Young women writers pursue passion with Carnegie’s creative writing series
By Tammy Lane
Fayette County Public Schools
Some high school students spend their weekends catching up with friends, playing sports or working part-time jobs. Others take advantage of a chance to pursue another passion: creative writing.
Through the Young Women Writers Project, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington has provided resources and expertise to guide a dozen committed students this semester.
“A lot of people want to write more than what they’re able to do in school. We give them an extra four hours a week of really intense writing,” said program director Laura Whitaker.
“They’re also exposed to other mentors. It’s a six-week program, and we have six different instructors – all women writers in their 20s and 30s whom they can look up to and relate to,” she said. “We want them to see writing is a possibility for a part-time or full-time career or it’s worth pursuing as a creative hobby.”
The project, which began in 2004, is funded in part by the Kentucky Foundation for Women and by Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Kentucky. This spring’s free series has focused on self-expression, and the girls have practiced developing memorable characters and finding jewels even in the mundane experiences of life. Other sessions covered narrative memoir and poetry.
Bryan Station freshman Kaitlyn Ralston noted how the project opens new doors, saying, “It gives you more exposure to different types of writing you might not be familiar with or good at.”
Students in this year’s group hail from four of Fayette County’s five public high schools, Woodford County and Washington County. Some upperclassmen, like Kayla Craig, are repeat participants.
Kayla, a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar, has been writing seriously since age 10. This is her third year in the Young Women Writers Project, which she enjoys because it brings together like-minded students who readily exchange tips and support one another’s efforts.
“When you’re writing, sometimes it’s really hard to say what you want freely. You have so many ideas,” she said. “This helps you meld them all. You can really find your voice.”
Former UK professor Nickole Brown, who led the poetry workshop, encourages her charges to rely on their own authentic voices and write confidently about their own world no matter what. “Your life will make better art than mimicking television,” noted Brown, who teaches at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
While the Carnegie’s instructors didn’t plan on common themes or similar approaches, they pretty much have been on the same page. “We’re all teaching about awareness – basically ‘How do you pay attention in life to create art?’” as Brown explained.
Hearing advice from published writers and learning techniques from fellow students make the Saturday classes valuable for Lafayette freshman Margaux Curless. “It’s interesting to be reminded of all the different things you can do and gives you more perspective,” she said.
The students will pay it forward April 19 when they lead writing exercises for fourth- and fifth-grade girls at William Wells Brown Elementary. “It’s fun to see them get into it, and they grasp onto everything you say,” Kayla recalled from last year’s mentoring session.
The teens also will have opportunities to share their writing publicly after preparing in their final class, “Spellbinding: The Art of Performance.” The girls can read pieces April 20 during the LexArts Downtown Gallery Hop and during the Kentucky Women Writers Conference in September.
“It’s a great way to expose them to a broader audience and national writers,” Whitaker said. “We encourage them to choose something they’ve written or expanded through the program so they’re able to show off what they’ve gained.”