Young writers don’t have many opportunities to be part of a community of like-minded students. But during this summer’s Young Authors Academy, sponsored by the Fox Valley Writing Project, 60 middle and high school-age writers had an opportunity to hone their writing skills and explored the varied facets of writing in a supportive environment.
“Students learn the importance of constant, incessant revision of every single word, paragraph and piece they construct. Real writing is hard work,” said Christine Hartjes ’01, MA ’08, who directed the high school students at this year’s academy. “We want them to see that with enough hard work, they can produce dynamite work.”
Academy student Laura Zornosa learned that lesson well. “I realized that a ‘real’ author is never truly finished writing,” she said “Revising is a never-ending cycle. If you ever want to stand any chance at becoming a published writer, then revising is your best friend.”
The skills the middle school students learned at the academy were to be more aware of the passive voice while writing and to take a more active voice throughout their writing to build more detail and life to their pieces. “In addition, they are also learning the effects of stronger word choice, sentence fluency, and a better eye for detail,” said Jeff Erdmann, who directed the middle school student at the academy.
“This is a good age group because they are still open to new ideas to help their own signature style of writing and are eager to utilize new techniques to give new life to their own writing. They are adaptable like a chameleon changing colors to fit the necessary environment, ” he said.
One of the students’ favorite activities was working with author and UW Oshkosh English professor Ron Rindo, who shared pointers about how to become a better writer and gave them feedback on their writing.
“The students were ecstatic to have the opportunity to speak and write with an actual, published author,” said Hartjes. “And Ron’s comments about their high-quality work will resonate with the students he spoke with for the rest of their lives.”
Another student favorite was a writing marathon that started on the Wiouwash Trail, where they wrote messages to the world with sidewalk chalk on the black pavement for future passers-by. Students went on to write along the Fox River, along the trail, by Fratello’s and in downtown Oshkosh.
The culminating activity, for the academy was a reading in which students stood in front of an audience of peers, friends and families and presented their most polished work. The younger students did this in the lecture halls in the UW Oshkosh Clow Social Science Center, while the high school students did a public reading at the New Moon Cafe on Main Street.
“The poems and stories that the students shared were spectacular. I couldn’t have been more proud. I think having their work heard by a large audience and getting positive feedback will be the push many of these young writers need to pursue their passion for writing even further,” said Hartjes.
Community support for the Fox Valley Writing Project’s work, creating a love for writing, was incredibly strong this year according to Hartjes. “I loved the combined effort of the Project, the Oshkosh Area School District, the local businesses who donated resources and time and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.”
In addition to Hartjes and Erdmann, the academy was led by Wendy Falk, who worked with the youngest participants.
Student Writing Excerpts
Why I Write
I write because it’s my only voice.
My way to not be the quiet kid, sitting alone in lowly corners, longing to speak.
I write to scream, and shout my opinion in loose-leaf scribblings,
Raising riots in graphite uproars.
I write to be a voice for the voiceless, and a breath when I’m breathless.
— Trace Schuelke
I’m a man’s man, I’m a guy’s guy, I’m a dude among dudes. Manhood is what I live on—my life force, my food.
I am the spitting image of masculinity—chicks want a hunk of this, and dudes wanna be like me.
When I walk down the street, heads turn from every direction. When I’m at the library, I’ll be found in the sports section.
I’m into games, I’m into bowls, I’m into scoreboards and touchdown passes. I’m into rude things and crude things like farting contests and bodily gases.
I’ve got mud flaps on my truck, and a dead deer on the hood. I’ve got Toby Keith turned up a lot louder than I should.
I like chillin’ with the boys, I like hangin’ out with the fellas. I only shop at manly stores like Scheel’s and Cabella’s.
I’m a sporty kind of guy, I’m an outdoorsman. I make my own beef jerky and then store it in cans.
I like my crossbows, my daggers, and all of my guns, cuz’ I’m the most dangerous man since Attila the Hun.
When I fish, I use leeches, cuz’ I’m just that out of town. Upon my favorite pastime, vegetarians would frown.
I’m at home in the forest, and my place is up north. I’ve worn boots and a Carhartt since the day I was brought forth.
I chop wood with my shirt off, my favorite tool is an axe, I’m always drenched in sweat, cuz’ I’ve got no time to relax.
I’ve got hair on my chest, and fur in my pits. When your friends call you caveman, now you know that’s legit.
— Jesse Szweda