May 21, 2007

Young Writers Workshop set for June 27-30

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The registration deadline for the Ninth Annual Young Writers Workshop at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is June 7.

The four-day program, led by renowned poet Allison Joseph in the English department, is open to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. It runs June 27-30.

Joseph described the workshop as "short, intense and affordable."

"One of the things that sets this program apart is that it is inexpensive," she said. Not only is she keeping the cost down – resident fee for the four days is $250 inclusive – but she also works hard to make certain students who come to the workshop get their money's worth.

"It is highly structured," she said. "Basically, we go from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and then there are more activities in the residence halls where they stay."

There are writing and critique seminars in the morning and the early afternoon. Later in the day, it's time for intensive mini-classes on specific topics. In the evening, students hear readings by faculty, graduate students and guest writers. And when they go to the residence halls, Joseph said, they often stage impromptu readings of their own.

Joseph said the young writers are not locked into poetry or prose, but have the opportunity to write both. They also gain exposure to specific writing styles they may not be taught at the high school level. The workshop also gives high school students a chance to experience a collegiate creative writing atmosphere and to learn from graduate students – an opportunity that benefits the graduate students as well.

"What's good for the graduate students is the opportunity to teach people who are so excited about writing," she said. "Many of the students come back summer after summer. To see them grow and mature is really wonderful. A lot of the kids we see here have been writing for so long it is so much a part of who they are."

Another difference with the program is that registration is first come-first served. Joseph does not require letters of recommendation or writing samples. She prefers to take the students just as they are. She said not all high schools offer creative writing in the curriculum, and some students are shy about asking teachers to recommend them for something they may see as a solitary pursuit. Still, she said, one of the reasons the students come to the workshop is to meet others with like interests and to enjoy the camaraderie of others who prefer to express themselves in print.

"I think it's really important for young writers to be in an environment that is challenging and encouraging," she said. "First of all, it's fun. Writing is such a singular activity and this setting gives them an opportunity to share and to learn from each other. It's great when you have a kid from Johnston City and a kid from south-side Chicago sitting right next to each other in a class. This workshop brings together young writers who might never have met otherwise."

Joseph is the author of "What Keeps Us Here," "Soul Train," "In Every Seam," "Imitation of Life" and "Worldly Pleasures," all poetry collections. She has won the John C. Zacharis First Book Prize, fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers conferences and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry. She edits the "Crab Orchard Review," a national literary publication produced at SIUC, where she is the Judge Williams Holmes Cook Endowed Professor.

The resident fee for the Young Writers Workshop is $250 and includes instruction, supplies, residence hall stay and meals. The commuter fee is $200. Young writers who want to participate in high-level instruction can register through the Division of Continuing Education. Registration online is available at or by calling 618/536-7751.