by Erin Harvey, Junior Editor and Junior Co-editor for Drama jaBlog!
In early July, I attended the National Scholar’s Institute through the Belin Blank Center at the University of Iowa and took part in the writing workshop. The University of Iowa is known throughout the United States as one of the best colleges for writing. It was a one-week residential camp, and we were housed in the dorms on the vast city campus. Because of the number of applicants, the writing students were split into two classes. The instructors were authors Monica Bergers and Cynthia Miller Coffel. I was taught by the latter.
Each day, we explored not only our own writing but the words of others in the class by having the option to read our work out loud. Struck by the sheer amount of talented authors my own age, I used their writing to inspire my own as we completed various practices during our six hours of class per day.
The practices explored either our editorial side or our subconscious side, both of which are vital to a writer. We turned a copy of all of our work into Cynthia, who took time to give us each detailed, specific feedback. Although it was not specified, many of my peers chose to write poetry. As a writer of stories, I found it a unique experience to be surrounded by such different types of writers and took it as an opportunity to learn.
During the afternoon, both of the classes would take a field trip to different parts of Iowa City. We often walked around, taking notes and studying our surroundings to use as inspiration. My class explored a museum on the university’s campus, as well as the Iowa City Public Library and the well-known bookstore Prairie Lights.
Our main goal for the week was to complete a short story set in the 1960s, an especially difficult assignment for me as I knew little about the era. The stories spread across a wide range, discussing everything from the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights Movement to life behind the Berlin Wall. My peers and I shared our knowledge with each other through research, photographs, and family experiences. At the end of the week, we broke into small groups to exchange feedback on the stories, most of which were about ten pages long by the time they were complete. Hearing both the good and the bad allowed me to make the necessary edits to my story, which now has become one of my favorite pieces I have written.
Along with our own writing, we also discussed that of published authors. Each student was given a book of short stories. After the evening activities, we were asked to read a different story to discuss in class the following morning. The stories we read included “Silver Water” by Amy Bloom, “We Didn’t” by Stuart Dybek, and “Nineteen Fifty-Five” by Alice Walker. These stories expressed the importance of reading literature of experience authors, even if their writing is vastly different from our own.
At a tearful closing ceremony on Friday, we presented our favourite line from our work to our parents and students in other classes, viewed a slideshow of memories from the week, and received a certificate for completing the course. Far more valuable, in my opinion, than any certificate was the specialized feedback from our instructor and a book of the stories my classmates and I wrote throughout the week. In such a short amount of time, we learned such incredible knowledge about our craft.
The NSI writing workshop was, without a doubt, the best week I’ve had. I was honoured to have spent it with such talented students, ones I have made friends with and plan to keep. Although they also offered a physics and mobile app design course, I highly recommend the writing workshop to any dedicated young author.