcoming Events:

June 9th (6:00-8:00 PM): John Brandon, author if Further Joy, book reading and signing at story booth

June 9th: Artist Yvonne Bobo will lead a Rube Goldberg device workshop, event details TBA

Check out http://crosstownarts.org/engineering-the-ridiculous for more information on upcoming events and how to get involved.

*http://www.ted.com/talks/dave_eggers_makes_his_ted_prize_wish_once_upon_a_school

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