Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center unites creative youth

Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center students visit the Special Collections’ Rare Book Library at UVA to find inspiration for their own writing projects. Photo courtesy of Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center students visit the Special Collections’ Rare Book Library at UVA to find inspiration for their own writing projects. Photo courtesy of Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center

It takes a village to raise a writer, or at least it did in my case. When I was in eighth grade my best friend applied to a local performing arts high school, where she was accepted as a creative writing major, and I—propelled by love of adjectives and X-Files fan fiction—did the same. Four years of group critiques, genre experimentation, and contest submissions led me to discover my voice, its value, and eventually you, dear reader, by way of this article.

More than a decade after I first opened a journal, the creative cycle begins again as a group of young writers from Charlottesville and Albemarle County celebrates the publication of its first anthology. Crossroads II is a collection of essays, poems, and photography, the culmination of a year’s worth of workshops, craft discussions, and literary projects led by Tupelo Press Teen Writing Center (TPTWC).

The fledging group on a mission to “foster, discover, and develop emerging writers, and connect them as a part of the larger writing community” and open to all high school students in the area. Members include local and regional award-winning writers and participants of in school and community programs. They write in a range of prose and poetry, including lyrics, slam, and other modern and more formal styles.

“If we only teach writing as a skill, we miss the opportunity to provide our children creative expression as part of the problem solving process. That’s the key to unlocking the kind of world solutions we need,” said Kirsten Miles, the director of the Teen Writing Center. She’s connected the program with McGuffey, The Bridge, Piedmont Council for the Arts, the Virginia Art of the Book Center, and WriterHouse, where the group has met throughout the year. 

“The Teen Writing Center aims to support existing programs and encourage the community to send a vote to our young writers that creative writing is a valued art,” said Miles, who found “phenomenal support” for the idea of nurturing young writers. In her work as regional director for TPTWC, Miles has met writers locally and from across the country who aid the mission.

One such poet is Cecilia Llompart, a graduate of UVA’s MFA in Creative Writing program and author of The Wingless, a recently published book of poetry. In March, Llompart led a discussion on poetry and women with students and judged the TPTWC’s first writing contest.

With submissions from across the area, Llompart said, ”The decision was a very, very difficult one to make. There was excellent work here.”

She chose a piece by Albemarle High student and TPTWC intern, Mike Dolzer, as one of the runners-up.

Dolzer said he appreciated having a friendly and safe environment to practice his work. “Creativity allows students to express themselves in a way that is not all too common in any other aspect of their life,” he said, “so I think having a place like the Teen Writing Center where you can nurture that is such an amazing thing.”

What’s being nurtured is the illumination of inner lives, the type of exploration and observation that can be clouded by age. And Crossroads II asks perceptive questions, tackling love, alcoholism, and the Landmark Hotel, among other subjects.

“It is one of the most exciting things to see students emerge with a sense of confidence,” Miles said.

It’s also a glimpse into a very local zeitgeist. “This is our offering to the community for an opportunity to hear the voices of our young writers,” Miles said. “This is our future speaking.”

Hear author readings at the reception for Crossroads II on Friday at 5:30pm at New Dominion Books.

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