Jamella Hagen is a Whitehorse-based poet who also teaches creative writing at Yukon College. She will be leading one of the workshops at the Yukon Young Authors Conference this week. (Submitted)

Yukon Writers Festival’s Young Authors Conference aims to get kids writing

‘I think the most important thing is just to build a writing culture’

The goal of the Yukon Young Authors Conference is to introduce kids to Canadian writers. Scratch that — living Canadian writers.

Joyce Sward, who has been involved in organizing the annual event for most of its 38-year run, says the conference is a good opportunity to remind kids that writing is an option for them.

“We’re really excited to have students see it as a possibility, you know, that you can do art, you can write.”

“We don’t aim to produce writers but we do aim to produce lots of Canadian literary fans. And to show them writing is a viable thing to do.”

This year, the panel of writers demonstrating that includes Yukon’s Jamella Hagen, a poet who teaches creative writing at Yukon College, and Outside writers Michael Winter, Zsuzsi Gartner and Tyrell Johnson.

Winter was most recently longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his 2013 novel, Minister Without Portfolio. Gartner has worked as a journalist. Her 2011 short story collection, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, was also nominated for a Giller Prize. Johnson’s book The Wolves of Winter, is set in the Yukon. Hagen’s poetry collection, Kerosene, was published by Nightwood Editions in 2011.

All four will kick off this year’s conference at Live Words — an event that’s part of the Yukon Writers Festival, being put on by Yukon Libraries from May 1 to 5. They’ll be joined there by Owen Laukkanen, a Vancouver mystery writer who will go on to give readings at libraries in Burwash Landing, Faro, Ross River, Carmacks and Carcross as part of the Festival.

The free reading takes place at Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre at 7 p.m. on May 2.

The conference officially takes place at F.H. Collins Secondary School from May 3 to 4.

There, 40 students from across the territory will participate in workshops led by Hagen, Winter, Gartner and Johnson.

Sward says those students, who applied to be part of the conference by submitting manuscripts, have been divided into 10-person workshops. Sward says she divided them along age lines (they are in Grades 8 through 12) rather than by genre for a number of reasons.

First of all, she says most of the professional writers who visit work in more than one discipline and are able to speak to many genres. Second, so can the students. In addition to poetry and fiction, students have, in the past, submitted plays and songs as part of their manuscripts.

“What we find out of course is when you’re in high school you’re just discovering your writing voice anyway and it’s going to change,” says Sward. “We just want them to be with a writer and let the writer do what that writer does.”

Hagen says students in her workshop can expect to focus on creating new writing, and potentially revising parts of their manuscripts to get different perspectives on those stories.

She says they’ll also spend some time talking about how reading differs when you’re doing it for pleasure versus when you’re analyzing a story to figure out what makes it work.

One of the most important things about the experience, she says, is coming together as a community.

Writing is something people think you do in isolation, she says, and in large part it is, but there’s a lot to be gained from doing it with other writers.

Hagen, who grew up in Hazelton, B.C., says she would have loved this kind of opportunity when she was in high school. She says she has writer friends here who attended the conference as kids and loved it.

“I think the most important thing is just to build a writing culture and support everyone who’s working in that way,” she says. “I think in Whitehorse we’re lucky that we have a really supportive writing culture for the professional writers that are here and this program provides that for younger writers too.

“I think having readers is nice. Sometimes in school I’m sure students get some feedback on their work, but to know that other writers have read it and found interesting things there?”

It’s good to have others encouraging you to just keep going, she says — to keep writing.

According to Sward, it works. She says she knows a number of adults in Whitehorse who went to the conference in their own high school days, who continue with creative writing today.

For more information about the event, visit yukonyoungauthors.weebly.com

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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