Shared Worlds: Zombies, Alien Babies, and Book Recommendations from Students

(Shared Worlds video from year one.)

Every year now for the past three years I've gone to Wofford College in South Carolina in the summer to help run Shared Worlds, a teen writing camp for students interested in science fiction and fantasy. The camp is fairly unique, in that the first week the students split off into groups of ten and build their own SF or fantasy world. This years' worlds were incredibly complex, including mind-blowing creations like living islands and space squid. During this time, they're also getting discussion of biology, politics, and other relevant subjects from Wofford faculty. In the second week, they write short stories in their worlds, which are then constructively critiqued by professional writers.

Throughout the process, guest writers come in to lead discussions, do readings, and talk to the students. This summer, guests included short story writer Nathan Ballingrud, Holly Black and Kathe Koja, with Michael Bishop, Marly Youmans, and Will Hindmarch conducting the critiques and making themselves available in the writing labs. Camp director Jeremy Jones and I provide content in the form of lectures, and also help the director of summer programs, Timothy Schmitz, keep things on track.RAs and TAs assist by giving the students structure and activities outside of class and writing time. Publishers like Wizards of the Coast provide scholarship money, while websites like SF Signal ran special MindMeld interviews to provide additional advice. Due to its unique approach, the camp has received coverage from the Guardian online, the Washington Post blog, and many others.

This summer we had almost 40 students, the most ever. They worked hard, had a lot of fun, and came out the other side invigorated and energized. The camp validates their love of fiction and of writing, and it allows them to concentrate on being creative for two weeks without any other distractions. We had 15 returning students, some of whom were coming back for a third year. We love that kind of loyalty, especially since it keeps us on our toes to keep fine-tuning and honing the program.

Harmony and megan
(Students Harmony Riley and Megan Jackson. Apparently, Megan thought the baby might be edible.)

This year, I had to leave after the first week, so I left a proxy: a green plastic alien baby who, as a kind of jump-start to my website many years ago, I sent to various writers and others around the world. This particular alien baby has been to the South Pole, to Thailand, to Finland, to Central Asia, and many other places---thus some of the photos in this post. The students really adopted the alien baby and took him (her?) to heart!

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Comments (4)

Great clips and post. It's so inspiring to see young minds soak things up and turn around and create their own worlds. I recently saw a great clip of 10-year-olds at book camp with Norton Juster, of Phantom Tollbooth fame. It is well worth watching.

Posted by: Nathalie | Wednesday August 25, 2010 at 7:28 PM

That's all I read and still read more science fiction than anything! Great idea for anyone intersted in writing sci-fi!

Posted by: KindleClay | Thursday August 26, 2010 at 4:58 PM

Good simple tip..thanks for sharing it.

Posted by: Mr. Ohidul | Saturday August 28, 2010 at 12:17 AM

That's all I read and still read more science fiction than anything! Great idea for anyone intersted in writing sci-fi!

Posted by: 怀淰@^过厾 | Tuesday August 31, 2010 at 10:48 PM

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