Some of us went to baseball camp. Others to theater, cheerleading, computer, weight loss, Christian, Jewish, or Boy Scout camp. But in the bookish East Bay, kids entering grades four through nine in the fall get to spend three glorious weeks channeling their inner Pullmans, Gaimans, L'Engles, and Rowlings at the Bay Area Writing Project's Young Writers' Camp.
A collaborative effort between UC Berkeley and Bay Area schools, the Bay Area Writing Project has been buffeting the writing and teaching skills of local educators since 1974. Fifteen years ago it expanded its mission to include wee scribes; it now holds Young Writers' Camp sessions at two Oakland locations, one in Berkeley, and one in Kentfield, plus a fifth session in digital storytelling in San Francisco. Kristen Lono is in her third summer teaching at the camp's Mills College location. "I had participated in the Summer Institute in 2004 or 2005, with teacher Susan Lee, who recommended me when an opening came up at the camp," she said. "I was thrilled to be invited." Lono is proof that the camp's instructors aren't bored teens who couldn't get a gig at Crystal Lake this summer. This fall will begin her thirtieth year teaching; she has taught middle-school English and drama in Tucson and spent nine years as a middle-school special day class teacher with Berkeley Unified. She now teaches third grade at Arts Magnet School in Berkeley. This vast experience coupled with the expansive training provided to teachers by the Bay Area Writing Project readies Lono and her cohorts for three weeks of helping kids get comfortable with journaling, sharing work, dealing with criticism, exploring various styles and methods, editing and publishing their work in an online 'zine, and many more activities of a literary stripe.
Though the camps are targeted toward children with a writerly bent, said Lono, "every year, there has been at least one camper who was reluctant to be there, who had not had a great writing experience during the school year, who got roped in by a zealous parent or a friend. At the start of camp, this kid might write to us, saying 'I hate writing' or 'I'm not good at writing' or 'I can't think of anything to write.' Invariably, by the end of camp, that attitude has changed. We can always find some writing strength, some activity or prompt, that is transformative for a camper."
As this is not Camp Firewood, the end of the season is not celebrated with Color War or a sing-off, but rather, a reading. Each site organizes a reading at a nearby coffeehouse or bookstore — Lono's campers have their chance at the podium at their Young Writers' Camp Reading on Thursday, July 7, at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland). Readings are organized by age, genre, mood, and theme, to make for a lively and interesting event. "We don't do too many back-to-back silly pieces, for example, or too many long pieces in a row," Lono said. "The mood of the reading is light-hearted and supportive, with parents and grandparents and neighbors turning out to celebrate young authors.
"Mills campers will be the only camp group reading at Diesel," she explained, "but we pack the house!" So get there early — the event begins at 6 p.m. Free. 510-653-9965 or DieselBookstore.com