UVa writers find new muse at Sweet Briar

| July 30, 2012

Quamia Dennis works on the lyrics for a song during her morning writing lab.

It’s a Thursday morning in July, and the second session of UVa’s Young Writers Workshop is in full swing.

In a tiny classroom a handful of songwriting students have picked up their guitars, their fingers searching for notes that might inspire words. Handwritten signs taped to the wall with bright pink duct tape read “Contribute,” “Take risks” and “Revisions.”

In the kitchen lounge just outside the classroom, another student is listening to hip-hop beats on his computer, his head nodding as he scribbles down lyrics.

For 30 years, high school kids from across the country and abroad have been gathering during the summer to immerse themselves in their art. There are workshops in fiction, poetry, non-fiction, script- and songwriting. Some students have been coming for years; others became counselors and now teach some of the writing labs. The second session, which lasts three weeks, typically draws 50 percent of its applicants from workshop alumnae, according to assistant director Jeff Martin.

One thing is different in 2012: It’s the first time the workshop is taking place on the campus of Sweet Briar College, and not at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

“It’s been wonderful,” says Margo Figgins, founder and director of the program, which admits between 150 and 200 students each year.

After last year’s hiatus due to renovations at UVa, she’s glad to have found a new home for her young writers — at least for the moment. It’s too early to say whether Sweet Briar will become a permanent residence, but so far the campus seems like a natural fit for the program.

“The location here is much nicer,” says scriptwriting student Natcher Pruett, a 17-year-old from Minneapolis. It’s his second time participating in the workshop.

Students Libby Brennan (from left), Katherine Thompson, Helena Chung and Sarah Yung don’t mind writing in the company of other poets.

“It’s nice to wake up in the morning and see the mountains when you look out of the window.”

Chicago native Leah Barber, 16, agrees. “I really like Sweet Briar College as a location because it brings character to the program.”

Despite her urban background, the quietude of the campus doesn’t bother her. On the contrary, she says, it’s nice not having distractions.

“You can really focus on your writing,” she says. In her case, that’s poetry.

Some students call the landscape “inspiring” — a vibe Martin feels, too.

“One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed in shifting from Charlottesville to Sweet Briar is that, odd as this may sound, the land seems to have a calming effect on both the students and the parents,” says Martin, who’s been with the program since 2001.

“In Charlottesville there was construction around us every summer for more than a decade, and we were right on a major road, so it was a very busy space — both literally and to the eye — and never really quiet. …read more
Source: A Landscape for Learning

Category: Academics

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