Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Competition and Scholarships Prizes!

Worldwide Plays Festival Competition

Thank you Worldwide Pants and Playscripts, Inc., who are each offering a $2,500 scholarship to a winner of Writopia's 2013 Worldwide Plays Festival Competition!

Writers around the country (and Writopia resident playwrights) are invited to submit their plays! We welcome submissions in our elementary school, middle school, and high school categories. The first 250 submissions will receive a written critique by one of our playwriting judges. Two winners in each category will be produced at our theater festival in May!

  • Playscripts Award and Scholarship. High school seniors and juniors are also eligible for our Playscripts Award & Scholarship. The publishing house, Playscripts, has sponsored a $2500 scholarship to the winner (juniors and seniors only) of the 2013 Worldwide Plays Competition. The winning play will also be produced in our festival in May.
  • WPF Humor Award and Scholarship.
  • David Letterman's production house, Worldwide Pants, has sponsored a $2500 scholarship to the playwright who writes the funniest play of the 2013 Worldwide Plays Competition. Playwrights, 6-18, who live in the United States are eligible. The winning play will also be produced in New York City in May.

The Guidelines:
Playwrights must be in 1st-12th grade.
Maximum 12 pages (in standard format)
No more than two collaborators
1 to 12 characters
No fanfiction
Musicals are accepted!
Cover sheet with the following information is required: Title, full name of writer, birthdate, grade, address, two phone numbers

Submissions must be postmarked by Friday, January 25th, and mailed to:
Writopia Lab
155 West 81st Street, Suite A
New York, NY 10024
Read more!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools

A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools
By Rebecca Wallace-Segall

"I'm not sure if eight-year-olds should be permitted to have death or murder references in their short stories," said a New York City public school principal to me at the end of the day today. "But I'll set a meeting with my teachers tomorrow to discuss your views and theirs and see where we get."

Three hours later, I am still moved and humbled by the principal's thoughtful consideration of a topic so new and strange to her. We had just started a residency in her school. We had discussed a no-censorship approach for this workshop and the children had immediately come to life when they were told they could write a fictional story about anything they wanted.
Education Debate bug
But by week two, some of the teachers were concerned to see the heavy material that emerged, here and there, throughout the grade, from the special ed class to the "gifted and talented." Human beings young and old love exploring dark, fantastical themes. But what are we supposed to think when our youngest members do it? When should our admiration turn to worry, and when does it become a school's responsibility?

It is not easy to teach creative writing within the confinement of school. It is not easy to tackle the issues that arise, and it's not easy to learn how to teach fiction and memoir writing well. But it is possible. And many teachers are doing it, and doing it well, across the country.

David Coleman, the cynical architect of the new curriculum that will be imposed on public schools in 46 states over the next two years, is trying to reverse an education trend "that favors self-expression and emotion over lucid communication." But skilled teachers of creative genres have always known that all good writing requires lucid communication. It is impossible to teach any form of writing without applying and celebrating analytic concepts and mechanical precision.

If young people are not learning to write while exploring personal narratives and short fiction, it is because we as educators need more training -- or the specifics of the curriculum need development. It is not because those forms of writing in themselves are of no use.

There's a reason fiction and narrative nonfictionoutsell all other genres in the U.S. It's the same reason there are 56 million WordPress blogs and 76 million Tumblrs. Human beings yearn to share, reflect, and understand one another, and they use these reflections to improve the state of things, both personal and public. If we want our students to have this kind of impact, we have to teach them to express themselves with both precision and passion.

My own non-profit partners with schools on serious fiction and memoir writing programs. We know it is possible to implement high-level creative writing instruction for young people because our students win more Scholastic Writing Awards each year than any other group of children and teens in the nation. Not all creative writing curricula are created equal, and we stay true to our vision as we help eight-year-olds learn to write compelling, coherent short stories with creative transitions, character wants, obstacles, climax, dialogue, and resolve.

