When I was seven, my parents enrolled me in Kids Short Story Connection (KSSC), a weekend writing workshop. Every Saturday morning Sarah Bracey White, the Executive Director of Arts and Culture for my hometown of Greenburgh, New York, would stand at the entrance to the building where classes were held and greet young writers and their parents (the program was—and still is, in its twenty-fifth year—her brainchild). I’d say hello, admiring her charisma and poise, and the fact that she was a real live writer, before bouncing into the classroom.
I was an awkward, teased kid who occasionally played sick so I didn’t have to go to school, but I never wanted to miss a KSSC workshop session—I was up and ready each Saturday morning, notebook and pen in hand. The workshops didn’t just give me an opportunity to hone my craft (I was, to be honest, easily distracted and never got much work done), they also allowed me to hang out with other nerdy kids who loved words as much as I did. One of my classmates, a talented LA-based art filmmaker, remains a friend to this day.
Kids Short Story Connection has been on my mind these past few weeks, as I start my new job as Education Programs Assistant at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. It has been over a decade since I left the program, and since then I’ve gone on to write essays, poetry, and journalism; pursue a BA degree in Creative Nonfiction; and teach with Writing the Community, the UA Poetry Center’s writers-in-the-schools program, as a university student. KSSC undoubtedly had something to do with my path as a writer but, perhaps more importantly, it ingrained in me a respect and admiration for people who organize and teach in creative writing programs. Sarah Bracey White and late poet Earl Coleman, the curmudgeonly and legendary (at least among us KSSC teens) instructor for the advanced class--he regaled us with tales of publishing Russian science in translation during the Soviet era and sang us selections from Bertolt Brecht’s Three-Penny Opera--continue to serve as role models and inspiration.
As I step into this new role assisting Education Coordinator Aisha Sabatini Sloan with the Poetry Center’s myriad educational programs—from Family Days to Writing the Community to the Brave Books series—I’m excited to grow as a teacher and administrator in the field of creative writing education. I can’t wait to work with Writing the Community’s incredible teaching artists, and help bring some of the poets reading at the Center this fall into elementary school classrooms. It’s a new adventure but, when I reflect back on those weekend mornings at KSSC, it feels a little like coming full circle.
Wren Awry is the Education Programs Assistant at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. They have a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in Adolescents, Community, and Education from the University of Arizona. Their essays and poems have appeared online in places such as Essay Daily, Ghost City Press, Fairy Tale Review’s Fairyland and Filmmaker Magazine, as well as in the forthcoming anthology Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief (AK Press).