Summer workshops help young writers find their niche

By Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — At a writing workshop in Winchester this week, area fourth to 12th graders studied genres, met published authors and learned from their peers.

The nonprofit Project Write Inc., which debuted its three-day summer workshop at Shenandoah University, grew from the Northern Virginia Writing Project that has offered student workshops in various satellite locations since 2006.

Project Write co-directors Patrick McCarthy and Erin Hubbard have held one-day fall and spring workshops at the university since 2007, and McCarthy said they hope to offer a full week next summer.

Each day began with a group session at 9:15 a.m., and on Friday at the Brandt Student Center, students wrote poems based on photo prompts projected on a screen.

Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” which shows a sallow-skinned man on a bridge with hands held to his face in open-mouthed horror, stared out at students.

McCarthy reminded students that when interpreting a painting, they shouldn’t stop at visual clues.

“What does the sky taste like in this painting?” he asked them. “What does this bridge smell like?” and even “What does the scream taste like?”

Students thought the sky’s waves of bright clouds would taste “like warm honey” and “sweet orange with a lemon zest kick.”

The bridge, they said, smells “of the forest it once called home” and the scream tastes “like old moldy bread” or “like copper.”

Finding different meanings in photos is what 14-year-old James Wood High School incoming freshman Brynna Strader enjoyed about the session.

If you can imagine it, she said, “That’s what it is.”

The lesser known “City Girl,” by Vincent Giarrano, showed a woman with white hair lying across a bed and inspired poems with various levels of seriousness.

Imagining the woman had cancer, 15-year-old Tiara Newbegin of Frederick County read from hers, “I hate myself, I hate my disease, and the disease hates me.”

A poem by Griffin Martin, 10, of Linden, welcomed a smattering of laughs in spite of the subject matter:

“Are you dead? Are you ill? What is your problem laying on your bed? You look like you’re sad, but maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re dead. Are you shot? What’s happening? Are you asleep? Either that or you’re dead ’cause you haven’t made a peep. … Please tell me, asleep or died.”

After the group session was an author’s talk, a break for lunch and an afternoon of genre writing, ending at 2:30 p.m. Guest writers this week were poet Tony Medina and non-fiction authors Deborah Hopkinson and Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

The $65-a-day cost includes a notebook, pen and a copy of each guest author’s book. Scholarships through a grant from the Claude Moore Foundation sponsored 16 students, and Project Write also raised money for scholarships.

The program’s goal is exposing students to different types of writing, said McCarthy, who teaches creative writing and dual enrollment/AP classes at Central High School in Woodstock.

“My hope is that they’ll find something that’s their niche,” he said.

For 8-year-old Rosemary Cavalier of Middletown, that niche might be script writing. With mystery writing and visualization behind her and an afternoon of short stories and dialogue ahead of her, she said script writing was her favorite so far.

“I think it’s really fun to write scripts,” she said.

Contact Project Write at 540-550-3736 or, or donate through the fundraiser campaign at

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or