FARGO — It’s generally pretty rare for a 12-year-old to know what she wants to be when she grows up and for that to come to fruition.

For me, it was always obvious. I wanted to be the next Danielle Steele and write a thousand romance novels, become very rich and live a glamorous life somewhere in southern California.

The part about becoming the next Danielle Steele didn’t work out (by age 13 I’d graduated from the romance genre and went full-on dystopian Margaret Atwood), but the part about becoming a writer came true.

Before it did, there were many summers during my teen years when I’d spend hours reading and writing my own stories, often alone.

Those early writing years instilled in me a sense that composition was a solitary exercise, not something that could be shared or developed with others, which is why I got a pang of jealousy when I first heard about a five-day Teen Creative Writing Camp managed by North Dakota State University Senior Lecturer of English and Camp Director Jamee Larson.

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Of course, I’ve graduated from the camp’s age requirement of 13 to 17 by more than a couple of decades now, so even though attending the camp myself would absolutely make my year, the next best thing I can do is encourage families with teens who are interested in writing to attend the camp and learn more about finding their voices and growing into their own craft.

Unique experience. Lifetime memories.

Just like me, Larson, who is a wonderful writer herself, said she wished she would have had a camp writing experience as a youth as well.

“The camp idea emerged from a pretty benign conversation about ways to reach out to young writers. I would have loved a camp like this when I was in school, so I guess I’m trying to give them an experience I didn’t have.”

Jamee Larson, senior lecturer of English at North Dakota State University, is managing a Teen Creative Writing Camp  9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 26-30. Students can attend virtually or in-person. Special to The Forum
Jamee Larson, senior lecturer of English at North Dakota State University, is managing a Teen Creative Writing Camp 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 26-30. Students can attend virtually or in-person. Special to The Forum

The goal of the camp is to expose young writers to as many genres as possible, so all students are expected to participate in each session. However, some genres will appeal to students more than others, Larson said.

“One of the first things I tell students is to keep an open mind. One never knows where their artistic path will lead, so I encourage students to leave all doors open,” she added.

In-person and virtual campers welcome

Camp is open to in-person attendees at NDSU or virtually via Zoom, with the virtual option driving up enrollment significantly during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. This year, however, 41 students are currently enrolled in-person, a sign that teens are eager to get out of the house.

Larson said she wanted to make sure the camp would appeal to all people’s comfort levels when it comes to social distance as the coronavirus pandemic. Because although it’s winding down, the virus is still a risk.

“We are working hard to make sure students have the same experience whether they are in-person or virtual,” Larson said.

A camp T-shirt and other supplies will be mailed out ahead of time to remote students and teaching assistants will be devoted to the virtual students to make sure they don’t get left out of anything.

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Writing-intensive. Delightfully collaborative.

The writing camp runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 26-30 in-person at NDSU or virtual via Zoom. During that time, students collaborate, journal, workshop, attend speaker seminars and write. Professional writers who have spoken in the past at the camp don’t sign up for a mentoring position, but they often naturally end up in that role afterwards.

“Many instructors will share their contact information with students so they can continue to work together,” Larson said. “It’s great to see that kind of passion, and we’re not able to offer a stipend close to what their time is worth. We’re really fortunate to have these writers helping out.”

New to camp this year are the genres of journalism writing and environmental writing. “I am very excited to add Sherrod Blakely to our readers. She is a sports journalist who works with the Boston Celtics,” Larson said.

Also on the lineup for students to learn from is Crystal Gibbins, a poet and writer who focuses on environmental topics, and Miranda Larson, a writer for popular children’s TV shows “Bob the Builder,” “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Angelina Ballerina the Mousical.”

While the most popular genre has typically been fantasy, Larson said she’s adamant that campers get a flavor for all different writing styles, simply because that’s where the learning and growth begin.

“I am addicted to watching young people grow over the course of a week,” Larson said. “A student who begins camp shy and unconfident and slowly begins to believe in themselves and their writing is what a camp like this is all about.”

Students attending in person will receive daily snacks and lunch. The in-person cost is $200 and the virtual option $150. Scholarships are available for anyone with financial limitations.

The event is sponsored by North Dakota State University and the Red River Valley Writing Project.

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Camp speakers

Larson has curated an outstanding lineup of speakers for the students to learn from throughout the course of the workshop, many of whom are award-winning writers and teachers. Speakers and their genres are:

  • Tom Hart, Graphic memoir
  • Kao Kalia Yang, Fiction
  • Brady Bergeson, Screenwriting
  • Peter Fane, Fantasy world building
  • Whitney Jacobson, Creative nonfiction
  • Miranda Larson, Writing for TV and theatre
  • Kayla Jones, Identity and social justice
  • Payal Doshi, Children’s
  • Crystal Gibbins, Environmental writing
  • Greg Brister, Poetry
  • Kwaician, Music
  • William Heinzen, Fantasy
  • Nick Healy, Fiction
  • Rhiannon Conley, Flash fiction
  • S.K. Ali, Fiction
  • Joe Davis, Spoken word poetry
  • Megan Giddings, Debut fiction
  • Ryan Christiansen, Fiction

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IF YOU GO:

What: Third Annual Teen Creative Writing Camp

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 26-30

Where: NDSU in-person sessions; Zoom virtual sessions

Who: Students in grades 7-12 and graduating seniors

Cost: $200 in-person; $150 virtual. Scholarships are available based on need.

All students grades 7-12, including graduating seniors, are welcome. Students do not need to be North Dakota or Minnesota residents.

Registration: Applications are due June 26

https://www.ndsu.edu/english/creative_writing_camp/

If you go: There will be a public reading by camp participants at noon on Friday, July 30, in the A. Glen Hill Center at NDSU.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.