From songs to sonnets, from cover letters to love letters, Writers in the Schools (WITS) inspires young people to discover and develop their authentic writing and performance voices.
This afternoon at Shorewood High School, Gillian Flynn told a group of juniors that she’d always been interested in dark topics.
As a third grader she wrote a story called "The Outhouse" about a pioneer girl who, in the end, was eaten alive by wolves. The group gasped.
“I know!” she said. “My parents were probably like who is this creepy person?”
Writing had been a strong interest early; in high school she wrote for the school newspaper and it was after college that she went into journalism. She liked that there was this opportunity to make a living at writing and her job for Entertainment Weekly gave her the chance to pull together everything she loved: books, music, and TV.
Being forced to write every day as part of her job was the greatest training in being a writer.
“A lot of [the work of] writing is just making yourself write. When you write the bad stuff it’s your brain trying to get to the good stuff.”
Flynn shared that she did a lot of extra writing to get to know her characters and the situations in her novel Gone Girl: Nick from the point of view of his kindergarten teacher during a family visit, characters’ iPod playlists, Netflix accounts.
“I have a questionnaire for my characters. Do they eat breakfast? What do they eat?” Her advice to young writers is to find different ways to get into the heads of their characters.
“When a character is real and starts doing their own thing, that’s when you know you’re doing the job right.”
Which Flynn clearly did. She didn’t expect Gone Girl to be such a hit, but through word of mouth it succeeded in reaching millions of people.
“You can kind of forget that you’ve written it,” she said. “You are by yourself with your laptop and it gets released into the world and suddenly it has its own life.”
After learning that the “most A-listish actor” in the upcoming film would be Ben Affleck, the boy who initially asked this question asked threw his hands down onto the desk. His excitement was palpable, and it made the rest of us pretty excited too.
“That’s crazy. He’s going to be doing the thing, that’s the thing you made.” He asked again, a bit later what it took to become a Ben Affleck-worthy writer?
“Part of being a writer is the sheer stubbornness,” she said. Writing could really be a drag sometimes and you got to show up every day and work your way through. “If something gets you back into the chair, it’s worth it.”
A student wanted to know, with all of this work, did she feel attached to her books? How did she transition from book to book?
“Usually, I’m so sick of the book by the time I’m done with it … , but I do spend enough time with the characters that I get attached and I’ll catch myself thinking: I wonder what so and so is doing.”
Another girl timidly raised her hand. “I chose to study you for an English project,” she said.
“What did you find out?” Flynn asked.
The student learned from an NPR interview that much of her time was spent thinking about the perfect crime.
“What led you to writing about them, rather than performing them?”
“I’d be too chicken,” she said, laughing. “My characters are bolder, so I let them handle it.”
Gillian Flynn is speaking tonight at Town Hall starting at 7:30. Q&A moderated by Maria Semple.
WITS Writer Laura Gamache shares her thoughts on arts education in words and pictures.
Poet J.W. Marshall enchants and engages a group of 4th grade students at Lafayette Elementary School.
WITS writer-in-residence, Eli Hastings, shares the healing power and poetry of angry letters.
Bob Hicok visited Nathan Hale High School this morning and spoke to the 9th grade poets, some of them dressed as super heroes.
He read for fifteen minutes to a completely absorbed group of twenty-three students and shared lines such as, “Tattoo my front door to my tombstone/ and place a key on my tongue like a mint,” and ending, from “Primer,” that explores his Michigan roots, with, “Let us all be from somewhere./ Let us tell each other everything we can.”
Award-winning poet Dorothea Lasky conducted a lively poetry lesson for 3rd graders at B.F. Day Elementary School. Find out how she sparked a classroom full of future writers and performers.
WITS writers-in-residence are in the news! Daemond Arrindell, who has taught middle and high school students through WITS for five years, was featured in The Seattle Times on Sunday, April 7. Check out the article here: http://ow.ly/kckoJ. Karen Finneyfrock, a local and national slam poetry legend whose first YA novel was released this winter, has an interview published in The Seattle Lesbian: http://ow.ly/kckvj. Karen has taught elementary, middle, and high school students through Writers in the Schools for six years. Congratulations to Daemond and Karen!
Karen Russell, author of 2011’s Swamplandia!, visited with 9th and 12th grade Chief Sealth International High School students on the Thursday, April 4.
