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Youth Writing Festivals Return this Month
posted April 5, 2007

Every two years, the Youth Writing Festivals grace the Calvin College campus, welcoming hopeful scribes from all over West Michigan.

Nominated by their teachers those young writers come together at Calvin to hone their writing in workshops, listen to celebrated authors and illustrators, and maybe even win an award.

Youth Writing FestivalsThis year’s event will take place Thursday through Saturday, April 26 through 28, and will welcome 2,700 students drawn from 96 West Michigan elementary, middle and high schools, charter academies and home schools.

That mix is strategic say those who organize the event every other year.

“It really seems to me that this is one of Calvin’s strongest visible outreaches to the community,” says Calvin English professor and author Gary Schmidt. "We are really working very hard not only to bring in our normal constituency of Christian schools, but also public and charters and home schools from all over West Michigan.”

The 2007 festivals will feature three distinct types of guest authors.

  • Ann Turner is a writer of both children’s books such as Secrets of the Dollhouse and young adult novels like Learning to Swim.
  • James Ransome is the much-awarded illustrator of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop and Satchel Paige, among a host of titles.
  • And, for the first time ever, the festivals will host a Hollywood screenwriter, Raymond Singer, who penned Mulan and Jospeh King of Dreams and other films.

“These artists will reach in multiple directions to many communities,” Schmidt says.

The three featured guests will not merely lecture to attendees, but will also present their work in unprecedented ways, including a screenwriting workshop and an art exhibit.

Turner and Singer will lend their talents to the Middle School Writers Workshop and the High School Writers workshop, held concurrently on campus -- the first event at the chapel and FAC; the second at the Prince Conference Center -- from 7:30 a.m. through 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 26.

Both groups will attend sessions with Turner and Singer and participate in workshops taught by local professionals from the whole realm of writing genres: journalism, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, fantasy and nature writing, comics and graphic novels, memoirs and music writing.

Singer will also carve out some time during the three days of the festival to write a screenplay with 12 Calvin students.

“This is an incredible opportunity for college students to work intimately with a screenwriter who brings not only remarkable narrative skills, but a strong ethical sense of how the medium affects the audience, and what responsibilities that brings,” says Schmidt who adds that the workshop is open to the first 12 Calvin students who apply.

Both Turner and Singer also are making time for visits to local schools.

Turner will visit Grand Rapids Christian Middle School on Saturday morning, April 28, while Singer will visit Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids Sunday school on Sunday morning, April 29.

The middle and high school events also feature the Golden Pen Awards, a chance for the students to win first or second place for their original work in one of six categories: fiction, poetry, fantasy, personal essay, informative essay and feature piece.

The work of one middle school and one high school writer will be honored with the “Best of Show award, complete with a plaque and a gift certificate from Schuler Books, courtesy of the Peninsula Writers.

James Ransome will be spotlighted at the Young Authors Festival which happens Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28 in the FAC. First-through-fifth-grade student authors will have sessions with Ransome, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and the NAACP Image Award.

In another festival first, his work will be showcased at Calvin’s Center Art Gallery from March 26 through April 28 in a show titled “Visual Stories: The Artwork of James Ransome.”

“This is a great opportunity to collaborate with other departments and events on campus,” says Calvin’s director of exhibitions Joel Zwart. “Here we have a children’s illustrator coming to the Youth Writing Festivals, whose work is on display in the gallery at the same time for the public and the workshop participants to see.”

Ransome will also visit Oakdale Christian School on Friday, April 27.

The young authors will share their own illustrated books in the author groups that have been at the core of this festival for 30 years.

“There’s a tremendous sense of value in those groups. They show that we value your writing and want to hear what you have to say,” Schmidt says. “It’s not just, you write and it goes to a teacher, or you write and it goes in a black hole. It does what writing is supposed to do: It goes to the next human being.”

The Youth Writing Festivals is supported by the Grand Rapids Literacy Council, which covered registration fees for four local schools and by a Department of Education's Teacher Quality Grant, which will cover registration fees for students coming from four schools partnered with Calvin through a reading program.

“I attended Youth Writing Festivals when I was a kid in the ’70s and I remember it as a wonderful day,” says Teisha Kothe, the secondary literacy specialist with the Grand Rapids Literacy Council. “I felt so special. So I was glad to give this opportunity to the kids in Grand Rapids."

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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