Emma Walton Hamilton

Posted on 06 April 2012

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Executive Director of The Young American Writers Project at Stony Brook Southampton

What exactly is The Young American Writers Project (YAWP)?

The Young American Writers Project was created by the MFA program at Stony Brook by Southampton MFA Director Robert Reeves in the spring of 2009. The program is dedicated to mentoring high school students and middle school students in the art of writing, through whatever medium that might be. In part of the program we send out teams made up of MFA graduate students to various high schools and middle schools around the East End to lead writing workshops. But we also do school break workshops, summer workshops and retreats.

The next event coming up is YAWP Spring Workshop on Friday, April 9. What goes on at these workshops?

Well, the spring break workshop is a five day program dedicated to script writing for plays as well as film screenplays. Professional writers teach the students how to think visually, how to incorporate conflict and character, as well as develop a work in progress. By the end of the week the students will have completed a one-act play or one short scene of a movie.

Have there been any memorable pieces to come out of the YAWP program?

Something that jumps immediately to mind was one piece written during a high school program. This school was going through some budget cuts and one of the first departments to be cut was theater. A student in our playwriting classes wrote a play about lobbying a school board to restore funding to a theater program. That was just a really wonderful and powerful play that had a message that echoed beyond that evening. One of the important things about this program is that we don’t censor what the students write about. We ask them to write from their own experience and to write in their own words. That sometimes results in some eyebrow raising material.

Who are the teenagers who sign up for this writing course?

For the school break courses the students are already interested in writing and want to improve their writing skills. They are usually already interested in writing and want to experience a type of program that they could not get at school. What we are trying to do is cultivate voice. What we are really focusing on at the program is individual voice, what is important to say, and how it is said.

What have you learned looking at the writing of these YAWP students?

Kids go out on limbs and take chances when they write.  We have had plays about discrimination, plays about abuse, plays about substance abuse, as well as essays and poetry about just being different. This program gives the teenagers an opportunity to write about how they truly feel.

To find out more about YAWP or the upcoming workshops please call 632-8000.

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