Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fostering Future Literaries

Yesterday I took part in a Young Adult Writer's Conference at Carroll University, across the street from where I live. Last fall, a friend, Bob Goswitz, author of Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune, asked if I'd be interested in volunteering to help and I thought it sounded like fun. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am always eager to help other writers succeed.

To put it in perspective, these are Middle School writers who chose to be there as an option. This weeded out the kids who wouldn't be engaged because they didn't want to be there, which makes it a little easier. There were 25 groups or so of 12-15 kids per group. It was a huge undertaking.

We started the day by gathering in the main auditorium for a keynote interview with a successful author of middle grade books, Ali Novak. She gave an inspiring talk on how she started by posting her work to WattPad and before she knew it she was getting hundreds of thousands of readers. She's written 4 books and she even has one that is being considered for making into a movie. Her success makes me look like a mere mortal.

From there we broke into our groups. I was tasked with trying to get to 10 different groups over the course of the 4 hours of writing time. The goal was to have each student get enough of a start on a story for entry into a group publication which would be printed and given to each student.

I have to admit it was an interesting study in watching how students work in 2019. Almost every student had an iPad and many had a cell phone as well. While most worked hard typing in their stories, I saw a few that were distracted by their phones or videos/websites on their iPads. Snapchat, Facebook and texting was all part of the underworld. These are distractions I never had as a kid. The closest I had was a passed note.

But as I said, the classrooms were focused for the most part. It was funny because some rooms were nearly dead silent, and others buzzed with the hopelessly distracted socialite kids. The whole day was a reminder that teachers are a special breed and I am not among that breed.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy working with the kids. There were some incredibly rewarding moments. Like with the three kids that asked me to read their work and give them feedback. I used the opportunity to give them praise where I saw good lines and correction where they needed it. And I have to tell you I was surprised at the quality of a couple of their pieces. Stories of zombies, body image as it relates to social acceptance, some poetry, kidnapping and jail and lots of others. Good stuff.

And then there was the moment when we were walking back to the auditorium and a little guy named Justin and I struck up a conversation. After a few minutes, he said, "Could I get your autograph?"

Well, shucks, sure kid!

I scrawled out a note that just encouraged him to keep writing. He said he'd always wanted an autograph from an author. It was sorta humbling.

At the end of the day, Bob Goswitz and I had a chance to go on stage and field some questions from the whole assembly of kids. They asked some great questions, despite the fact that Bob and I are essentially deaf and had to ask them to repeat each question. (Ambient noise didn't help, though.)
Post Conference Author Q & A with Landwehr/Goswitz

It was another day of sub-atomic micro fame as I like to call it. But this one was rewarding in ways I didn't expect. I came away feeling like if there is even one student in the group that came away with a passion for the craft, we'll have done our job.

I also wish I had this opportunity as a kid. What a great chance to soar. Who knows where I would be if I had that level of encouragement at that level?

Blogging off...

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