In our work, we're reminded again and again that fiction writing is as important as any other genre for children and teens as they learn to write. It not only provides them with a safe space to make sense of the human dynamics around them, but it teaches them writing at the highest level, going beyond lucidity into the realm of literary tension, and then further into humor, narrative complexity, abstraction, and metaphor.

Our writers put arguments forth, embedded within well-organized, linear narratives in various voices. The themes of their fiction then inspire the deepest of dialogues in the classroom, spur debates about race and class assumptions and other social issues, and invite empathy. As we like to say at Writopia, plot builds character. This type of dynamic discourse helps our students grow as people and thinkers -- and of course, as writers.

And, on top of it all, it's engaging. When we work with students on creative pieces, they become riveted by their stories before the end of the first lesson. Children with class-based literacy issues love trying their hand at fiction; elite children of famous authors love it as well. Students across America should write fiction before anything else, and they should continue to work on it side-by-side with academic writing. They should be given creative assignments as a reward for writing a fabulous research paper.

What's more, a piece of fiction can be persuasive, and a memoir can be informative. Educators who are serious about this kind of writing make sure each piece is workshopped until it is compelling. And honest. And revealing of human nature. And sometimes funny, but always surprisingly complex to the outsider. As at New Dorp, the high school profiled in a recentAtlantic article, our students learn transition words, or "coordinating conjunctions," as they write. In some cases, they begin to grasp these concepts as young as eight years old.

Creative writing can be vulnerable work, so we usually dive into story first and analyze sentences and structure toward the end. But literacy issues necessarily come up along the way, and they are addressed. How can one write an impactful story without properly using "although," "but," and "unless," or without considering if/then, why, and how? How can anyone write an award-winning or even publishable story without establishing a strong sense of character or providing illustrative evidence?

Creative writing also provides something that no number of expository assignments can. The insights and challenges that arise when we face when teaching uncensored fiction are surpassed only when we teach uncensored memoir writing. When I first started teaching creative writing in schools, Rami, one of my light-hearted 7th grade boys, had been working on a memoir with me for a month and finally decided to share it with a small workshop of his peers. It was about not feeling masculine. We were all stunned. I caught sight of one girl holding his hand for support.

These moments of self-awareness are rare in a typical classroom, and all it takes is one adult to shatter them. When the principal of Rami's school became privy to the memoir, she simply scoffed, "Oh, Rami, trying to get attention again." Rami turned pale; he didn't write again for months. Thankfully, later that year, he won a regional Scholastic Award for his memoir.

When David Coleman remarked that "no one gives a shit" about how kids think and feel, perhaps he was only exaggerating to make his point -- which was that thoughts and feelings don't make an impact unless they're bolstered by skill and evidence. But there truly areeducators, like Rami's principal, who don't care about self-expression. Their detachment is not helping students become better writers. Instead, it is sending a message that nothing they have to say is worthwhile, especially if it is about something personal.

For now, children across the country continue to write personal narratives within schools. Some of them are engaged in it, some are bored by it, and some hate it. Some write well-crafted, reflective pieces, while others speak superficially about the minute details of their lives. Some struggle with basic literacy issues. Others struggle with psychological barriers that keep them from writing. Some teachers have made an art of teaching narratives. Others are frustrated because they've been stuck with a curriculum that they know is not best for their students.

Coleman and others may have this last kind of classroom in mind when they argue that writing memoir is a waste of young people's time. But while depriving young people of basic writing skills does them a disservice, silencing their personal voices may hold them back as well. How much harder will it be for a student who has only written academic prose to write a fluid, reflective, and engaging personal essay for college admittance?

And where will we be as a nation if we graduate a generation of young people who can write an academic paper on the Civil War but have no power to convey the human experience? If Frederick Douglass had stopped writing his narrative on slavery because he felt he could not be at once a lucid communicator and an expressive, emotional being, where would this world be? Read more!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Graphic Noveling at Writopia

Writopia's full-day summer camps gave our students the opportunity to work with professional graphic novelist and Writopia dad, Steve Ross, and with Mei Kazama, a Writopia grad and art major at La Guardia High School, who will be starting at Williams College in the fall.

