The first session of Young Writers 2012 is nearly done, and the second session is still a week away. Already we’re lamenting the group that will soon be leaving, and anticipating the energy of the new session, with its own identity, its own special writers. The work ethic, passion, and talent of the participants is truly overwhelming; we’ve had readings from student work each night this week, and somehow, the capacity to be thrilled deepens, reading by reading. One of the flagships of KR’s summer offerings, Young Writers is an intensive two week workshop for high school aged writers. Students come stay with us at the Kenyon College campus; they live in student housing, eat meals at the dining hall, and attend classes in regular college classrooms. The program brings in a wide range of students—across both sessions our participants will come from 40 different states and 7 different countries. In 2012, we were able to award $136,045 in financial aid to participants in the program as both full and partial awards. These awards are available through support from foundations and individual donors who believe in the mission of the program. Many donors support the program through our annual gala, the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement. In total, we will host 206 writers this summer in both sessions of the program.
The program has a curriculum based on the 70+ year back run of The Kenyon Review. Participants read and write from prompts based on KR-published work by classic literary luminaries such as Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, Flannery O’Connor, and Don Delillo, but also from prompts based on KR-published work by newer, more current authors such as Eavan Boland, Carl Phillips, Cara Blue Adams, Alice Fulton, and Bob Hicok. Our process during the workshops is intentionally generative. A tenet of the program’s pedagogy: when you are an emerging writer, one of the best things you can do is write broadly, across genres, with fearlessness and wonder. Another tenet: you don’t know what you have that’s worth writing about until you are actually writing. Waiting for inspiration could be like waiting for Godot. The muse lays down on your threshold with some regularity if you put out the welcome mat.
Over the course of the two weeks, participants will have started 25+ new pieces, will have polished many of those to near-completion, will have read work they are most proud of in a public reading to the entire group, and will have published work in an anthology they created, designed, edited, and produced. They will have many more pages of writing to go back through in the future, to cull the best image or idea, and to use those ideas in other new work. They’ll have worked hard in their small classes with their regular instructors. And they’ll have proved that while writing is often a solitary activity one does on his/her own, it is also something we do for others, something epistolary at its core, a thing done with words that we make for someone else.
The group that will depart this weekend and head home has had its share of adventure—a storm last week knocked out power for a time, and Ohio’s thermostat was on high most of the session. But we adapted, learned, and wrote from it; we made a “computer lab” out of four typewriters; we swam in the nearby river; we ate a lot of ice cream. When the power came back on, we were ready—but we were also closer, stronger, and focused. We were more deliberate. And we wrote about the ordeal the whole way through. A rainstorm becomes a line break, a firefly is a whole new point of view. That’s the magic of Young Writers. We can’t wait for the next session.