Our Instructors

Sondra Hall is the founder and Director of Take My Word For It!. Her inspiration as an artist-educator is fueled by her belief in the power of the written word to transform. She’s seen first hand that when kids’ imaginations are ignited, they are more engaged and enthusiastic about learning. “Take My Word For It!” has been leading kids on word expeditions for the last 7 years through after school and community-based classes as well as camps throughout the Bay Area as well as in northern Virginia.


Polly ConwayPolly Conway is a writer, artist, and enthusiastic educator living in Oakland. She’s a published poet and journalist, and her writing focused on the worlds of handmade and DIY craft can be found all over the internet. Polly earned her BA in Theatre at San Francisco State, and completed her MFA in Writing at California College of the Arts in 2007. Spending summers helping Native American youth in Oakland write their own one-act plays with Mentor Artists Playwright Program, Polly discovered that every child has the potential to create powerful (and fun!) writing. She loves encouraging students to let go of their writing fears and is always amazed by the results.

Taylor FredericksTaylor Richardson Fredericks is a writer and educator based in San Francisco. In addition to his work with Take My Word For It!, he teaches English at San Quentin State Prison through Patten University’s Prison University Project, and serves on the staff of Your Impossible Voice, a newly-founded literary magazine. He recently received an MFA in fiction from the University of San Francisco, and is currently at work on his first novel.

Tanya Grove was an elementary school teacher for 24 years and also taught an after-school musical theater class. Besides posting to her blog ForWords, she has written poems, short stories, plays, songs, a middle grade novel, and a chapter book. (Hear an adorable little British girl read Tanya’s poem “Blue” on smories.com.) Former president of the Berkeley branch of CWC (the California Writers Club), Tanya still edits the branch’s newsletter. In addition, she is a member of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and is a playwright with PlayGround SF, who staged her one-act play in front of a full house at the Berkeley Reparatory Theatre. A dedicated word nerd, Tanya laughs out loud at punctuation jokes and other grammatical humor. Currently a copyeditor for BookMatters, she’s edited books by a range of authors, including Rose Aguilar, Paul Farmer, and Rebecca Solnit.

Ivy JohnsonIvy Johnson was born on the open prairie where she picked crocuses as a child. Her first book, As They Fall, was published by Timeless, Infinite Light Press in June 2013 and is a collection of 110 note cards for aelatoric performance. She calls it a book of poetry. She received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Mills College in Spring 2013. While at Mills, she served as the coordinator of The Contemporary Writers Series and poetry editor of the 580 Split literary journal. She has taught for the Oakland Youth Poetry Workshop and gets really excited about working with kids.

Bianca LicataBianca Licata is a writer and artist in the North Bay. When she isn’t writing or sketching, she’s busy working on her Masters degree and Teaching Credential through USF. Bianca received her BA in English from UCSB and is an excited member of the Take My Word For It! team who is constantly surprised by the wisdom and honesty of children.


Elizabeth Meyer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a background in the arts, education, and social justice work. She was part of Jordan’s Poetry for the People program, which emphasized the written and spoken word as vehicles for truth-telling with precision and conviction. She carried this zeal for writing and the telling of one’s stories into her work with children and young adults in various community and school-based programs, serving as a Teaching Artist with San Francisco WritersCorps and as an Artist Educator with the Watershed-Arts-in-Education program. In her own work, Elizabeth believes in writing as a gateway to self-exploration and advocacy, experiential learning, and collaborative problem solving.

Danny Thanh NguyenDanny Thanh Nguyen has taught writing and creative arts to youth for over ten years, including through the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, and the Asian Art Museum. He received his MFA from Indiana University and edited the anthology AS IS: A Collection of Visual and Literary Works by Vietnamese American Artists.

Stephen NovotnyStephen Novotny is a poet and educator. He teaches English through the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison, co-curates the Hearts Desire reading series at the Bay Area Public School and prints letterpress chapbooks and ephemera through his poetry press. He recently received an MFRA from the University of San Francisco where he studied poetics.

Meredith PaigeMeredith Paige is a poet, teacher, and new mother. She received her MFA from San Francisco State University in 2010 along with a Certificate in the Teaching of Composition. Meredith was an Honorary Senior Poet at The George Washington University where she received her B.A. in English; her work has appeared in Poecology, Elephant Journal, and Milvia Street. Meredith has spent the last five years teaching at Berkeley City College and leading a memoir-writing group for local Holocaust survivors. When she’s not chasing around her son, she loves cooking up poems and good food. Meredith lives in the East Bay with her husband, son, and beloved cocker spaniel. She is so grateful for the chance to share the experience of writing with the amazing “Take My Word For It” students!

Emily PhillipsEmily Phillips was bitten by the writing bug at the tender age of 10. Poems, short stories, and novels have been in her blood ever since. She took her first real writing class when she was 24 and wishes there had been a Take My Word For It! around when she was a kid. Emily received her MFA in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts.

Mix PratherMix Prather is a poet and teacher in the East Bay and San Francisco. Mix graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in Creative Writing. Along with Take My Word For It!, Mix is volunteering with 826 Valencia to help cultivate students’ creative writing skills. When not at work, Mix loves to cook, read, and practice piano.

Antona RechifAntona Rechif graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. She has taught Arts and Crafts at Purple Crayon, led Summer and Winter Camps with San Francisco Gymnastics, and also spent a semester working for the African American Shakespeare Company. She is just returning to the city after spending two years in Chicago earning her Masters in Creative Writing, and teaching Intro to Science Fiction to college freshman at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago.

