LPR is gearing up for our first-ever Middle School Writers Festival. It’s a project that will be driven by and generate enthusiasm for writing, but we also need some help from you to make it happen. To tell us more about the Festival, I give you Emily Rich:
Last February at an LPR reading and fundraiser in Ellicott City, I first heard Editor Laura Shovan talk about plans for a Middle School Writers Festival. I knew immediately this was a project I wanted to support. I had only recently gotten to know members of the LPR staff, but already I was impressed with the energy those involved with the magazine put into getting out into the larger community. When I heard Laura describe the middle school festival as something particularly dear to her heart, I felt an instant connection.
As a writer, parent, and former educator, I have often been concerned that creative writing is an area overlooked in today’s school curricula. When my daughter was in high school in Arlington Virginia, she was fortunate to participate in the county’s Fine Arts Apprenticeship, an extracurricular program for visual and performing artists. But to my knowledge, no equivalent instruction is offered for students with a gift for the written word.
So even though I knew LPR’s pilot project would take place in far away Howard County, I enthusiastically signed on as assistant director.
The Middle School Writers Festival (MSWF) was initially conceived and designed by a trio of literary enthusiasts: Laura, LPR’s grant writer Nancy Berla, and Beth Singleton, a Gifted and Talented (G/T) resource teacher at Murray Hill Middle School and the literary advisor to Our Voice, the Howard County middle school literary and art magazine.
In fact, it was Beth who initially approached LPR seeking some type of collaboration. Beth has been a tireless promoter of writing in Howard County schools. She works with the Writers’ Guild, a county-wide curriculum extension opportunity for 7th and 8th grade students with a passion for writing. Students involved in the Writers’ Guild receive special instruction and maintain a portfolio of work, which they are encouraged to submit to the annual publication of Our Voice.
According to Beth, the upcoming MSWF will build on the foundation established with the Writers’ Guild, providing students with access to published, professional writers. Participating middle school G/T teachers will also benefit, picking up new strategies, resources, and models that they can take back to the classroom.
While LPR has a stated mission to do outreach with local schools, a key impetus for a middle school festival came out of Laura, Nancy, and Beth’s shared desire to align the county’s creative writing program with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)-sponsored National Day on Writing.
The MSWF, planned for October 21, 2013, coincides with the National Day of Writing; however, preparation for the event will begin up to a month in advance.
In September, authors chosen for this project will visit a writing class in each of the participating middle schools, to become acquainted with the students. Authors Derrick Weston Brown, Linda Joy Burke, Lalita Noronha, and Patricia VanAmburg will discuss with the students the format and purposes of the National Day of Writing and will help them prepare written work for the festival. Teachers will be encouraged to guide students in the editing and revision of their pieces prior to the festival. Altogether about sixty students from four middle schools—Ellicott Mills, Clarksville, Lime Kiln, and Wilde Lake—will participate.
The festival itself will be held offsite, at the Howard County Center for the Arts.
The sustained attention that participating students will receive from published writers and poets is one of the things that inspires me about the project. I think about myself as an introverted middle schooler who was “good” at writing. My teachers praised me, but they didn’t have the time and resources to commit to fostering the talents of individual kids. A program such as the one Beth, Nancy, and Laura have designed would definitely have helped me to develop my skills and gain confidence as a young writer.
Another aspect of the MSWF I admire is that it caters to the interests of a broad selection of writers. The festival will include three sessions: two small workshops and one session with the whole group, with lunch in between. For Session 1, students will have the option to select one workshop from the following areas: Writing in Response to Art and Music, Culture and Mythology, Science and Fantasy, and Personal Experiences/Memory. They will be provided with a list of resources related to the various subjects so they can explore possible opportunities in the many fields. Through the process of writing about an area, students will develop deeper insights into and understanding of that field. This is a terrific way of encouraging kids to think about writing not just as an art form but as an integral part of daily life.
Session 2 is entitled Workshopping your Writing. During this session school-based groups will have a second meeting with the professional writer, to review and improve their written work.
Following lunch, all attending the festival will meet together for Session 3, “Open Mic.” In this session, participating authors will model what it is like to read before an audience. Students will then have the opportunity to share their own work. Many kids of middle-school age might feel anxious about participating in an activity such as an open mic, but I believe the atmosphere at the festival, with kids collaborating with a community of writers, will allow even they shy to open up and share their creations.
A great deal of hard work and inspiration has gone into developing the Middle School Writers Festival, but like anything else, some funding is required to turn a vision into reality. A generous grant from the Maryland Humanities Council allowed the program to get off the ground.
More funding is needed, however, in order to provide meals and to compensate participating authors for their time. If you would like to participate to this exciting undertaking, LPR is accepting donations both monetary and in-kind.
Festival Sponsorships are available for donations of $100 or more. All sponsors will be listed in the MSWF program and will receive a one-year subscription to the Little Patuxent Review. In-kind donations of notebooks, pens, and other writing-related giveaways for the students are also greatly appreciated.
I am so thrilled to be able to be a part of this exciting LPR initiative, and I have great hopes for its success this year and on into the future.
Emily Rich is a former federal employee and community college instructor who, after being diagnosed with both cancer and autoimmune arthritis, decided to take some time off to write. Her work has been published in a number of journals including Little Patuxent Review, Greenbrier Review, River Poet’s Journal, and Welter. She has also previously contributed to LPR’s Concerning Craft series. She is thrilled to be working with LPR both as assistant director for the MSFW and as a non-fiction reader for the upcoming Science issue. She lives in Arlington, VA.