When I was in my junior year of high school I decided that writing was something I, like, actually wanted to do with my life. This, for me, meant that I needed to buck up and do something to further my writing career. So I went online and looked into some writing programs.
That’s how I found out about University of Virginia’s summer program, the Young Writers Workshop.
Up until that point I had bid my summer camp days farewell. I’d had my fair share, like any other American girl, of Horse Camp, Gymnastics Camp, and “Wilderness” Camp. And sure, running around and canoeing as an eleven-year-old with the YMCA was great, but summer camp had never been my thing, until the summer before my senior year.
The Young Writers Workshop (YWW) is a three week sleepaway camp held at Sweet Briar Campus in Virginia. It specializes in writing and was the first place where someone told me that I was not trying to be a writer; I already was one. The kids here were eccentric and nerdy. They wore bizarre clothing and talked excitedly about modern poetry. I had been accepted into the Fiction major but, in time, made friends with Nonfiction, Poetry, Song Writing and Screenwriting kids too.
Within the main five “majors,” there were smaller “classes” which I attended with my peers twice a day. One of my favorite lessons included watching ‘Help, I Can’t Sleep’ commercials (which are nightmare inducing) and then writing our own “dream sequences.” In other, more serious lessons, we workshopped pieces, studied other writers and read our own work. I got really close with some of my classmates and still keep in touch with a few by email.
Although I spent a huge chunk of my time at YWW writing, there were loads of others things going on. We hosted dinners and dances for ourselves, we gathered together for poetry slams and listened to lectures from visiting authors. We had an entire day dedicated to creating a 24 hour play, a play that is written, directed and performed within 24 hours. My favorite one was called the Great Catsby. We also saw a local showing of Macbeth and even visited a cottage that poet Mary Oliver had lived and written some of her best poetry in. They handed out popsicles and pages of her poetry and I read it laying on the grass outside her old home.
Everyday there was a designated “Writing Time” and I’d go to the little library, sitting silently among my writer friends, and dedicated myself to two hours of pure writing. All the other campers sat around me, frowning in concentration and typing furiously. We were all together doing what we loved.
As I was rummaging through the diary that I kept at the time, I came upon a quote from YWW’s founder Margo Figgins that accurately captures my thoughts as I look back on my 2012 summer. Written in the margin of my journal, I had recorded her quote, “Everything only happens once.”
Now that I’m in my first summer of being too old to go to camp, I find myself thinking a lot about the Young Writers Workshop. I, like so many others, have experienced my first jolts of passion and independence at summer camp. I danced with my friends and wrote short stories late at night. As a sort of representation of these memories, I have taken excerpts from my photo library to celebrate the times we have all had at summer camp.