Writing, in a multitude of styles, is one of the focal points of a high school education. Intertwined with practical assignments and summative assessments in classes such as English and social studies, improving one’s writing is essential to maintaining desired levels of results in courses.
However, creative writing is a style specific to English class and even so it is only a portion of the curriculum. In an effort to give passionate, creative writing students an opportunity to further their skills, Writers Seminar is held every year for a select group of 12 Grade 11 and 12 students. The group of students meet every Tuesday evening with Ben Faccini, author of novels The Water-Breather, The Incomplete Husband, and more. Within the seminar, they critique each other’s work, take part in writing exercises, and prepare for public readings of their pieces.
For Faccini, an established writer and former employee for UNESCO and UNICEF, the seminar is a place for students to receive help on developing their craft. “I think it’s absolutely ideal, because there’s a maturity and there’s a desire to write with high school students and also there isn’t that pressure of whether it will be published,” he said. “They’re exploring language, they’re exploring to a certain degree who they are, and what their voice is.”
Echoing Faccini, Writers Seminar participant Gabi Jannsen (’18) thinks that working with an external author has helped her foster her passion for writing in a way not possible in regular academic classes. “[Faccini] has really interesting perspectives on how to write things,” she said. “He’s been really helpful and very supportive of all of us even when we have really weird ideas.”
After submitted work is anonymously evaluated by the English Department and Faccini, the 12 chosen students work together over the course of the school year, giving three public readings during that time. A benefit of the seminar is that it focuses directly on building the writing-specific skills that can’t be balanced within the school’s curriculum, like finding a tone or personal style. “When people start writing initially at the beginning of the year, they perhaps sort of mimic or imitate certain styles, maybe it’s a book they’ve been reading, or maybe they just have a way of expressing themselves which doesn’t feel completely their own,” Faccini said. “And then over the course of the year, you get to identify who’s who, it becomes individualized language.”
Similar to Janssen, Writers Seminar participant Annie Thompson (’18) feels that having the group work outside of the school schedule and with an external author enhanced the learning environment. “I think it’s nice to be working with someone outside of school because he’s not really as in tune with the ASL environment,” she said. “It’s a nice to have a person with a different perspective.”
For Thompson, Writers Seminar has given her a place to progress in an interest that began the year before. “I only ever started doing creative writing in Grade 11 because in my English class the final assignment was to write a short story,” she explained. “I was happy to be in Writers Seminar this year because it has allowed me to work on my creative writing a lot more.”
Similarly, Janssen believes that her public speaking ability has improved through the readings with Writers Seminar. “It’s improved my confidence just because I never really shared my writing before,” she said. “But reading it out-loud and having your face actually attached to the piece is a very different experience and it kind of makes you care a bit more because you really want to be proud of it.”
Developing useful school-related skills is a part of the seminar, and Thompson explained how the process of preparing a piece for a reading has not only refined her writing but also taught her to work with deadlines. “I’ve learned how to write in different styles, and also having to crank out creative writing for these readings with other busy stuff going on has taught me how to edit a lot because we have to do them quite quickly,” she said.
Moreover, Janssen said that the exercises and work within the seminar are applicable to her writing in school. “It was kind of nice to use the skills that I learned in ‘Writers Sem’ and bring them directly to my English class,” she said. “I am a bit better about making sentences that flow well together and ordering things in a way that makes sense.”
Looking towards the turn over in the group of students, rising Grade 11 and 12 students were selected for next school year’s group on May 15, and will begin in September. The students selected include:
Thalia Bonas (’20)
Laura Boyle (’20)
Alexandra Gers (’19)
Sana Jumani (’20)
Nadeen Kablawi (’19)
Isabelle Lhuillier (’20)
Theo Longboy (’19)
Kendall Lubkeman (’19)
Lila Nader (’19)
Isabel Rosen (’19)
John Towfighi (’20)
Imogen Weiss (’20)
Meanwhile, this year’s group have their final reading tonight, May 17, in the Mellon Library from 6:30 p.m.
Closing another year of the seminar, Faccini remarked that those thinking about getting involved with writing have many ways to begin exploring their creativity. “Observe the world. Think about how you might look at things or why your way of looking at things is slightly different from other people,” he said. “What I find amazing is the different points of view, it’s actually very stimulating to come in every week and be with young people who are really into writing and who have different opinions and slants on life and ways of seeing things, because I think writing is very much about how you see things.”
Editor’s note: Lead Features Editor John Towfighi reported and wrote this article before being aware that he was selected to be a part of the seminar for the 2018-19 school year.