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    • Lucas Alfaro ’22 at the YAWP podium.

    • Maisie Bilston ’22 reads her poetry aloud at the YAWP live reading on October 1.

Students Thrive in New Writer’s Program

Swarna Navaratnam-Tomayko ’24 Campus Correspondent Vivian Wang ’23 Lead Features Editor
Summer means the chance to finally relax and enjoy the warm weather, but for some Hopkins students it also is the perfect time to experiment with character backstories for their novel or to finish drafting the last act of their production script.
Through the newly formed Young Apprentice Writer’s Program (YAWP), a select few sophomores and juniors get the chance to hone their creativity with writing projects, develop their craft, and get a taste of the writing and publishing process under the guidance of professional writers.

English Teacher Brad Czepiel’s vision of enriching aspiring writers at Hopkins came to life in the form of a writing mentorship program. As the founder of YAWP, Czepiel proposed the initiative this year to recognize the talents of Hopkins writers and provide them the opportunity to explore their interests in more depth. Throughout his years working at Hopkins, Czepiel observed that “many students were writing amazing pieces but [had] few avenues to advance the pieces towards publication and themselves as writers.” To broaden the opportunities available for Hopkins writers, he decided to make use of the “unusual assets that only New Haven can provide” and allow students to work and “[learn] as much as they could from ‘pros.’”

The program requires dedication and hard work; participants and their mentors engage in weekly meetings over Zoom from early spring to the end of summer. Along the way, students keep a journal where they reflect on their writing processes and growth as writers. Mentors assisted participants in fine-tuning their writing, and the experience culminated in a final project that would eventually be published in literary magazines and presented at the public reading event hosted in October. Czepiel reflected on his experience working with the students: “I was proud of the apprentices’ commitment- they wrote a lot of pages, but they also took some big risks and dealt with real discomfort about their abilities.”

For their projects, this year’s students dived into various genres of writing, ranging from poetry and short stories to screenplay and production scripts. Andrew Sack ’22 took on poetry as his main focus: “I worked with another poet from New York City to create a collection of well-edited poems to be sent out for publication.” Maisie Bilston ’22 also explored her passion for poetry writing: “My project was a crown of sonnets telling the story of one main character, Benjamin Pope...the final product was ten poems long.” On the other hand, Julia Murphy ’23 developed two short stories: “The first piece was about a depressed woman coming to the realization that she needed to leave her relationship... [and] the second piece, which I wrote in August, was about two teenage girls admitting they liked each other.”

YAWP students use their mentors’ advice and weekly workshops to polish their writing skills and develop their final writing projects. Bilston said, “My mentor, [Chris] Jacox, really helped me figure out how to combine poetry with my passion for narrative.” Although she initially found the final project daunting, her mentor helped her to simplify it, and Bilston ended up writing “the most structurally ambitious poem [she’d] ever written.” Bilston found that “it was a lot of fun to be able to talk to someone as experienced and passionate as she was.” Sack also valued his time working with a professional poet. The meetings left Sack “with a stronger grasp of who I am as a writer: what I excel at, where I can improve, what I like, and what I don’t like.” Murphy described her mentor as someone who “was always open to talk about various ways we could evolve my story,” and showed Murphy “what it was like to be a professional writer.”

This first session of the program concluded in October with a small gathering during which the participants read their work aloud. Sack said, “I loved the presentation because it was small. I didn’t have to read my work in front of the whole school, but rather a group of people who were genuinely interested in what I had to share.” Bilston also “really enjoyed the final presentation,” and “especially loved hearing what everyone else had been working on!”

Despite its novelty, YAWP has been a success so far, and Czepiel look forward to continuing the program and achieving the same level of success in future years. He found his experience leading the program “deeply satisfying,” seeing how “several participants [went] to seek agents and publication.” When asked about the likelihood of the program expanding next year, Czepiel answered that he “hope[s] so,” and that in the future he hopes to “keep the program focused on the relationships between Apprentices and Mentors; talking about your writing with someone for an hour a week for several months is intense and requires a deep trust.”
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