Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Your Library and Beyond: Building Positive Relationships with Creative Teens in The Community a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

As you’ll recall from PART I: Establishing A Teen Creative Writing Workshop, I’ve outlined a proven method to establish a committed circle of enthusiastic regulars, including “The Secret Workshop Ingredient That Changes Lives.” Teens need a safe place to discover, cultivate, and share their emerging voices. Creating a Teen Writers Workshop at your library allows young people the opportunity to grow both as writers and readers. 

Over the past four years of our monthly after-school Teen Writers Workshop, my teaching partner, author Margaret Nevinski, and I have joined forces with various local non-profit organizations, and expanded to include a week-long intensive summer camp. We’ve also established Teen Story Slam, a fundraising spoken-word event, and received tremendous support from local teachers, parents, and teen-friendly businesses. 

We attract a small but dedicated group of poets, writers and graphic novelists to our after-school workshop. But like most creatives, these teens are curious about applying their love of words to a variety of art forms. When we hosted the first Teen Story Slam (inspired by the transformational power of our workshop’s Secret Ingredient) we discovered an untapped niche of teen creatives—students who wouldn’t necessarily attend a writers’ workshop, but who share a love of the written word. We brainstormed ways to reach this wider audience and found success with the following:

Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp Many teens consider the concept of summer camp to be a bit “cringey” but we’ve managed to fill to capacity every year because the built-in rewards are both tangible and valuable. The non-tangible rewards begin by respecting their time — and sleeping habits. Our camp runs from Monday to Thursday, from 2pm to 4pm. Asking for a few hours a day over less than week is a much more attractive commitment level, but we certainly get stuff done! We offer one-to-one editorial consultations and pose challenging activities based on a theme, such as drama, literary devices or emotions, and we visit our local museum for a lesson on ekphrastic writing. The tangible reward includes a publishing credit. During our 8-hour camp, we produce a literary magazine comprised of two pieces per writer, and we vote on the mag’s title. There’s always an artist in the group who creates the cover. A copy of the mag is sent to each camper, and made available in the library for borrow. Every contributed piece must go through the formal editing process, and we celebrate our finished prose with a cupcake party and reading for parents and families at the close of our final meeting. 

Looking to make positive, mutually-satisfying partnerships with non-profit organizations in your community? Consider partnering with your:

Local non-profit art museum. We’re grateful to the education director at our local museum. An award-winning artist, Kristin Tollefson leads our participants through an in-depth, thought-provoking lesson on how to look at art. Afterward, we send our writers through the museum asking them to simply make notes on any piece that catches the eye. Then, we give them a quick lesson on ekphrastic writing and the many ways to approach writing about a visual experience. Without fail, this experience produces the most profound pieces our students write all year. It’s ground-breaking for many young writers, and an opportunity to appreciate what they perceive in a new way. **Handout??

Local non-profit theater school. Last year at summer camp, we dedicated two days of camp time to writing scripts for up to four players. Utilizing basic script-formatting cues, we focused on character, conflict, and climax. There was no limit to topic or genre; some wrote harrowing scenes about drinking and driving, others wrote comical exchanges between animals, and one paid homage to the BBC. We invited students from our local theater’s teen acting camp to come and cold-read the plays. The creative peers at acting camp gave themselves entirely to their craft by collapsing in death scenes, cross-dressing, and pulling off foreign accents. Our writers were beyond delighted seeing their work interpreted on our makeshift library stage. Tears of joy flowed, and both camps reported feeling accomplished, appreciated, and bonded as artistic peers.

Bonus: Many budding actors are also interested in writing. Solidify your newfound theater relationship by hosting a playwriting or screenwriting workshop! 

Want to raise awareness about your teen-specific library programs? Bring your creatives to the community!

Teen Story Slam 

Teen Story Slam is a spoken word event for writers in grades 7-12, and a wonderful way to build  positive relationships with students, teachers, and parents. A biannual event, we alternate venues between a local pizza place and a frozen yogurt joint. Both donate 50% of the evening’s proceeds to the library for teen writing programs. At the first Teen Story Slam, we expected a small circle of intrepid writers to show up. Imagine our surprise when teens from far and wide jammed the pizza place, filling it to standing room only! Our event caught the attention of local teachers who offered their students extra credit for reading. Some even challenged their students with special writing prompts. We were surprised how many asked to sing original songs they’d written; it has since become tradition to include short plays and songs at the Slam.

We offer a prize to every reader (a $5 gift card to the venue), and welcome all genres and levels. 

Bonus: Many teen writers also love to sing. Cast a wider net to your teen writing community by hosting a songwriting workshop.

Establishing a Teen Writing Workshop is an excellent foundation for building lasting relationships in your community, and fostering partnerships with local non-profit organizations. Creativity in writing inspires creativity in myriad other forms. To reach a wider audience and bring new young people to your library, consider growing new branches from your strongest programs. 

Rayne Lacko believes music, language, and art connect us, and she explores those themes in her novel, A SONG FOR THE ROAD (SparkPress, August 2019), and DREAM UP NOW (Free Spirit Publishing 2020)

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