Champlain College Young Writer’s Conference

On Memorial Day weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Champlain College Young Writer’s Conference for the second year in a row. Just like last year, the experience was phenomenal and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in writing. It is special, not only because of the writing, but because of the other people in attendance at the conference. The experience of getting to know all of the different teens from all around America is one of the most important ones at the conference, and no matter who you are or what you love, you will certainly be able to find a niche at this conference. There are athletes, theater kids, science geeks, and fandom nerds, all packed into one conference. Everybody there has one thing in common: they absolutely love writing.

If you go to the conference, you will be assigned a workshop leader, which is a person that you will be spending lots of time with throughout the conference. This leader individually consults with you about your writing, which is really helpful because you get to have the opinion of someone who is a published writer. You will be attending your workshop once or twice each day that you are at the conference, and your workshop leader is allowed to individualize what you do. Some leaders, like the one I had last year, decided that we were only going to read other people’s work. We did no writing in workshop. The leader that I had this year decided to centralize the the program to writing needs of the kids that she had. We wrote pieces and then shared them with each other. We gave each other feedback without exhausting the feedback, which was really helpful.

Between workshops are the craft sessions, which are electives that you sign up for when you first arrive at the conference. These electives all have specific concepts being taught and you are supposed to choose the one that you are the most interested in. Some of the electives are extremely active- I attended one in which we learned about writing in different point of views and everybody was assigned to write a scene in three different points of view and tenses with three different characters. Everybody was writing the same scene, but in a dozen different ways. Other craft sessions are more like lectures, such as Tim Brooke’s publishing revolution craft session.

The Champlain College Young Writer’s Conference isn’t just about writing. There are many other activities to fill the evenings, which are labelled as “free time” because you can choose what you do, but really, there’s so much to do that you won’t end up in your dorm room until late at night. An evening can feature moth storytelling- a common feature on NPR- open mike sessions, improv games, and even a contra dance, which is a type of square dancing. The pièce de résistance of the conference is the poetry slam, which is unlike anything you will ever experience. Sitting in a room with 400 other kids and watching somebody pour his or her heart out is a humbling experience. The best part is when you particularly like a line that somebody says and you start snapping your fingers. When you hear the sound of other people’s snaps joining in with yours, the joy that fills you is indescribable because you know that you’re not alone.

If you are interested in fiction writing, non-fiction writing, song writing, or poetry, I would encourage you to attend this conference. It’s an amazing experience and you’ll never again have an opportunity to be surrounded by such a free, peaceful, and fun group of human beings. On the first day of the conference, Jim Ellefson sits the group of excitedly chattering kids down and tells them to “close your eyes and take the stuff out of your hands.” As he reads one of his poems and his voices washes over you, you try to not exist except in the words of the poetry that he reads. This is the way that I would recommend tackling the conference. And, if you’re lucky, you might just start applying it to your life.