Thursday, June 24, 2010

Broken Bridge Arts Workshop

Every year, during this 10-day stretch in the hot and humid hills of Connecticut, I live with, work with, and hopefully teach a handful of teenage fiction writers who have gathered with poets and actors to study their craft and discuss the ins and outs of life in the arts.

It's an exhausting week of 18-hour days, but it's also an exhilarating one. And, every year, I come away more and more impressed by our youth.

So much of what we hear about teens, especially in the education world, revolves around complaints—statistics tell us the average 12-year-old in 2010 knows 50% fewer words than in 1950; we are told kids would rather e-mail or Skype than have face-to-face conversations; and, of course, we hear that given the amount of time spent in Cyberland, kids no longer read. (Every high school English teacher—I am no different—has at least one story about receiving a paper written in text language. LOL, baby!)

However, what I find during this week annually is a group of teens who love the arts, are passionate about their respective crafts, and want desperately to create meaningful works. I will never forget one girl from Louisiana. Shy, nearly silent, in fact, she arrived with a handful of poems she had written but with little formal training. Her instructor for the week had seen potential in her application materials and encouraged her to enroll. She embraced the opportunity, spending the week drafting, clarifying images, working tirelessly, and staying up until 1 a.m. to discuss books with her peers. On the final night, she stood behind the poem, and, in her slow, southern drawl, simply sang like a bird, wowing us with her powerful poetry. It was great to see. Likewise, this year, a different poet returned to share news of her recent first publication—in a well respected journal and at age 17, no less. These are students who want to go on to study English or drama or writing. Moreover, they want to use the arts to make a difference.

I know this is a select population—perhaps, the cynic might even argue, not a true indicator of the literary efforts of our youth. Yet I believe the opposite—that, when given the opportunity, when free from typical teenage pressures, when given the chance to truly express themselves, the youth of our society still appreciates the literary arts, and that the literary world is in good hands.

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