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Student Writers Have a Reading of Their Own

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By Claire Walla


Eighth grader Casey Grubb first came to the Jeanette Sarkisian Wagner Teen Writing Workshop because her school counselor suggested it might be something she would enjoy.

She didn’t expect to like it this much.

“I’ve always written, but I’ve never shared it with anyone,” she said. “I was an ‘in the closet writer!’” she added with a laugh.

Though Grubb’s always been prone to drafting short stories and creating her own narratives, she continued, “I’ve never been able to share something so raw.”

This Sunday, after eight months of weekly writing classes, Grubb will be reading an original work aloud along with nearly a dozen other students at the John Jermain Memorial Library, located on West Water Street in Sag Harbor.

“This year, I was trying to give the students the confidence to start sharing their work, to have them believe that their voice has value,” said Emily Weitz, a writer who works part-time for The Express and leads the teen writing workshop each week.

“My role in their lives is somewhere in between teacher and friend,” Weitz explained. “I’m more like their artistic peer, because they’re writers and I’m a writer. We’re all on the same path, and I really look at them like that.”

The class is structured very loosely, often with a prompt or a question at the beginning, inviting all students to enter into discussions before putting pen to paper. While her goal is to get students’ creative juices flowing, Weitz said the bottom line is more simplistic than that: “I just want them to write.”

Weitz said she learned early on that structure is not necessarily conducive to this class.

“I gave them notebooks on the very first day… they were all gone by the second week,” she said with a laugh. In the end, while Weitz helps students edit their pieces, diligent documentation and structured technique are not the point.

“The main goal of this class is to give kids the time and the space to write, to define their own voices without trying to be something that someone else expects them to be,” she explained. “They’re constantly trying to fit into these expectations that their parents or peers have for them, so it’s important for them to have a space where they can write whatever they want, whether it’s a diary entry or a story about a magical world.”

Weitz often starts class by giving students a prompt to stir their creative juices. Such topics have invited students to consider what they carry around in their own bags (and why?) or asked the to wonder what it might be like to be a tourist in their own town.

Eighth grader Alika Esperson said she particularly enjoyed thinking about Sag Harbor from a new perspective.

“I do that more now because I see all the little stuff — the horse from the Five and Ten, or the school with the big clock — and it seems new,” she explained. “I think it’s important every once in a while to look at things differently.”

Throughout the year, students have been adding to an e-zine, called “Moss,” which can be found through the library’s homepage, or by simply going to moss.johnjermain.org. Their first (and only) public reading will take place on Sunday, May 6 at 5 p.m.

“I really appreciate the work that they’ve put in, and the trust and support they have for each other” Weitz added. “The reading is a nice opportunity for them to share their work, but what it’s really about is those many, many weeks when we just came together to write.”