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The Revival of UMF's Longfellow Young Writers' Camp

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

by Katherine Berube

Longfellow campers listening to Jaed Coffin's reading at Twice Sold Tales in downtown Farmington.

(Photo by Lewis Robinson)

 

The pandemic stole many opportunities from communities all over the world–and in the local Maine writing community, one of those missing was the Longfellow Young Writers' Camp at the University of Maine at Farmington. The camp, a week-long experience for high school students to practice and hone their craft, was a place where students built fellowship through creative writing. In July 2023, Longfellow restarted after a three-year hiatus with a great group of students and dedicated staff to usher in the program's revival.


I had the privilege of working as one of this years' camp counselors––a role that I was, admittedly, a bit nervous about. I had never been responsible for a large group of kids before, nor had I been a point of mentorship for so many young writers. Despite the nerves, a magical thing happened on the first day that assuaged my fears and reservations—I witnessed firsthand the fellowship this craft has the power to build.


Ron Currie Jr. leads a workshop.

(Photo by Dylan Eustis)

Students from many backgrounds and multiple states were mingled together––friends were made and bonds forged through their love and passion for literature and writing. These students arrived not really knowing the people they would work beside, but left with heartfelt goodbyes and ironclad promises to stay in contact and share writing with each other. It was such a profound thing to witness. No matter how much sleep I lacked and despite the humidity that hung heavy in the air, it was an immense joy to see the smiles and excitement that poured into the space.


Along with Dex LaFrance, another counselor and friend, I led a fantasy world-building and map-making workshop. Time was a bit short and I found myself tea-staining watercolor paper and creating handouts until around one on Monday morning––about fourteen hours before the activity itself. (Even later, I was in the parking lot, burning some of the paper edges for an aesthetic wear-and-tear look). I felt a bit frazzled and by the time we got together for the workshop I was nervous and fidgety.


I though to myself: What if they ended up hating the map-making portion? Or just hating the activity in general?


But my fear was unfounded because the students jumped right in and were really fantastic creatives. They asked some great questions and were willing to share some of the literary worlds they were writing and building. Dex made a wonderful connection with one student who shared an interest in sci-fi and I unwittingly met a student who had the same fire and passion as me for Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons. (A very cool kid who, like me, will only watch The Lord of the Rings extended editions). Needless to say, I felt a fellowship bloom with these young writers as we talked about the nitty-gritty of magic systems and plot devices.


It turned out that there were also some students who couldn't attend my workshop because of space restrictions. One of those students came to find me and ask me what was missed. I listened to them describe their detailed and intricate world, answered a few questions, and even prompted them to think about their story in ways that brought a smile to their face and created an eagerness to write it that brightened their eyes—my heart expanded two-fold.


Pictured here is Kristen Case leading campers in a workshop.

(Photo by Dylan Eustis)

I never had an experience like Longfellow as a teenager, nor was I ever really surrounded by such like-minded creatives who possessed the same hunger for storytelling as me. I was often lonely in my craft and only in college would I find respective fellows in writing. So seeing these students read aloud and write stories together with kindness and enthusiasm was a powerful experience. Watching some of these kids who arrived with an air of quiet and fear leave with a new group of friends and confidence healed that part of myself that always felt ostracized for my love of writing.


In this space we fostered that marrow-deep yearning for the art of storytelling. I was a page of an unforgettable chapter in these kids' lives––a chapter that will remain bookmarked in their writing journey for years to come. It was an incredible honor, to have been a part of Longfellow and been privy to the joy that these kids cultivated around writing.


It's an experience I will treasure more fondly than any dragon's hoard or pirate's gold because it was real. And it was right here in the heart of Maine.


 

The faculty members of this year's camp were:


Lewis Robinson, a beloved professor of Creative Writing at UMF, who was determined to revive Longfellow and took charge of the process. He is the author of Water Dogs and Officer Friendly as well as an upcoming 2024 novel from Islandport Press.


Kristen Case, a professor of English at UMF, who is the author of the poetry collections Little Arias and Principles of Economics. She was a mentor for poetry.


Aaron Wyanski, a composer, pianist, and UMF educator who has been featured at the Hartford New Music Festival. His song cycle Three Benedictions was premiered at Carnegie Hall. He was a mentor for song-writing.


Ron Currie Jr., the author of four novels that have been translated into fifteen languages. He recently worked on an episode of the Apple TV series Extrapolations. He was a mentor for fiction at Longfellow and he is also a contributing editor for Islandport.


Jaed Coffin, author of the memoirs A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants and Roughhouse Friday. He teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire and was a mentor for nonfiction.


Hannah Paige, author of the novels Why We Don't Wave, 30 Feet Strong, and Late Magnolias. She is a UMF alum and currently attends Lindenwood University working toward her MFA in writing. She was a mentor for both fiction and nonfiction.


The student counselors included: Katherine Berube, Autumn Koors-Foltz, Dex LaFrance, Leo Goddard, Horisun Antunee, Jocelyn Royalty, Karly Jacklin, Ava Anderson, Manu Ritchie, and Tori Oliveira.

 

Pictured here are all of the campers and faculty!

(Photo by Dylan Eustis)

 

Do you know any high schoolers who love to write or want to learn? Encourage them to apply for Longfellow through the UMF website! If you have any questions, contact Lewis Robinson at lewis.robinson@maine.edu.

 





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