April 4, 2011KR BlogKR

A Green Thought in a Green Shade

What’s summer like in Gambier? It’s a time when the world goes quiet: some days, the only sounds are the rustling of pages turning and the whisper of scribbling pens. Every June and July, Gambier becomes a village of writers. This year it all begins with the arrival of the KR Writers Workshop on June 18, a week of intense workshops, readings, and, yes, writing. Unlike many summer workshops, the KR Writers Workshop is described by students who return every year as hard work, “bootcamp for writers.” It’s a place for planting seeds, not showing off your harvest. Writers stay for a week, but they leave with enough rough drafts and new directions to keep them busy for the rest of the year.

Writers WorkshopA week later, the village fills with young writers who come from 40 states and 8 foreign countries–this year, we’ll have students from Israel, India, Switzerland, France, Russia, Canada, England, and Korea–to attend KR’s Young Writers Workshop. KR runs two sessions of this program each summer: June 26-July 9 and July 17-30. Each session brings 90 students to Gambier for two weeks of writing, reading, and sharing their love of literature. It’s hard to describe the excitement of these two weeks: you have to experience it to understand what a transformative experience this program can be for a young person who loves to write and read. No TV, no video games, no thumbing your apps in search of distraction: for two weeks, it’s pens scratching on paper, young voices reading their words aloud, sudden bursts of laughter and creativity that lift the spirit, inspire the imagination, and fill the heart. Each student is asked to give a reading from his or her work during the session. Many choose to spend their free time writing in the Adirondack chairs scattered around campus, or under a shady tree, or in a computer lab tucked inside the old stone classroom buildings.

Young Writers WorkshopAt the end of the workshops, students publish an anthology of their writing. Many students find a writer’s community for the first time at Kenyon. As one student commented: “For two whole weeks, I was surrounded by people just as insane about writing as I am. It was the most extraordinary thing to wake up first thing in the morning, go to breakfast and talk about good literature over scrambled eggs, with nothing but writing and fun in mind for the rest of the day. It was unbelievably easy to make friends; everyone liked you, found reasons to like you, reasons to be with you . . . ”

KR will offer scholarships totaling $110,000 to help bring young writers from around the world to Gambier, including merit scholarships for poetry and scholastic gold pen award winners, funded by generous support from The Schuler Foundation, SURDNA, The Fertel Foundation, and Memphis Prep Program, as well as many individual donors and contributions raised at the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement dinner in New York each November. For over 18 years, the Young Writers program has been changing lives, but anyone who has spent a summer in Gambier can tell you that these young writers also bring energy and excitement to our quiet village just at the moment when summer feels as if it will never end.

In August, one feels the new academic year approaching like a late-summer thunderstorm about to break over the village. KR’s final summer program is Writing and Thinking, a pre-orientation writing program for new Kenyon students. Based on the workshop format of the Young Writers program, but with a focus on writing and intensive discussion about questions drawn from across the academic curriculum, the Writing and Thinking program brings up to 60 first-year students to campus a week before the formal start of the academic year. By the time the rest of the first-year class arrives, students in Writing and Thinking have made close friends, discovered new academic interests, and become accustomed to the spirited discussions and thoughtful writing that they will find in their Kenyon classes.

So what’s summer like in Gambier? At KR, it’s a season for writing, for planting seeds that will grow and flourish in the years to come.