Ylicia Polk

Ylicia Polk from Social Circle High School writes in a notebook at a session of last fall’s Georgia Writers’ Project at the Monroe Walton Center for the Arts. The next session starts March 2.

Local high schoolers have a chance to develop their writing chops this spring, as Georgia Writers’ Project kicks off its third workshop in March.

GWP is a creative writing workshop aimed at teens between 8th and 12th grade hosted at Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts.

It starts March 2 and runs for eight weeks. The class meets at MWCA at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays for three hours. There is no cost to attend, and kids get dinner during class. A bus can take kids from Monroe Area High School to MWCA.

The class culminates in a reading where students present some of their work.

Founder and former instructor Jessica Hudgins said it’s an opportunity for teens not only to improve their writing, but to sharpen their own thoughts and convictions.

“When you write, you’re committing to something you think,” she said.

“Being able to do that and read it out loud in front of 30 people makes ideas clearer and makes you more able to articulate them.”

This spring’s course will be taught by Yixuan Wang, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia studying art-based approaches in language and literacy education, poetic inquiry and Chinese-English bilingual education.

 Part of the class is giving students the time and space to focus on their own writing.

Other parts are more interactive. Students might take the iconic first paragraph of Moby Dick, the one that begins with the sentence “Call me Ishmael” and adapt to tell their own story. Or they might write about something that made them angry, and then translate the passage into third person to get a different perspective on that anger.

It’s the kind of stuff school teachers might not have the time to do in a classroom of 30 students.

“Parents get that we’re meeting needs of kids that can’t be met in a traditional classroom,” Hudgins said.

GWP started when Hudgins walked into the Monroe Walton Center for the Arts and asked what the center did with writing.

Hudgins is a poet who now lives in Athens. When she was studying poetry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, she’d gotten involved in several creative writing workshops aimed at high schoolers.

But she grew up in Bogart and would often drive through Monroe. She wanted to start something like she’d done in Baltimore in Georgia.

She pitched the idea to MWCA Director Hope Reese.

“It was kind of like, ‘Let’s start a band!’” Hudgins said.

Reese got on board. GWP won grants from the Georgia Council for the Arts, Georgia Humanities and Georgia Writers’ Association, plus raised money on their own.

The first class met in the spring of 2018 with 10 students. The fall session drew seven. This spring Hudgins said they could take up to 15.

She said she’s seen her student’s enthusiasm for writing grow as the class progresses. And what they produce is impressive, too. Last fall’s final reading included a science fiction short story, several poems, a nonfiction essay and an interactive discussion with audience members.

“Not only has GWP helped me better myself and my work, it has given me a greater understanding of why I write, along with an appreciation for what I write,” Kelle Ross, who was one of GWP’s first students, said about the class.

Andrew Kenneson was a staff writer for The Walton Tribune from 2018-20.

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