Shared Worlds, Stephanie Meyer, and Alien Babies
Shared Worlds student Katherine Buchanan admonishing me to read Stephanie Meyer at a Breaking Dawn book release party; Will Hindmarch talking to the students about world-building from a game development point of view.
Nothing could've better served as a grand finale to the Shared Worlds teen writing camp at Wofford College in South Carolina than taking the students to one of the recent Stephanie Meyer book release parties. These are kids, you have to understand, who read constantly, who have to be told to put away their books to pay attention in class, and who when asked what activities they'd like to do outside of class pretty uniformly replied, "take us anywhere we can buy more books." Talk about omnivoracious!
Shared Worlds ran from July 20 to August 2 and started off with a week of world-building, in which the students split into groups to create distinctive SF-fantasy worlds. Then, in the second week, they wrote short stories and novel excerpts set in those worlds. In addition to Wofford College teachers and other personnel, I was there as the writer-in-residence and assistant director. Other writers came in to conduct guest lectures and workshops, including Tobias Buckell, Ekaterina Sedia, and Will Hindmarch. Buckell is known for writing Caribbean-influenced SF, Sedia has a Russian background and is a strong advocate for diversity, while Hindmarch has swiftly shot to the top of the gaming ranks on the strength of his work for White Wolf, among others.
Clarke Richard and Rena Smith, Amy Lin and Jana Wilson posing with the famous alien baby during a break from writing.
Shared Worlds founder and director Jeremy Jones is a strong proponent of giving teens a chance to work together and individually. "The original vision at the heart of Shared Worlds has always been the desire to provide a place where oddball kids (like me) could get together and play with ideas. Please note that when I say 'oddball,' I mean it as a compliment. I'm talking about the sorts of kids who like to read, who are into art, who'd rather spend their free time writing stories. When I taught in a high school, I noticed that these kids tended to be isolated, marginalized, and often lonely. What they value---books, ideas, learning, creativity--aren't exactly what most school cultures value as 'cool.'"
I was also struck by the diversity on display. Of the nineteen students, the majority were girls, many were African American, and some came from as far away as Japan. Support for the camp also came from a variety of sources, including io9, Tor Books, Prime Books, and SF Signal, which ran two "MindMeld" pieces asking authors about world-building. The students really seemed to appreciate this support, as it added to the overall sense of community. The literal "shared worlds" aspect of the writing camp also provided a wider context. To me, these teens weren't just creating fantastical settings--they were part of a teen think tank, and part of the challenge was coming up with solutions to creative issues or questions. Solving those kinds of challenges will help them later on no matter what career they choose as adults.
Wofford College also did a great job of providing the tools, on-campus support, and constructive environment for these students to flourish and have fun even as they took on a lot of hard work.
The details for next year's camp should be available in a few months, with the possibility of three separate creative tracks in the second week: fiction writing, game development, and visual arts. I'm already looking forward to it, and I think a lot of teens will, too. (For more on Shared Worlds, check out these videos and my personal blog entry, too.)