Children’s Author Boosts Student Confidence by Helping Publish Their Own Stories

Daily Point of Light # 7832 Jun 12, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Melissa Williams Murphy. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Whether it’s a tale of magical wizards, space adventures or wild animals, nothing quite opens a child’s mind to endless imagination like a book. Melissa Williams Murphy takes this a step further, empowering children to publish their own short stories through her nonprofit organization, iWRITE.

As a children’s author, Melissa frequently visited Houston-area schools to read her books to young students. One question she was often asked was, “Can kids be authors too?”

“I thought, ‘Well, sure! Of course!’ At the time, I had a small publishing company, and we had the means to be able to publish children’s work. So I thought, why not start a competition that allows kids to submit their work and see it professionally published?” Melissa explained.

In 2009, iWRITE was launched with its annual publishing contest. Each year, a different theme is announced – this year, it’s fantasy – and students from third to 12th grade across Texas are invited to submit short stories or poems. The top 125 submissions are selected and published in a beautifully bound hardback anthology. After their book is published, these young authors revel in their success at iWRITE’s Book Signing Celebration, signing copies of the anthology for their friends and family.

Melissa is the founder of iWRITE, a nonprofit that promotes literacy among Houston’s youth through a unique writing curriculum, workshops and writing contests. /Courtesy Melissa Murphy

“I constantly hear stories about kids who struggled with mental health or just felt like they never fit in. But when they got this opportunity through iWRITE to be treated like a superstar when they were awarded, all of a sudden, they were empowered,” Melissa said. “I’ll never forget this fourth-grade boy during our first book signing celebration in 2009 where the kids got to read their work on stage. I overheard him say to his mom, ‘This was the best day of my life!’ I’ll never forget that because it made me realize we have to keep doing this for other kids who also need that best day in their life.”

In 2022, iWRITE made history with an extra special anthology. Measuring 7 feet tall and weighing 496 pounds, the book broke the Guinness World Record for the Largest Published Book. Titled “I Am Texas,” the book captures what Texas means to 1,000 students through stories, poetry and artwork.

iWRITE’s annual publishing contest may stand out as its flagship program, but the organization goes beyond with a unique writing curriculum featuring its mascot, “I” The Guy. Over 20,000 students in underserved Houston-area schools have benefitted from this curriculum. Combined with writing camps, journals, mentorship programs and an alumni club, iWRITE equips students with vital writing skills, crucial for breaking through economic barriers and achieving their full potential.

Julie Baker Finck, President & CEO of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, finds Melissa’s passion for literacy truly inspiring. “She recognized that writing was more of a chore for students to do in classrooms through simple journaling, rather than tapping into the creative minds of students and sparking their love of reading and writing,” Julie said. “Her dedication and commitment to improving the quality of writing instruction and the student literacy work over the past 15 years is tremendous. She is always thinking of creative ways to reach students and engage educators.”

Melissa stands in front of the “I Am Texas” book, which broke the Guinness World Record of the largest published book. /Courtesy Melissa Murphy

Melissa’s vision for iWRITE continues to expand. This November, iWRITE is transforming its annual book signing event into a literacy festival, featuring writing workshops, author talks, book giveaways and more.

As iWRITE continues to inspire and empower the next generation of writers, Melissa’s commitment to literacy ensures that many more “best days” are yet to come for the children of Houston and beyond.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Melissa? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Alicia Lee