National Writers Series Provides Unique Opportunities to Community

Students experience writers workshops and author events through the program


Senior Lola Piper reading her poem during an NWS spoken poetry event. Photo courtesy: A. Stanton

Delaney Cram, Assistant Editor

  For some students, writing is a dread, one of the unavoidable miseries of school. The moment an essay is assigned, the body trembles and the blood cools, fingers stiffening and thoughts withering, all creativity crackling beneath the pressure. Unfortunately, most opportunities to write at school are like that, leaving no room for passion, interest, thoughtfulness, instead a cold vacuum of expectation, essays following a strict template and easy-to-read paragraphs with a steely, unwelcoming smile. For many students, creative writing is something they may want to pursue, but are never exposed to in the typical school setting. 

  “Unfortunately, with public schools and really even private schools, they cut back so much opportunity to really be creative in the classroom,” creative writing instructor Kevin Fitton said. “There are so many young people who are interested in writing and don’t have a lot of opportunities to learn about that or to meet other people who are interested in that.” 

  Fitton has been teaching middle and high schoolers in the community through the National Writers Series (NWS) for two years. NWS strives to expose students to creative writing opportunities that they otherwise would have missed in their general education. 

  “We often bring authors to high school and college classrooms to talk about their book or the craft of writing,” NWS executive director Anne Stanton said. “Alice Waters, for example, talked to a culinary class at the Career Tech Center. Another author, Eric Fair, who wrote a book about the devastating guilt he felt about torturing prisoners in the Iraq war, not only talked to writing students, but also kids studying criminal justice.” 

  NWS also provides opportunities for students to try creative writing themselves, and to learn more about the subject with the help of their own peers, and instructors like Fitton. 

  “There’s two sides of National Writers Series, one is bringing in world class writers to Traverse City, and then the other one is youth education and trying to give students the opportunity to do creative writing,” Fitton said. “Another great thing the National Writers Series does is they offer a poetry writing workshop for kids at Traverse Heights, and it’s a great opportunity for students, some of whom come from more disadvantaged backgrounds, to write, to meet writing teachers [and] to process emotions.” 

Fourth and fifth grade students from Traverse Heights and Blair after a poetry event. Photo courtesy: A. Stanton

  For high school students, semester-long creative writing workshops are run during the school year, offering young writers a chance to collaborate and learn from others their age. 

  “I started at the beginning of sophomore year,” junior Maeve McGonagall said. “Getting to hear feedback from other people my age and also getting to hear their writing [has] definitely given me kind of a bigger perspective on how many different forms of writing there are and how far you can take that and how many careers are included.”

  NWS was founded as a non-profit in 2010 and was originally conceived by Stanton’s husband, Doug Stanton, author of several books including the New York Times Bestselling “In Harm’s Way” and “Horse Soldiers.”

  “During [D. Stanton’s] downtime between cities, he called me and asked me to organize an event for him at the City Opera House,” A. Stanton said. “Doug had so much fun, he invited Elmore Leonard, a big crime writer, to come to the Opera House in July. Up on stage, Doug spontaneously announced the National Writers Series to my great surprise. Our friend Grant Parsons jumped in with the idea to start a writing contest for college scholarships.”

  Today, NWS has many opportunities available to youth, from scholarship opportunities to writing support. 

  “We now award four $1,000 scholarships each year for journalism, creative nonfiction, short stories and poetry,” A. Stanton said. “We also offer writing workshops going on all the time, including flash fiction, novel writing, playwriting and college essay writing. Most all of them are free, except the ones in partnership with NMC. One of our instructors, Jacque Burke, led a novel-writing class last fall. The kids wrote a combined word count of 200,000 words.”

  NWS provides a much-needed outlet for students, allowing them to experience writing education in a way they never have before.

  “So much of [writing education] is just exposing people to really good writing and offering great examples. So, when I see students who are really excited about what we’re talking about, that’s like the most rewarding part,” Fitton said. “You go through so many things as a young person and you face so many challenges growing up, trying to find your way, trying to figure out what kind of a person you want to be, and going through friendship, loss of friendship. And obviously, there’s so many things that happen that you have to process and deal with and being able to write about it I think is really significant for a lot of people.” 

  In spite of the importance of NWS to the community, its accessibility to students has been increasingly scarce, as promotion for these programs dwindle within the school environment. 

  “One thing we struggled with is trying to find out where we fit sometimes,” Fitton said. “Originally, Front Street Writers was in TCAPS, and then it moved over to NorthEd, but there have been different challenges with integration. I mean, ideally, we’d like to be integrated with what the schools are doing, but that’s been kind of a challenge, just because there are so many hoops that you have to jump through to offer full credit courses that do also what we want to do.”

  NWS is attempting to combat this by working with elementary schools, in order to eventually inspire them to get involved in the Raising Writers classes offered to seventh to twelfth grade students. 

  “That’s one reason we started the Battle of the Books, an event where 370 fourth and fifth graders read the same eight books and then compete in a kind of trivia contest in front of judges,” A. Stanton said. “At the middle and high school level, we spend a lot of time on creative writing. The instructors help kids hone their writing skills for whatever they do in life. I know the students love the camaraderie and many become lifelong friends.” 

  NWS also hopes to encourage students, and the whole community, to read more books that diversify perspectives. They accomplish this through their annual literary journal of student work, as well as through author speaking events.

  “We have Chasten Buttigieg coming up in May. He wrote a young adult memoir, ‘I Have Something to Tell You,’ about growing up gay in Traverse City. He writes about his relationship with his husband, Pete, and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance,” Stanton said. “We also have Jeannette Walls who wrote ‘The Glass Castle’ speaking in May.”

  NWS is a program where students can pursue their passions, without the anxiety of school.

  “I always liked to write since I was a kid and I used to write stories, and I kind of wanted to get back into that since I stopped writing during middle school,” McGonagall said.

  The non-profit also encourages people to never give up on creativity and ambition, even in the face of adversity. 

  “I often hear from alumni of Front Street Writers that this class was enormously important to them,” Stanton said. “I met one young man who was about to drop out of school, but [Front Street Writers] kept him going.”

  The main goal of NWS, though, is to foster a long-lasting love of language and a deep bond for this community. 

  “We want to help instill the joy of reading and writing in the lives of kids,” Stanton said. “Our dream is that a [National Writers Series] alumni will become a bestselling author and come to the Opera House to be interviewed, and the whole town will turn out.”