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YA Novels at the Phyllis Wheatley Y

YA Novels at the Phyllis Wheatley Y

It takes a community to help students rise from their present circumstances and excel in those crucial next steps that can lead to a college education. UT English is helping to provide the resources, the support, and the guiding hands to help students in East Knoxville find their future path through reading, writing, and a supportive environment.

The YWCA’s Phyllis Wheatley Center is an after-school program that students from Austin-East High school and Vine Middle School can attend once their classes are finished for the day. The center prides itself on holding a safe space where all students can feel comfortable and welcome. Within the program, they provide enrichment activities to keep students engaged and fresh on all topics.

The English Department here at UTK has been a part of a community that is helping these young scholars by partnering and supporting the Phyllis Wheatley Center. The English Department has been promoting literacy work within the center through the Poetry Project, a YA Novels book club, and plans to create community arts and literacy fellows. Many faculty and staff members have donated books and bookshelves to the center, with the goal of refreshing the Phyllis Wheatley Center library. PhD student Joshua Mangle curated a list of YA Novels that feature positive Black, brown, and indigenous characters that help young people see themselves in a positive light. Exposing young scholars to different types of stories and genres can open their imagination, allow them to gain better comprehension skills, and develop a higher level of focus. English majors and graduate students from UT have also dedicated time to having a book club at the Phyllis Wheatley Center. They have worked hard to get a grasp of what the students want to read, and to appeal to what they want to further learn about. Students read The Age of Phillis by Honorée Jeffers to further learn about Phyllis Wheatley and her impact on the literary world. Students in the Poetry Project also were able to read Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds as a fun story with a black lead character. We may be biased about reading in the English department, but no one can deny that these students gain invaluable skills when they read!

The work does not stop there. The English Department is broadening its support to include all Austin-East Students with a pilot college admissions essay tutoring program, led by Dr. Kirsten Benson, Dr. Kat Powell, and Dr. Anne Langendorfer at the Judith Anderson Herbert Writing Center. They are expanding our capacity to help students with college essays, to prepare students for their next steps, and to help them access scholarships that make college affordable or free for first-generation students. These resources are just the start of how English’s partnerships within the East Knoxville community are growing. We welcome alumni and community members to join us in helping east Knoxville’s students succeed. Find out how you can help by getting in touch at


Savannah Brown
Savannah Brown is a junior English major and part of our Outreach team.