Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

Summer is the time for budding authors to work on their craft

My career aspirations came and went in phases growing up. Like many kids, I had a short-lived desire to pursue fire-fighting as a preschooler. But that dream was dropped like a hot potato when it dawned on me that fire fighters actually had to enter burning buildings and didn't just drive around on snazzy trucks. This was followed by my "I want to be a hairstylist" phase. Every Barbie in the house that year received a pixie ala Liza Minnelli; it was 1973, Cabaret was still very big. And my presidential ambitions died a slow and painful death after one very poorly run student council race. We were only in third grade, but my already politically jaded constituents saw right through my "I'll get soda in the water fountains" campaign promise.

The desire to grow up to be a professional writer kicked in when I was around 10. I was in fourth grade, and my original 14-page book of poetry, "Give Me Liberty," bound with yellow duct tape and covered with stars and stripes fabric, was selected by our school's media specialist to represent Potomac Elementary at the Maryland Young Authors Conference in celebration of the bicentennial. I can still remember standing on stage at the state capitol proudly reading my Lexington and Concord themed haiku (yes, I employed a Japanese format for an unabashedly jingoistic poem) aloud for the panel of distinguished judges (senior media specialists from other schools, I'm guessing).

If there was a national competition for patriotic poets, I didn't advance based on my 17-syllable homage to the "shot heard round the world." And to be fair, the piece probably did need some finessing. But in 1976, there weren't a lot of after-school activities or summer camps available to nurture precocious poets, or any other youthful writers for that matter.

But times, quite fortunately, have changed. And if you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills.

For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8. Kids who attend the Young Writers Camp will have the daily opportunity to perfect their craft in the stunning east side gardens. I can't imagine a better environment than Olbrich, from the Thai Pavilion to the relaxing serenity garden, for inspiration.

The fellows and experienced teachers who will be serving as the program's "counselors" all have the goal of inspiring and supporting writers of all abilities. Every youthful Emerson, Thoreau and Veronica Roth-to-be will get the opportunity to dive deeply into the writing process. He or she will learn how to more easily generate ideas and become appreciative of good editing (who isn't?) all while exploring a variety of genres including poetry, creative nonfiction, personal narratives and short stories. Kids will also get to meet guest writers from the Madison area and contribute a prized work of writing (maybe even a haiku?) to the program's published anthology.

The early-bird registration is due June 1. So hurry up and register your budding Brontes. Because kids can be fickle when it comes to "What I want to be when I grow up."

But take it from an award-winning haiku practitioner. Having a mini-Moliere, as opposed to a junior Vidal Sassoon in the house can be a lot neater. And a lot less expensive, especially if your kid is a doll collector.

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