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Students in the class will create several pieces on their own, including a chapter of a YA novel and a piece exploring form. (Photo from Nova Ren Suma)

The New York Times bestselling author Nova Ren Suma is teaching a new creative writing course titled “Writing for Young Adults” at Penn this semester.

Suma, known for novels like "A Room Away from the Wolves" and "The Walls Around Us," is teaching at Penn for one semester through the Creative Writing program while she works on her new novel. Her course is a writer’s workshop that focuses on exploring young adult literature through creative assignments, exercises, and readings. While learning the craft, students will create several pieces on their own, including a chapter of a YA novel and a piece exploring form.

Because the class has 13 students, they often work together and give each other feedback. Suma said that while students sometimes find the workshop format nerve-wracking, she prioritized easing them into it.

“I remember the first time we did a workshop,” College freshman Naomi Fink said. “And I remember thinking, ‘Wow. That was fun.’”

“It’s really helpful to get a wide scope of opinions, especially if you are unsure about something yourself,” said Caitlin Evans, a junior exchange student from Queen Mary University of London.

In addition to peer workshops, Suma gives her students individualized feedback letters for each project.

“One of my favorite things about the course is how encouraging Nova actually is," Evans said. "She seems really excited to read everyone’s work and give feedback, which is refreshing.”

“It’s obvious that Nova wants every person to be able to get out of the class the best possible thing for their individual experience,” College sophomore Rowana Miller added. 

Suma said she did not initially set out to write YA fiction until she realized how inventive the stories can be in terms of the craft and the voices.

“I thought maybe it was only a certain commercial kind of thing," she said. "But it’s also literary writing, and experimental writing, and coming-of-age stories that are very poetic.”

As an experienced author, Suma advises young aspiring student writers to “read what you love — what fires you up and makes you passionate.” She adds that writers should follow their own pace and not get dejected if they cannot follow a strict timeline.

So far, Suma said she likes being part of the Penn community. 

“I really love the students," Suma said. "I’m finding that they’re really dynamic, dedicated, and excited about their work. Even if they are coming to writing for young adults and it’s new to them, they’re still going in with their whole hearts and showing some really exciting work.”

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