Throughout the school year we here at Writers in the Schools provide as many opportunities as we can for students to showcase their work, from a year-end poetry reading at the Seattle Public Library, to a letterpress project in collaboration with Seattle Children’s Hospital and the School of Visual Concepts, to our annual anthology of the best student writing from the year. This January, we further extended our reach with two student poetry contests, featuring topics inspired by author events at Seattle Arts and Lectures.
The results of the WITS "Origins" contest are in!
Maga Barzallo Sockemtickem of Seattle Children's Hospital
And four finalists, in alphabetical order:
Angie Flores of Seattle Children's Hospital
Moneka LaFrambois of West Seattle High School
Faith Mulugeta of BF Day Elementary School
Ruby Strickland of BF Day Elementary School
Maga read last night as the opening act for Julie Otsuka's lecture through the Literary Arts Series. All five poets had their poems on display in the lobby, and you can read them on the WITS blog: http://salwits.wordpress.com/.
Congratulations to all of these excellent poets!
WITS staff have been hard at work this summer compiling and editing our annual anthology featuring the very best writing from the previous year’s WITS program. We are excited to announce that the title of this year’s anthology is In the Sliver of a Second, drawn from a poem written by Hutch School student Abby Rodriguez. Join us on Sunday, September 30 at 5:00pm at Benaroya’s Recital Hall for a free celebration of the arrival of the book. Many of the young authors appearing in the book will read their work, and then we will all celebrate with a book-signing sweetened by Cupcake Royale.
Peter Mountford, a longtime WITS Writer-in-Residence, has been chosen by Richard Hugo House to fill their own Writer-in-Residence post. These authors are selected on their strength as writers and teachers, and their ability to engage in the writing community and act as ambassadors for Hugo House.
On Wednesday, May 23, a new community of young writers was born. I had the privilege to emcee the event, and, standing at the front of the Microsoft Auditorium in the downtown Seattle Public Library as the reading progressed, I started to notice the posture of the other teen readers: they were leaning forward, elbows on their knees and palms on their chins, fingers folded across their mouths, brows in furrowed concentration, listening. They wanted to hear what the other writers were reading. They wanted to know the words of those who comprise their community.
Find out what makes Ann Teplick, poet, playwright, prose writer, and WITS Writer-in-Residence tick.
Seattle Arts & Lectures' Writers in the Schools Program co-hosts Teen Night Out at the Seattle Art Museum on Friday, April 13. One student from each of the 8 high schools that participated in the WITS field trip to the Gauguin & Polynesia exhibit will read an original poem inspired by artwork in the exhibit. 600 area students visited the exhibit during the month of March and, led by local, professional writers, penned poems in response to Gauguin's paintings and Polynesian art. The experience culminates Friday in a teen-curated reading and tour through the galleries.
Mary Ann Gwinn, the Seattle Times' book editor, interviewed Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken, who has also been a WITS Writer-in-Residence for a number of years.
Karen Finneyfrock does it all. She writes poetry of both the written- and spoken-word varieties, collaborates on projects with other creative folks (including a chocolate artist), teaches creative writing at the Hugo House, has a forthcoming Young Adult novel and is currently working on her second novel. On top of all that, she is also the Writers in the Schools writer-in-residence at Nathan Hale High School, where she teaches poetry once a week.
This year, WITS took on its third school in the Shoreline School District, Shorewood High School, where local playwright Tracy Vicory-Rosenquest has taught 10th and 11th grade students since October. On Tuesday, January 24, students performed a staged reading of five original one-act plays and five individual scenes. The genres varied from comedy to satire/parody to drama, each with unique characters ("Johnny, a 15 1/2 year old boy who loves to read poetry to Violet" was one of my favorite descriptions) and complex plots ("The Magic 8 Ball," for instance, sees a love-struck girl go crazy while taking erratic advice from her Magic 8 Ball.)
Tracy worked hard alongside partner teachers Tim Murray and Becky Eckhert to make the residency a great success. Thanks also goes to three local directors, Pearl Klein, Ana Maria Campoy, and Joe Homes, who volunteered their time to help prepare the students for the performance. The characters, the turns of phrase, the complex-but-still-uniquely-youthful plots--all were a pleasure to watch, and an honor to be able to claim as part of the WITS program.
For the first time ever, WITS was able to video record our annual book launch. This year’s celebration, held on Sept. 25 at Benaroya’s Recital Hall, is now available on Vimeo for your viewing pleasure. These students have much to say, and they articulate themselves with intention and eloquence. Smart, poignant, and funny, all of the students demonstrate a serious endeavor to create something with their words, and they have succeeded. Whether you want to relive a memory of the night or catch up on an evening missed, this video is a must-see.
