Video conferencing, digital publishing, and print-on-demand services have enabled a new generation of young writers to become published authors. In the last several months alone, at least four new anthologies of teen work have been published.
After working with young writers at the Ojai Playwrights Conference Youth Workshop (an arm of the prestigious Ojai Playwrights Conference), Tim Cummings decided to preserve some of this writing for posterity—editing a collection that includes exemplary stories, poetry, and dramatic writings composed by teens during the last decade at the workshop. Cummings, a Writing for Young People MFA student at Antioch University, used Lulu’s publishing and distribution services to publish the anthology.
“I felt it was important to do something that was lasting and to give people something that was tactile,” he said of Anthology: The Ojai Playwrights Conference Youth Workshop 2006–2016, which was released in both print and digital formats in November. “It’s important to lift up these young voices.”
The youth workshop is guided by program director and co-founder Kim Maxwell, and brings together a diverse group of about 12 Southern California teenagers. During the program, 14- though 18-year-olds write, learn improvisational exercises, meet successful playwrights, and ultimately perform their work at the conference. A portion of the book’s proceeds will go towards the scholarship fund that enables students in need to attend the nine-day program.
Cummings saw firsthand how the conference gave young writers the confidence and resilience necessary to navigate a tumultuous time. “These kids are coming into a world that’s really confusing to them,” he said. “They’re looking at the adults around them going out of their minds with all this political turmoil.”
The Ojai book joins a number of other recently published teen anthologies. In June, young writers in New Jersey were published in the Beyond the Ink and Paper Anthology, a collection of writings from members of the Medford Teen Writers Guild. This will be the seventh consecutive year that students in the Burlington County Institute of Technology writing guild have produced an anthology. They released this year’s 106-page anthology through the self-publishing platform BookBaby.
Over the summer, the Larry J. Ringer Library in College Station, Tex., hosted an eight-week TEENS Publish workshop. At the end of the program, 15 young writers published their work—everything from a novel excerpt to a poem to a narrative nonfiction article—in the print-only 2017 TEENS Publish Anthology. The library hosted a launch party for the authors in October, sharing copies of the 160-page anthology published through CreateSpace.
Digital tools have also empowered teen writers in rural areas. Van Buren District Library marketing assistant Jeffrey Babbitt launched a “Journey to Publication” workshop for teenagers in 2016. His library system in rural Michigan has seven branches and counted 169,000 visitors last year. Since the library branches span significant distances, all meetings are conducted via video conference. The workshop lasts for 16 bi-weekly sessions, with students sharing work online.
“In a rural area, creative people feel more isolated,” said Babbitt, recalling his struggle to find support as a teen writer in a small town. “They’re not going to have the number of people to connect with that creative people in urban areas have. They’re not going to have the same opportunities to connect with people who can teach them to write.”
Babbitt published five stories on CreateSpace by the writers who completed the program last year. The 62-page VBDL Presents Teen Writers Anthology paperback is now available on Amazon. “This program allowed me to make my dream come true,” said Eric Wheeler, a 16-year-old participant who was inspired by the workshop to pursue a writing career. “I am working on many pieces that will one day go out to a publisher.” A number of the Ojai Playwrights Conference Youth Workshop alumni are also pursuing writing as a career or studying it in college.
Inspired by another rural Michigan library, Babbitt purchased a curriculum published by JLB Creatives Publishing to structure his classes. “Developing an entire curriculum for writing courses is not something I’m prepared to do, or have the time to do,” Babbitt said, but noted that he designed a few worksheets of his own to supplement the curriculum.
About 10 writers completed Babbitt’s first program last year, and attendance fluctuates from meeting to meeting. So far this year, the most popular session of the Journey to Publication workshop counted 20 participants.
The teens who completed the program last year all appreciated the final printed product. “You dive deeper into aspects that you just don’t get into in a classroom,” said Elizabeth Miller, a high school junior who finished the workshop last year. “I just couldn’t believe that something I had written was put out for the world to see.”