Our writers were able to bring their stories to life, and show us their own creative visions. Just look at some of what they produced:

Read more!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer at Writopia

For the first time in its 5-year life, Writopia is offering full-day summer programs for writers and playwrights. Campers spend the morning in workshop, writing and refining their pieces. In the afternoon, writers and playwrights can choose from 13 different electives, including illustrating their stories with a professional graphic novelist, playing outdoor sports like kickball but with a Writopia-twist, and even song writing with our music staff. Full-day campers also get to go on a trip once a week--a publishing house for Fiction&Fun camps or an off-Broadway play for Playwriting&Performance camps.

Last week our Fiction&Fun teens visited Penguin Books Publishing House.

...And our young poets visited Poets House, one of the "most comprehensive, open-stacks collections of poetry in the United States."

Playwriting&Performance camps culminated in a performance at Stand Up New York, a comedy club in the neighborhood.

Between four full camp groups and our half-day intensives, Writopia had a record 84 students in attendance last week! Read more!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rachel Moore, our Senior Intern, was awarded a Van Amson Service Fellowship from Columbia University to work at Writopia this summer.

"The fellowship came about in response to a proposal submitted by the Community Impact Student Executive Board in the spring of 2007. Provost Brinkley, on behalf of Columbia University, authorized an annualized fund to promote public interest work and service learning. The fund was named after CI Board Member and CU trustee emeritus George Van Amson."

Congratulations, Rachel! We're so happy to have you here!
Read more!

Friday, June 8, 2012

In come the Interns!

Writopia is so lucky to have so many amazing high-school and college interns this summer, many of them former or current Writopia students themselves. Welcome, Interns!
It's going to be a great summer! Read more!

End of Spring

It's getting warmer out and the kids are almost done with school (if they haven't finished already). Spring is drawing to a close and so is Writopia's 2012 spring session. We had a wonderful time with all of our writers this semester and we're looking forward to seeing many of them this summer, at Writopia's Summer Camp.

Read more!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Writopia's Random House Scholarship Recipients

$2,500 Sofia Johnson, Literature/Fiction & Drama; “Half Moon”
$1,000--Michael Gellman, Memoir; “Vignettes on Marriage”
$500--Rebecca Hia, Memoir; “The Great Decision”

$500--Nora Miller, Poetry
$500--Angelica Modabber, Poetry
We are so happy that you have won recognition for your honest and powerful writings. XOX Read more!

Writopia's Young Playwrights Win Again

We Won Again! We just received Stephen Songheim's YoungPlaywrights Inc list of the 2012 Best Play! Winners. Congratulations Writopia Playwrights:

ELEMENTARY DIVISION, BEST PLAY (three-way tie for 1st):
Benjamin Oestericher: FIGHTING THE IRISH
Kimberly Rogers: ADOPTING
Gertie-Pearl Zwick-Schachter: HUGO
FINALISTS: Alexandra Frank, WISHING ON A PIG; Sylvie Koenigsberg: 6 LITTLE BRATS
HONORABLE MENTION: AMELIA by Julia Malpass & Lexie Ryan

Hannah Young: COLD TURKEY

Division Finalists
PERFECT by Theresa Byrne
THE DOORMAN MUSES by Kalia Firester


Read more!

Monday, June 4, 2012

World Science Festival features Writopia

Amazingly fun video of four of our youngest writers telling stories, produced by the World Science Festival...

World Science Festival Video: Tell Me a Story Read more!

Writopians at the Scholastic National Awards Ceremony

June 1

Writopia seniors on stage at Carnegie Hall this weekend collecting the nation's most prestigious writing awards. Congratulations Emma Goldberg, Senior Portfolio Gold Medalist; Rachel Berger, Senior Portfolio Silver Medalist with Distinction; Rory Nora Claire Miller, Senior Portfolio Silver Medalist with Distinction; Angelica Graziano, Senior Portfolio Medalist, Michael Gellman, Senior Portfolio Silver Medalist. Thank you for writing powerful, honest pieces and poetry that have made us all laugh and cry over the last five years. Read more!

