Meet the Best Young Writers in the Country!

Young Writers Workshop Participants | Zora Festival 2015
Young Writers Workshop Participants | Zora Festival 2015

This past weekend I had the honor and privilege to conduct a creative writing workshop, at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival for the Arts and Humanities in Eatonville, Florida. What made this an exceptional workshop is that the participants were twelve young men and women in grades eight through high school, from Dallas, San Antonio, Chicago, Atlanta and Silver Spring, Maryland. They sat through two intense sessions on Friday and Saturday, thoroughly engaged in the information disseminated to them by Petra Lewis, Tony Lindsay, D. L. Grant and me.

We touched on the elements of the craft of writing effective fiction to include theme, plot, character development, dialogue, setting and scenes. On the final day of the session, we had them to do an opening for a short story they planned to write over the next six months for future publication as an anthology. They tossed and turned in the chairs, got up, stretched, frowned and struggled, but ultimately they read their openings to us. We all were floored and thrilled with the creative words that they had penned to paper and as they read them aloud, we smiled. We knew, right in that room, late Saturday afternoon, that we had some of the most talented, creative young writers in the country. But we also knew, there are many more young talented writers that did not have the opportunity to participate as these youngsters did. The question we pondered was why isn’t this talent being captured in the public schools?  If not for the interest we took in reaching out to find the talent, to work with the talent and to help perfect the talent, many of these young folks would never be recognized for their talent.

We often hear leaders talking about how to improve the quality of our neighborhoods and communities. Let me make a suggestion. Join us in our continuing effort to work with our young, as they develop their skills as writers. And while developing those skills, they also improve on their reading levels. During our session with the youth, one of the students asked the question was it necessary to read in order to be a good writer? I suggested that mediocre writers never read, but great writers not only write, but also read. The point is, you read to become a better writer and to also understand your history and heritage. It helps you to know who you are and allows you to express it through your writing.

I will continue to work closely with my twelve young writers, as they perfect their short stories for publication in the fall. I will also, with the assistance of the adults who served as chaperones for the three days the students were in Eatonville, begin to plan our workshop for next year at the Festival. In 2015, we had only twelve students but next year we plan to double that number and the following year add even more students. Eventually, we can conduct these workshops in different parts of the country, and the number of talented writers will constantly grow. This may not be the perfect solution as an answer to improving the quality of life in many of our communities, but it is what we, as writers, have to offer. Hopefully, others in various professions will do the same. Finally, we do not commit to this for pay but for passion. Do something because it is the right commitment to make and it will always be a more perfect product than when you do it for money.  When we finished our session on Saturday afternoon, all twelve of our writers jumped up and shouted, “We are the best,” and as you look closely at them in the picture that accompanied this post, you are viewing a future Pulitzer Prize Winning Author because they really are the best.

Young Writers on the Move

zora1Over the past five months, since the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, most of our news has been rather depressing and quite negative. Some of my most recent posts have been of that nature because of what has been happening in the real world. But let me share with you a positive story that will occur this weekend at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, in historic Eatonville, Florida. This small but quaint city, just north of Orlando, is the oldest chartered Black city in the country, and is where the great cultural icon wrote her most recognized work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Over the past six months, I have worked closely with N.Y. Nathiri, Executive Director of the Festival, to organize a two-day creative writing workshop for youth from across the country. For three years I have conducted a brief introduction to creative writing for the local high school students, attending the Friday Education Day at the Festival. However, this year we decided to expand the workshop and make it a two-day writing seminar, for young people not confined to the Orlando area. Initially, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull it off but recognizing the power of the name Zora Neale Hurston, and the opportunity for youth to participate in the festival, not only as writers but also as visitors to the entire event, I thought I had a shot. Now as we prepare to meet in Eatonville on Thursday evening and begin our workshop Friday morning, I can honestly write mission accomplished.

I have a total of fourteen young future writers coming from different parts of the country. They are as follows:

Michael A. Davis, Plainfield Central High School, Plainfield, Illinois (Chicago suburb)

Rashana Jackman, Boys and Girls High School, Brooklyn, New York

T’Kyah Hayes, Academy of Young Writers, Brooklyn, New York

Shafarisi Bonner, St. Joseph High School, Brooklyn, New York

Cameron Browning, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, Fayetteville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Cecilia Browning, St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Nina Howard, St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Amari Harrison, Hapeville Charter Career Academy, Hapeville, Georgia (Atlanta suburb)

Danielle Eatmon, Desoto High School, Desoto, Texas (Dallas suburb)

Johnnie Banks, Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, Dallas, Texas

Cindy Avila, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Cynthia Wright, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Kyana Alcazar, George Gervin Academy, San Antonio, Texas

Najel Franklin, My assistant and great niece, Alexandria, Virginia

I am thoroughly proud of these young people and of the sponsors who will attend the festival and workshop with them. I am proud of my fellow associates who will assist in teaching the workshop. Petra Lewis from New York, Tony Lindsay from Chicago, D. L. Grant, Branch Manager of the Carver Library in San Antonio, and kYmberly Keeton, Academic Librarian/Assistant Professor at Lincoln University’s Inman E. Page Library in Jefferson City, Missouri (kYmberly will not actually attend the workshop, but is preparing a reference guide on all the works written by Zora Neale Hurston as a research tool).

Once these writers return home, they will continue to work on the short story they conceptualized and began at the workshop. We will periodically meet through electronic media, and it is my goal for all of them to finish their stories by June 2015. Prosperity Publications will edit the stories and publish them as an anthology in the fall. Next year we plan to expand the number of cities and young people who participate, and in the years after, many more until we begin to make an impact in the literary community of this country.

You have to know that I have this crazy notion, that my Black brothers and sisters are not happy with the direction of our culture and want to turn it around. We now have identified parents and the chaperones, as well as the schools and organizations supporting this effort. This will work because those of us involved are driven by the passion for the written word, and a commitment to save our children from the ever-increasing negative influences they face, on a daily basis in their lives. We believe they deserve better and we plan to make that happen.

We invite you to join us on this trip with our young writers, who are now on the move for a positive experience about being young and gifted