The Young and the Restless: Listening to Students and Their Stories
Notes from the 2018 AWP Conference
There’s something unique that happens when 10,000 writers gather in one city. It’s more than just infectious energy. Or a buzz. You put together this many storytellers and poets and you’re bound to find inspiration. During my week in Tampa at the 2018 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, I rarely spent any waking hour without talking about writing or stories, and — I don’t say this lightly — it was magical.
This year, Austin Bat Cave received a grant from the City of Austin to send our staff to Tampa for the conference. I was fortunate enough to represent our organization in Tampa and spend the week meeting with and talking to other educators and writers. My spirits were buoyed by all the work being done across this country to bring writing to our youngest and most vulnerable students. I listened to writers speak excitedly not only about their own novels, stories, and poetry, but also about the work their students are creating.
I sat in on a panel and heard from a high school teacher who started a small literary press with her students called BatCat Press. They read submissions, design and publish 1-2 books every year. Students interested in and passionate about writing get to learn the other side of submissions — graphic design, typography, binding — and what it takes to put a book out into the world. They make all their books by hand, and sometimes they make the paper too.
In the classroom, writers’ students are asking difficult questions and experimenting with new and exciting forms. They put on poetry slams and recruit friends to contribute to their zines. These programs are all over the country. Kids on both coasts, in the heartland, in suburbs and cities are all learning about the power of their voices and the impact they can have on their personal as well as our national narratives.
Older generations have long derided young people for their apathy and frivolity; however, I’ve seen their thoughtfulness and creativity on display in classrooms and in the pages of our annual anthology. Students’ concern for issues — large and small, personal and global — is reflected in their writing and the stories they tell. On a national level, we’re witnessing the political mobilization of young people regarding a variety of issues from LGBTQIA rights to gun control. Our students are trying to tell us something. They are trying to reach us. I’m happy to report that teachers and writers all over the country are listening.