Joseph ShumakeJoseph Shumake is a songwriter and musician who writes, records, and performs music for the band, Sister Chief. He graduated from California Institute of Integral Studies with a Bachelors Degree in Interdisciplinary studies. His focus while obtaining his degree was creativity and consciousness; how creative expression allows for deeper understanding of the Self, local and global community. Joseph is also a self-taught painter, sculptor, and woodworker.

Anna WilsonAnna Wilson, aka “Annah Anti-Palindrome,” is an Oakland-based educator, writer and sound-artist. Anna(h) obtained her MFA degree in Creative Writing/Poetry through Mills College in 2011. Just for the record, she has nothing against palindromes on principle…it’s just kind of a long story. Anna(h) has tutored writing, led creative writing workshops, and facilitated after school programs for a variety of different age ranges (from elementary to high school students). She is currently a submissions editor with Deviant Type Press publishing collective.

Amelia WhitcombAmelia Whitcomb’s favorite toy as a child was an old manual typewriter. She spent hours typing out imaginary manuscripts and nonsense words, and ripping out pages in pretend frustration. These days, Amelia spends much of her time working on her real-life novel and teaching creative writing to children, in the hopes of fostering the same kind of passion for the written word that she’s had for as long as she can remember. She’s worked as a food writer, an editor, a homeschool teacher, a tutor, and a nanny, among other things. In 2012, she had the privilege of receiving her MFA in Creative Writing from California College of the Arts.

Lindsey WolkinLindsey Wolkin is a writer, visual artist, and ice skating coach living in Oakland. Her stories and poems have been published in Transfer, Forum and Passages North and her artwork can sometimes be viewed in local cafes and galleries. She is the recipient of a San Francisco Artist Commission Grant, and a Vermont Studio Center Residency. Lindsey has taught creative writing, art and comic book making for over 9 years. She is currently working on a novel.

Zach WynerZach Wyner has been a playwright, actor and tutor and has spent nine years teaching in progressive elementary schools, including the past four years at Park Day School in Oakland. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco in 2009. Currently, he is tutoring, volunteering at 826 Valencia and is at work on a collection of short stories. His work as a teacher had clarified his passion for writing and he is thrilled to bring the two together as an instructor for Take My Word For It!.


Kate Carito is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the current editor of the Breakwater Review. In 2012 she received an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from London Metropolitan University. Prior to her studies she worked at O, The Oprah Magazine.


Nellie Prior is a writer, educator, and wanderer of the woods based in Boston, MA. She studies writing at Emerson College, as well as at her very own desk. Having just finished the year as an intern for 826 Boston, where she lead workshops and oversaw after-school tutoring, she is thrilled to continue combining two of her greatest loves: working with children and working with the written word. She delights in creating a safe space for children to dig treasures out of their bottomless imaginations. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a children’s book, and her work has appeared in The Charles River Review.

Megan McDermott is the associate editor of Scene Magazine based in Boston. Megan loves to write short stories and poetry. In her free time, you can find Megan on the ski slopes!



Alex HendersonAlex Henderson gets excited every time he thinks about going to work at Take My Word For It! He came to Washington, DC from North Carolina, where he studied journalism and creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill. After graduation, he moved to Prague to work in a bookstore and write. He is currently on a third-year fellowship at George Mason University, where he’s finishing an MFA in fiction and working on a novel about moon rocks and Mickey Mouse. His fiction has appeared in Harper-Perennial’s Fifty-Two Stories and Ekleksographia. He will listen to anyone tell a good story.

PJ Magellan PJ Magellan is a fiction writer from the Washington, DC area. He did his undergraduate work in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. After graduating, he lived in Buenos Aires for four years working as an English teacher and freelance translator. In addition to teaching and traveling extensively throughout Uruguay and Argentina, he also attended writing workshops in a small used bookstore in the cobblestoned streets of San Telmo, where he began to craft his first novel. He is currently in his first year of the MFA program at George Mason University.

Sheila McMullinSheila McMullin is the 2012-2013 Heritage Fellow at George Mason University where she is an MFA candidate in poetry. She is poetry editor and blog/twitter manager for So to Speak: a journal of language of art. Sheila interns at the Library of Congress in the Poetry and Literature Center helping to create easily accessible poetry resources for the public through the internet. In 2010, Sheila lived and traveled throughout China teaching English to university students in the Shandong Province. While poetry is her first love, Sheila also loves traveling to meet new people, exchanging ideas on how to live a happy life, being outside, and engaging with the imagination to learn something new about ourselves!

Jessie Szalay Jessie Szalay has loved writing for as long as she can remember. Her passion for words followed her while she wrote, published, and taught children around the U.S. and in Japan, England, the UAE, and Jerusalem. A resident of Washington, DC, Jessie is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at George Mason University and nonfiction editor for So to Speak: a journal of language of art. In her spare time, she’s writing an action-packed young adult novel. Jessie is thrilled to be working with the young people of Northern Virginia as they discover the power and fun of writing with “Take My Word For It!”

Q WangQinglan “Q” Wang is an MFA candidate in poetry at George Mason University. Originally from Honolulu, she traded her surfboard for a BA from Bates College in Maine. She spent the last couple of years teaching elementary school children the meaning of ‘Ohana in southern Rhode Island. In addition to poetry, she loves making silly faces to go along with great rhymes.

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