Growing Great Writers

Rutgers–Camden M.F.A. student Alex Luke and Nicholas Silcox GSC’18

Rutgers–Camden M.F.A. student Alex Luke, center, and Nicholas Silcox GSC’18, a M.A. in English graduate, leading a writing workshop with students at Cooper’s Poynt Family School in Camden.

By Catherine Buck GSC’18

As an incoming student to the master of fine arts in creative writing program in fall 2016, I was thrilled at the idea of spending time in the new Writers House, which truly functions as a home for so many writers at Rutgers University–Camden. Several fellow graduate students had started programs for different populations on campus, but it also felt necessary to expand our work beyond the school grounds, to share what we were learning with kids in nearby neighborhoods.

Catherine Buck GSC’18

Catherine Buck GSC’18

During my first semester I approached Leah Falk, program coordinator for the Writers House, with the idea for an after-school program. By the spring, we’d launched a pilot in collaboration with Camden Ignite, a Rutgers–Camden civic engagement effort which runs regular after-school programming in schools in North Camden. We focused on creating a place where writing was fun, where we emphasized exciting and diverse model texts, where nurturing their unique ideas took prominence over perfect spelling and penmanship.

During the 2017–18 school year, we successfully expanded our programming to work regularly with middle school students at Cooper’s Poynt Family School and Thomas H. Dudley Family School. “Many of our students need more support in reading and writing,” said P.J. Craig, Rutgers–Camden’s assistant director for K–12 partnerships. “The creative writing club was able to bring that extra support in a fun way that felt different from school and gave our students voice.”

One of our primary goals is to help students express the ideas and stories they already carry within them, such as writing about Camden for an evening celebrating the many wonderful parts of their home city. While we have structured writing and storytelling activities each session, several students have latched on to an idea and run with it over the course of our weekly meetings. Students have created a serial adventure story featuring a wizard and Evil Starfish, a new superhero modeled after a life-sized hamburger, and lots of bilingual poetry. Because many of our students come from primarily Spanish-speaking households, it is important for us to support these young people in expressing themselves creatively in the way that feels most natural for them.

notebooks

Writing by Camden students from the workshops

While our programming takes place in their schools, it’s not “homework time.” We’ve worked hard to build a space where regular participants can feel safe taking risks with their writing, creating broadly in a way that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do. “So many of the kids are eager to write stories,” said Judson Packard, a student in the M.F.A. program who will be leading the program during the 2018–2019 year. “Giving them the chance to do just that with no grades or expectations can be so important to a writer’s development.”

Students, alumni, faculty, and staff in the M.F.A. program are excited for the growth and expansion of activities we can offer to young writers in Camden. We hope to provide students with the support necessary to find joy and confidence in their ability to express their ideas, dreams, and creativity of all types through the written word. With a great group of incoming graduate students on campus this fall, we are thrilled to be able to continue serving Camden kids for years to come.

For more information about Growing Great Writers, visit writershouse.camden.rutgers.edu.

Catherine Buck received her M.F.A. in fiction from Rutgers–Camden in 2018, and continues to teach as an adjunct faculty member. She is working on a novel about teens on the U.S.–Mexico border.

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