I had the distinct pleasure last week of visiting San Francisco’s only independent pirate supply store, 826 Valencia. 826 actually offers a variety of goods, including lard, flags, eye patches, mops, glass eyes and the like — all presented in a captivating space full of nooks, trap doors and mystery drawers — but the pirate shop is primarily a retail front for a truly inspirational writing center resting directly behind it.
826 was started by Dave Eggers and the folks behind McSweeney’s and The Believer and serves to help students, ages 8–18, to develop their writing skills. “Whether the students are working in the realm of fiction, nonfiction, or English as a second language, we are here to help them explore their love of writing. We offer free drop-in tutoring, workshops, and storytelling. We also help students create their own story collections, zines, and other publications.”
On the day I visited the staff were preparing for their 3rd annual thumb-wrestling competitions and so therefore there was no tutoring that day. I observed at least half a dozen young kids come in, learn of the pre-emption and turn away disappointed that they could not come in and do their homework. It speaks volumes to both the program’s innovation and the quality of its (over 650) volunteer tutors that these kids would be so exited by learning and the creative process.