The Education of Aqil

A Philly kid wants to know: What's it take to become a great artist?

You hear a lot of fantastic and other worldly debates at Mighty Writers, the Philadelphia writing program for city kids where I work, and yesterday I stumbled on a classic.

Aqil, a grade schooler who lives just a few doors from our 15th and Christian headquarters, was sitting in our comic book room on the second floor. He was feeling grumpy, didn’t feel much like writing and was looking to pick a fight with Diane Bones, one of our regular and most effective tutors.

His contention: it isn’t necessary to be a good writer to go to art school. Art school is a big part of Aqil’s future plans.

Diane took umbrage with that assertion, and a bet was made.[SIGNUP]

Before getting into who won the bet, a little background on the two betters.

Aqil is a MW pioneer, among the very first kids to sign up when we opened our doors nearly two years ago. He’s known for two things: his strong opinions and his love of drawing.

Aqil spends many—if not most—of his waking hours creating mini-comic books.

Many of his characters do superhuman things. Sometimes they do funny things, too,

As for writing, well, like I said, Aqil really likes to draw.

Diane Bones, the tutor in this high stakes drama, is a writer and a blogger and teaches a popular humor-writing course at Temple.

It’s easy to see why Diane’s course is popular. Her sense of humor is sharp and fast and self-deprecating. It’s also deeply humane.

But I digress.

After a brief huddle on how best to resolve the bet, it was decided that Aqil and Diane would walk several blocks to the University of the Arts and inquire if indeed it was necessary to be a good writer to go to art school.

Maggie Leyman (MW’s development director) and I tagged along; we’d both been present when the bet was made and we sure weren’t about to miss seeing how this was going to play out.

It was a beautiful day for a walk, made all the nicer by Aqil, who spent the entire time telling us of his walks to the Reading Terminal with his father, including what they buy there and what they make with the food they bring back.

His stories about the Reading Terminal would have made for a nice essay. Then again, to be fair to Aqil, his stories had the makings of a cool mini-comic book too.

When we got to UArts we found ourselves at the school’s administrative building, which just so happened to house the admissions office.

Diane disappeared from our midst and emerged a few minutes later with a nice UArts woman who knew all about what it takes to get into art school. The nice woman took Aqil by the hand and the two sat down in facing chairs in a far corner of the room.

We weren’t close enough to hear what was said but the conversation went on for a while and when their meeting was over it was clear that Aqil now knew what he’d have to do for the next decade or so in terms of his education to get into art school.

It was pretty likely that writing would play a part in it, which meant Aqil had lost the bet. But at the moment, only partly because we were supposedly the adults here, that all seemed pretty beside the point.

When we returned to Mighty Writers, Aqil was full of stories about his visit to a real life art school and the nice lady he’d met who told him all about what he’d have to do to some day be a student there.

Last we saw Aqil he was following Diane back up the stairs to the comic book room, where it turned out he had some writing he needed to finish.

Tim Whitaker (, is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.