Young Writers’ Conference 2014 a success!

Shannon Johnson, Great Prairie AEA Instructional Secretary


Jude Mandell and student, Paige Munson

The 2014 Young Writers’ Conference was held March 4th (for Secondary day grades 6-12) and March 5th (for Elementary day grades 3-6) on the William Penn Campus in Oskaloosa to honor student writers. With the cold and snowy days leading up to the event, even the snow on Elementary day could not keep the teachers and students away. There were 252 secondary students and 27 teachers from 14 districts in attendance, as well as 510 elementary students with 79 teachers and parent volunteers from 24 districts and 2 non-public schools. It provided an opportunity for young authors to share their writing with peers, and introduced them to professional authors, teachers, storytellers, and other communicators. Students also attended workshops and writing activities.

Jude Mandell, educator, TV-performer, improv-actor/singer from Chicago, presented on Secondary day. Jude read sections from her books and shared her writing experiences as a teacher and as an author. She shared her journey of writing her biography of “Super Sport Star Gary Payton,” and Princess Dragonblood in “Half-Human,” as well as her book of plays “A Thoroughly Modern Rapunzel.” Then she worked with the students on building characters. Jude spent the last part of her session going through an exercise building from pictures she shared with the students while asking them questions. Students worked in teams to sort their ideas. She shared that building a character is based on motivation, point of view and personal environment, and that a character needs a full name and items in their possession to tell a story. What secret is the character hiding? What scares them the most? What do they desperately want? All these things drive their experiences. Their choices, obstacles and struggles are what build the character. The character gets smarter and grows emotionally to attract the readers to find out more about them. At the end of the exercise, a few students shared their new character with the group. The day was a success. One student, Paige Munson, Ft. Madison Middle School (pictured above with Jude) was inspired and anxious to share her experiences.

Dori Hillistead Butler, an author from Coralville, Iowa presented on Elementary day. Dori is known for her books, “The Buddy Files: Case of the Lost Boy” and “Trading Places with Tank Talbott.” She has a new series coming this summer, “The Haunted Library.” She shared how she wrote some of her books using her dog Mouse and her two sons’ experiences as inspiration. Dori shared with the students how long it took her to get books published, how many rejections she received and where she writes. She also shared her “Top 10 List” or the top 10 things she is asked most often. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity for Dori to come present since living in Coralville before her family relocates to Seattle, Washington. Students enjoyed visiting with her and having her sign their purchased copies at the event.

There were breakout sessions on calligraphy, performance, poetry, puppetry, telling pet stories, on-line self-publishing, getting published, writing workshops, and many others.
A special “thank you” goes out to our presenters who helped make this conference a memorable experience for all participants, our teacher and parent volunteers, William Penn University and staff, and Jane Broeg of Great Prairie AEA for making 2014 a success!
It was an exciting day full of rich experiences, helping students to discover new ideas that will spark their writing!

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