This summer, high school students will be given a window into life as a writing major at Ithaca College with the first Ithaca Writers Institute.
IWI is a new summer program run by the writing department for high school students interested in writing creatively and professionally. The institute is offering six different writing workshops: poetry, magazine writing, personal essay, graphic narratives, editing and publishing, and fiction. High school students will have the opportunity to live on campus for two weeks while taking two-hour workshop classes in certain writing disciplines. A writing professor at the college teaches each class.
Eleanor Henderson, a writing professor and director of IWI, said she has wanted to host a writing conference at the college since she came to Ithaca three years ago.
“There had been some movements toward setting up a conference in the past that hadn’t quite come to fruition, but there was a lot of enthusiasm already from the faculty to put on a conference,” Henderson said. “There was a lot of interest, in particular, in the young writer’s conference idea.”
Henderson said she wanted to give high school students an opportunity to sharpen their writing skills in a college environment, but she also wanted to give current college students an opportunity to teach. She has been interviewing some current writing majors at the college, mostly juniors, to see who would be best suited to help out in classes.
“There really aren’t many opportunities for our writing majors to get teaching experience, and so one of the ideas behind the conference is to allow those students to compete for teaching assistantships, so they’re actually assisting our faculty who are teaching the courses,” Henderson said.
One aspect that sets IWI apart from other writing summer programs, Henderson said, is its focus on professional writing styles. To enforce this, the program will include talks from special guest speakers, including Kody Keplinger ’12, who published her first book at 17 and is currently working in New York City as a novelist.
By offering courses like magazine writing and editing and publishing, Henderson said she hopes students will realize being a professional writer is a realistic option.
“We want to give students that sense of the viability of the writing life,” Henderson said. “Writers are real people, and writers are sometimes 17-year-olds who can make a life of writing and a career of writing.”
Writing professor Nick Kowalczyk will be teaching magazine writing at IWI. He said he hopes a more practical course like magazine writing will help students fine-tune their talents as creative writers.
“Anybody who wants to write has … a natural kind of pulse,” Kowalczyk said. “Creativity is just as much about discipline as it is about originality. So I think that having classes that address how you can get people to read your words … which is in essence kind of what professional writing is, is a pretty important thing for students to think about.”
Henderson said one of the greatest challenges of putting the program together in this first year is getting the word out to students who may be interested in applying. Henderson said she wants to get about 40 to 50 students, but she is not sure if the program will have enough students to fill each course that is being offered. Official participation remains unclear, as applications are not due until April 15.
Jennifer Wofford, director of the Office of Extended Studies, was behind much of the marketing and publicity, and is ultimately happy with the turnout of applicants considering this is the first year, especially because the focus of IWI is so specific.
“Any time you focus on a specific academic subject, you’re going to a smaller population of students who would be interested,” Wofford said. “If we were just focusing on a specific academic discipline, this is a solid response.”
Besides becoming better writers, Kowalczyk hopes students at IWI will connect with other students with similar interests and realize Ithaca is a place for writers.
“When I was in high school, I loved getting away from family and away from friends and just sort of meeting new people with like-minded interests and discovering that it’s possible to have a community of people who share your passions,” Kowalczyk said. “I hope that they really discover that, that it’s possible to have that at Ithaca College, especially in the department of writing.”