Writopia at PS58

May 23

This past school year, Writopia ran an afterschool workshop for students at PS58, culminating in a reading celebration and a published anthology of all the wonderful works produced by these talented young writers.
Read more!

Poem In Your Pocket Day

April 26th
In celebration of National Poetry Month, New York CIty hosted the 10th Aniversary Poem In Your Pocket Day. Writopians took part in a poetry reading in Bryant Park that featured hundreds of young writers from all over the city. Read more!

Young Playwrights Festival

May 8-20

What happens when a professional theater company produces 85 plays written by playwrights ages 8-18?
Plays seriously workshopped at Writopia Lab this school year, and the winning plays from nearly 100 outside submissions, will be professionally produced--performed by professional actors and directed by NY’s elite theater professionals--at the 45th Street Theatre and at 59E59 Theaters in May as part of our 2012 Worldwide Plays Festival.

How Did this Amazing Thing Happen?
This is the third year that Writopia Lab has produced a festival of plays. David Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants Inc., began funding our annual festival last year. Worldwide Pants has again granted us $50,000 to produce our writers' poignant, entertaining, and sometimes hilarious works!
A huge thank you to everyone involved with the production, especially our directors, Dan and Kara.
Read more!

NYC Literary Honors

April 23

Congratulations to Writopia superstar Angelica Modabber, who was the only student honored by Mayor Bloomberg at the inaugural NYC Literary Honors, along with Paul Auster, Marie Ponsot, Robert Caro, Roz Chast, and Robert Silvers! Read more!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Writopia Turns 5!

April 16

Writopia celebrated its 5th birthday this April at the JCC in Manhattan. Along with a fundraiser auction to help grant scholarships to current and future Writopians, the event featured Susan Cain, author of the New York Times Bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and performances of excerpts from Writopia students’ work. Several Writopia students were honored with the following awards:
Emma Goldberg -- The Susan Cain Award for Humility, Commitment, and Outstanding Work
Angelica Modabber -- The Susan Cain Award for Humility, Commitment, and Outstanding Work
Rachel Berger --  Changing Worlds with Personal, Outstanding Work
Nora Miller -- Changing Worlds with Poetry Award
Katie Hartman -- 
Community, Commitment, and Mentorship Award (for running workshops for inner city youth)
Rebecca Teich -- Community, Commitment, and Mentorship Award 
(for inspiring and guiding Writopia's youngest writers throughout the entire year) Read more!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

March 2012

Congratulations to everyone who submitted to the 2012 regional Scholastic Awards! We are proud of you all, and are so happy for those who won outside recognition this year. NYC Results: Of the 375 Gold Keys awarded this year, 76 of them went to Writopians! Of the 303 Silver Keys, 39 of them went to Writopians! That’s right, Writopians won 115 keys in 2012! Keep thinking, keep imagining, keep surprising us all with your insights and humor. ♥
Once again, Writopians won more National Medals than any other group of students in the country. And for the first time a Writopian, Emma Goldberg, won the nation's top award: National Gold Portfolio Medal.

Writopia was honored with the 2012 Ovation Inspired Teaching Award for "developing a method of working with students that inspires them to create original work that embodies their unique, personal voice--the core values and criteria of the Scholastic Awards. Because of your tutelage and the validation that the Awards offer, these students are now empowered to bring that voice into the broader world..."
Congratulations also to Writopia Lab DC winners for their outstanding showing in this year's regional Scholastic Awards. 43 Writopia DC writers won: 3 of the top 5 submissions in the region (American Voices nominees), 16 Gold Keys, 34 Silver Keys, and 34 Honorable Mentions. Wow! We are so so proud. See all DC winners here: http://www.writopialab.org/2012-dc-regional-scholastic-writing-award-winners.html Read more!