“Creative writers live in a tricky place somewhere between an old world and a new one. The old world is all of the writing that has come before us. The new world is the creative works we will write someday. Where do our poems and short stories and novels get written? In between those two worlds.”
“You probably had to get up early to be here,” Melissa LeDoux says as she greets the group of high school students stepping off the bus into the cool fall air. “But it was a good call.” She’s standing on the sidewalk outside Salem Alliance Church, where students will spend the rest of the day participating in a young adult creative writing conference. By the time the fog has burnt off, they’ll have forgotten how early they had to wake up on a Saturday and instead be in the thick of a poetry writing prompt, brainstorming characterization for a novel, or meeting one-on-one with a writing mentor.
Established by Corban University's Writer in Residence Gina Ochsner, the "Between Two Worlds" conference was designed to meet high school students' needs as they navigated the space between two worlds: the world of high school and the world beyond—specifically in the realm of writing.
During the day-long conference, students had the opportunity to attend multiple workshops hosted by guest writers. Workshop topics ranged from “Writing for Graphic Novels: The Basics” with Oregon writer Adam Gallardo to “Writing the College Application Letter: From Ideas to a Full Draft” with Dr. Cornelia Paraskevas, Professor of Writing and Linguistics at Western Oregon University. Corban University was particularly well-represented, with faculty from English (Dr. Colette Tennant and Gina Ochsner), media arts (Steve Halliday), and the humanities (Dr. Ryan Stark) offering workshops.
Corban was also represented by several admissions interns who helped run the conference, among them Gabriela Elkins (’19) and Melissa LeDoux (’18). These young women saw firsthand the benefit the workshops held for the young writers. Gabriela assisted in Dr. Colette Tennant’s workshop, where the idea of being “between two worlds” was translated to the act of creating poetry. Students were given a series of short openings to poems—maybe a phrase or half a line—and had to complete the lines with their own words. Between the “first world” of the original prompt and the “second world” of their own thoughts, unique and surprising poems sprang to life. “A prompt would be something like, ‘When I cry, I cry _____,’” Gabriela says, and explains that the goal was to finish the line with something surprising—like “I cry sticky soda sobs.”
Above all, Dr. Tennant challenged her students to avoid clichés and seek out tangible images. “If you get fluffy and metaphysical, you can lose your reader,” Gabriela remembers her saying. “Appealing to the senses resonates with the reader more than something abstract.”
Gina Ochsner’s workshop “Drawing from a Deep Well: Story Invention and Process” focused on characterization, with the idea that sometimes a novel can actually form around a character rather than around a plot. She gave the students a general outline of a character: a 16-year-old boy named Miko who works in a mechanic shop owned by his family. From there, she encouraged the class to develop Miko into a rounded character, complete with physical attributes and internal and external conflicts. Students immediately became engaged, and by the end of the activity, they had developed Miko into a full-fledged character: stressed about his family’s financial struggles, good with his hands but uncomfortable communicating in words (especially to girls), his hair dyed blue. After the workshop was over, Melissa overheard a couple of high school boys still debating what was really going on in Miko’s head.
But in addition to cultivating their poetry and creative writing skills, students also had the opportunity to attend workshops that prepared them for the college application process and college itself. Dr. Cornelia Paraskevas guided students through the process of writing a college application essay, and students walked out with a complete draft in their hands. Meanwhile, Dr. Stark’s workshop “Adventures in College Composition” revealed to students the kinds of assignments they’d be asked to write in college.
When students weren’t in workshops, they were in one-on-one mentoring sessions. Dr. Tennant was impressed with the caliber of students she mentored, remarking that “they had whole novels plotted and ready to be written.”
Melissa and Gabriela were also impressed by the students’ engagement and willingness to participate. This particular group seemed willing to open up and share not only their writing but also themselves. “I hope some of them come to Corban so they can be part of all the creative writing stuff we do here,” says Melissa, who’s involved in Corban’s poetry club. “I can’t wait to see some of those students—and other creative-minded students—coming in and getting involved.”
This conference was free to high school students because of the generous sponsorship of Withnell Dodge/Hyundai and Dark Horse Literary Inc./Underdog Press. Their contribution to the development of young writers is deeply appreciated!