Reprinted with permission by Memphis Parent Magazine
by Jennifer Boren
Writer Heather Dobbins enjoys inspiring teens to write. Dobbins, the author of a debut collection of poetry, In the Low Houses, first dabbled in writing as a kid. So she volunteered to put together a teen writing conference and last weekend, students from across the city met at the Circuit Playhouse for the inaugural Mid-South Book Festival Student Writer’s Conference.
Sponsored by Literacy Mid-South, and chaired by Dobbins, who is passionate about writing and teaching, the conference offered a diverse line-up of workshops such as Writing Memories and Senses, Writing for Film, and Authentic Voice in Playwriting.
Conference attendees found themselves immersed in small, intimate groups with teachers and poets, filmmakers and authors. Teens engaged in meaty conversations and even had opportunities to write and share their own work.
Knia Robinson, a ninth grader at Arlington High School, has been writing for four years. She attended Tara Mae Mulroy’s workshop Retelling Tales: Myths, Legends, and Fairy Tales. Relating to popular fiction based on myths such as Percy Jackson and Hunger Games, students delved into classics by Anne Sexton and Andrea Scarpino. Robinson was excited to find such a solid fit, “I’m writing a book on magic and fantasy. I thought it would be good to get help from people who have experience.”
Mulroy, a published poet and a teacher at St. Georges Independent School, offered encouraging words. “Writers most improve from reading good writing," she observed, "not just what happens to be popular the moment. Classics that have stood the test of time are a great place to start.”
Brandon Mitchell, a student at Southwest Prep Academy and self-proclaimed amateur poet, attended Integrating Songs Into Poetry. Inspired by the song lyrics of Frank Ocean, he explained the connection. “Poetry is a fluid way to communicate the way you feel. Ocean uses his music to describe how to handle yourself in certain situations.”
Much like Mitchell, Dobbins was inspired by music early in her life, and started writing song lyrics at age seven. Despite her fledgling grades, teachers gave her writing the attention she needed to keep going. “I have found so many students that thought writing only meant persuasive essays and research papers. This is mostly why I decided to organize the workshops this year. There are so many types of writing.”
Teacher and presenter at the conference, Jonathan May, offered sage advice to young writers: Go to the library, read everything you can, and find inspiration in the world around you.
ADDITIONAL TEEN WRITING OUTLETS
Budding writers seeking additional creative outlets should consider River City Scribes, a five-day creative writing camp organized by Dobbins, or the Summer Writing Institute at Rhodes College.
Inspired writers participate in workshops aimed at honing critical thinking and writing skills during the Rhodes two-week residential institute. Students hoping to submit finished work to literary journals should explore the online sources New Pages Young Author Guide and Teen Ink.