Kelly Writers House hosted its first summer workshop for high school students this July.
The Summer Workshop for Young Writers program brought in rising juniors and seniors from all over the country, with one student hailing from Australia.
For 10 days, these high schoolers attended memoir-writing workshops led by Jamie-Lee Josselyn, the program director and a creative writing instructor at Penn. Josselyn said the curriculum was a condensed version of her undergraduate introductory creative writing class, “Memoir and Literary Journalism.”
“Memoir-writing is an excellent skill for rising juniors and seniors,” Josselyn said, “because they really are figuring out who they are and they all have stories to tell about themselves.”
Josselyn, a 2005 College graduate who is also the associate director for recruitment at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, added that since most of the writers in the group were not familiar with personal writing, the genre was a “good common ground” for the group. She also said that having these students share stories about their lives “contributed to them coming together and getting to know each other.”
On top of memoir-writing workshops, participants were introduced to a range of different literary forms, from performance poetry to cartoons and even songwriting. Penn professors and local artists taught many of these “craft sessions.”
While the writing was intensive, the students also found time to enjoy themselves outside of classes. Many participants recalled memories of touring Philadelphia, snacking during “fruit breaks” and bonding in their dorm rooms in Harnwell College House.
Josselyn said she was pleased with how the program turned out in its first year.
“The idea of doing a summer program has been floating around the Writers House for many years,” Josselyn said.
Participants for this summer workshops were chosen to be “very intentionally diverse,” stylistically, geographically and socioeconomically, she said. About half the students received full financial scholarships for the program made possible by 1962 College graduate Maury Povich, the well-known talk show host. Without a scholarship, the program costed $2,750 per student.
Students said they appreciated the group’s diversity.
“All of us are so skilled in different areas that when we came together, we all fed off of one another,” said Alisha Yi, a rising senior at Ed W. Clark High School in Las Vegas.
Hannah Kinisky, an instructor for a craft session about brief literature and a graduate student at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice, said the high schoolers were also diverse in terms of writing experience. While some attendees were familiar with creative writing programs already, for many, she said, the Kelly Writers House was their first exposure to mentorship in creative writing.
Sameet Mann, a rising senior at Northeast High School, said she “probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pursue more rigorous writing at my high school,” adding that the Kelly Writers House summer program exposed her to different fields of writing and gave her a taste of college life.
Others agreed, including rising high school senior Ilana Cohen from the Beacon School in New York City: “This was an inspiring environment that pushed me out of my comfort zone in writing because the people here were so welcoming.”