Inside the Champlain College Young Writers’ Conference

The eighteenth annual Champlain College Young Writers’ Conference took place on the campus of Champlain College in Burlington, VT last weekend from May 25 to the 27th. Among aspiring high-school authors, musicians, and filmmakers from all over the country, I participated in the conference as a representative of Massachusetts fiction writers.

The conference featured poet Gennarose Nethercott as a keynote speaker, along with the expertise of successful authors of all genres such as Jensen Beach, Brionne Janae, and Geof Hewitt. Between poetry readings, Nethercott delivered inspirational words on the power and magic of culture, language, and art.

Along with diverse authors from across the United States, I watched and participated in poetry slams, storytelling, and open mic poetry readings. A feature of the conference was moth storytelling: five-minute, judge-scored, true stories, direct from the mind of the speaker. All of this year’s stories had to share random acts of kindness as a common theme; and there were certainly some crazy stories.

My favorite part of the conference was the craft workshops. They are small, expert-led workshops chosen by the student, each focusing on a different aspect or strategy of successful writing. Each student chooses three to attend at the start of the conference. Mine were a speed-writing and poetry performance lesson led by poet Geof Hewitt, a workshop on effective political poems led by Brionne Janae, and a study in revising work by using Google to write new pieces led by UMASS Boston professor Lillian Bertram. Other workshops included divining stories from tarot cards, mastering dialogue use, writing manifestos, and many more.

On top of the craft mastery sessions were conference-assigned workshops. Not chosen by the student, these workshops have smaller classes and are more intensive. They are led by a professional author, and consist of about eight hours split into five segments over the three-day conference. Mine was a fiction writing lesson led by Jensen Beach, author of For Out of the Heart Proceed and Swallowed by the Cold, and included twelve students.

The environment of the conference was stellar for writers. There is a surreal feeling of like-mindedness when a high schooler leaps onto a stool to read a poem and starts an impromptu open mic session while young songwriters practice self-written acoustic guitar pieces in the next room over. The conference was an excellent celebration of writing in all its forms, and is a great place for creative young people to live and learn surrounded by kindred spirits.

If you are a filmmaker, musician, or author of any style, consider applying for next year’s national Champlain College Young Writers’ Conference. The 2019 conference will take place over memorial day weekend from May 24 to the 26th. I found it a great way to learn and grow in creative ways, so definitely send in an application when the conference opens for applications in January.