Fifty-six area K-12 students read their original poetry, prose, and comics on stage at Benaroya Hall on September 25 to celebrate the publication of Our Beautiful Robotic Hearts. Students read their words with confidence and poise, and were met at the end with a standing ovation from the crowd. Celebrating with babycakes donated from Cupcake Royale, authors autographed the books and spoke with admiring fans. Photographs from the event available from Libby Lewis: http://www.libbylewisphotography.com/pickpic/gallery/splash.php?gallery_id=267.
Area students will present their original creative writing at the launch of the 2010-11 anthology of Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program on Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 5:00 at Benaroya’s Recital Hall.
The anthology, titled Our Beautiful Robotic Hearts, represents the “best of the best” from the 27 sites in our 2010-11 WITS program, which included public elementary, middle and high schools in Seattle, Kent, Shoreline, Port Townsend, on the Lummi Nation Reservation, and at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The 137 students featured in the anthology represent just a fraction of the stunning and insightful creative writing produced this past year by the 4,400 K-12 students WITS served.
Students, teachers, parents, writers, citizens of the world: join the conversation on the new Tumblr WITS blog! Each day from now until our year-end readings and celebrations on June 1 & 2, we will post a poem from a student who's had WITS this year. We also invite others to post writing prompts, poetic lines, questions, musings--WITS welcomes and encourages all. Find the Tumblr blog here: http://witsink.tumblr.com/.
The WITS year-end readings will be Wednesday, June 1 for elementary and middle school students and Thursday, June 2 for high school students. Both readings will be held in the Seattle Public Central Library's Microsoft Auditorium. 50 students will read over the course of 2 nights. More information can be found on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=208644069164067.
Students in Lori Eickelberg’s 7th grade class at TOPS K-8 were delighted to discover the wide array of books their teacher had ordered for them, and students spent some time one recent morning picking through the titles to find their favorites. Through a grant from the D.V. & Ida J. McEachern Charitable Trust, WITS is able to provide each of its schools with an assortment of books, free of charge to the schools. Schools place orders to add to the library, request class sets of novels students will be reading that year in their Language Arts classes, or provide exciting new titles for classrooms the schools might not otherwise be able to purchase.
WITS is excited to be working with West Seattle High School this year. Check out the West Seattle blog for a glimpse into the residency, led by poet and writer-in-residence Katie Ogle.
Native poet Cedar Sigo will visit the Center School to speak with students in Jon Greenberg's creative writing class on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Born February 2, 1978, Sigo was raised on The Suquamish reservation near Seattle, Washington. In 1995 he was awarded a scholarship to study writing and poetics at The Naropa Institute in Boulder Colorado where he studied with Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Lisa Jarnot, Alice Notley, and Joanne Kyger, among other poets. He has lived in San Francisco since 1999.
In 2003 Ugly Duckling Presse published the first edition of his Selected Writings. A second large collection Stranger In Town has just been published by City Lights.
Francis Nyssen read his poem "Ode to Birds," published in the WITS 2009-10 anthology You Will Not Come Back Unchanged, on stage at Benaroya Hall on October 15. Francis inspired cheers and admiration from the sold-out crowd at the Poetry Series opening night with former poet laureate Robert Pinsky.
The 2009-10 Writers in the Schools anthology, You Will Not Come Back Unchanged, featuring the poetry and prose of students in twenty-one area schools, will be launched at the Seattle Art Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Plestcheeff Auditorium. Students will read from their published work on stage. Free and open to the public. Come join us!
On May 26 and 27, two students from each WITS school read their best work at the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library. 250 were in attendance each night to listen, laugh, cry, and be moved by the work of young minds. You can listen to the podcast of the two nights on the library website.
Pictures from the event are available from Libby Lewis photography.
Nicole Dupler, one of two winners of a WITS scholarship, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Access to Artistic Excellence program, provided a powerful opening poem for national-recognized poet Sharon Olds on Sunday, April 18 at Benaroya Hall.
Seattle7Writers, a collective of Pacific Northwest authors , has named Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools (WITS) program as the first beneficiary of their outreach. Seattle7Writers is dedicated to creating connections between writers, readers, librarians, and booksellers to foster and support a passion for the written word.
Roosevelt High School 10th grade students studying poetry with WITS writer Emily Bedard read at the University Village Barnes & Noble on January 21 at 6:00pm.