Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Lisa Murphy Lamb on WordsWorth

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WordsWorth camp for young writers

Remember how I said there were some amazing writing places for kids in Canada? Well here’s another. WordsWorth is a fantastic writing camp for kids which I have had the honour of teaching at for the past five years. I’ve always had a blast every year I’ve been there. The kids do too and many of my young writing friends attend the camp year after year. WordsWorth is a writing camp based out of Calgary, Alberta, and it’s a magical place. To learn more about it, and share it with you, I pinned down Lisa Murphy Lamb, WordsWorth’s director, for a chat.

What is WordsWorth?

WordsWorth is a creative writing residency which happens over two weeks (three this year!) in July. Young writers come from across Alberta, and other places in Canada like Nunavut, BC and Winnipeg to write, talk writing, be mentored, to see old friends and to push themselves creatively.

Who can attend?

Anyone between the ages of 12-19 who is interested in writing can attend. Those who return year after year are those who have a need to write daily. Their need is a basic and as important as eating and breathing. These writers find a community at WordsWorth who understand,support and extend this need.

What is the teaching philosophy behind WordsWorth and how does it differ from what the kids get in school?

What each of us creates is important. And it is difficult and that it requires hard work, self reflection, risk taking and support. So what we offer at WordsWorth are writing opportunities that push us not only in the craft of writing but in how we think about ourselves as writers. And while there are many amazing and supportive and dynamic teachers and classrooms out there in Alberta that WordsWorth is an extension of, WordsWorth offers something different as well. We aim to offer study on something that maybe a classroom teacher isn't trained in, like a whole course focused on spoken word or photography or writing through comics or creative nonfiction or songwriting or modern libretto. And we ask our young writers to take a course that scares her or that he's' never heard of before. And we do this within an environment that encourages risk taking (and therefore mistakes) and celebrates pushing personal, creative boundaries and successes.

Is the philosophy what makes WordsWorth so important to youth writers?

I'm not sure if it is the philosophy that supports the young writers or the young writers that support the philosophy. As a teacher of teens, I am often struck by their generosity and creativity and their ability to push beyond themselves no matter what type of environment we learn in. But I have to say, there is something extraordinary about the WordsWorth community that struck me the first day. This is a beautiful, supportive, nurturing, risk taking, exciting, place all which our philosophy espouses. But it is also what the young writers bring each July.

How do you pick the instructors?

Carefully. Many of the young writers count the days they will return to WordsWorth. This places an enormous amount of responsibility on me to offer the best week I can for them and for their parents who are paying tuition and for the other stake holders who invest in WordsWorth. I take many factors into consideration. I ask the young writers what/who they want and I listen. I balance the genres. I bring some favourites back and I introduce some new teachers and courses each year. I think WordsWorth is a great place for those just out of university to begin their teaching career and I also love the experience and wisdom of teachers who have been in the literary field a long time with many books and courses under their belt. I need courses that demand movement and voice and those that require more quite, thoughtful approaches to writing. And when I interview I always listen for "what can I offer WordsWorth" rather than "what can WordsWorth offer me." Hiring is a very stressful few months. But we have had some incredible teams of mentors each year, some really strong, smart, devoted (to their craft and to their students) mentors.

Where does WordsWorth happen?

Kamp Kiwanis near Bragg Creek, not far from Calgary, although when we are there we are in the middle of the mountains, a thousand miles from the nearest city and the worlds' concerns.

What kinds of writing are supported by your program?

We have offered: creative nonfiction, songwriting, photography, the verse novel, haibun, character development, scriptwriting, playwriting, drama (in many forms), clowning, drumming, cartooning, spoken word, poetry, hybrid harmony, various forms of fiction, action scenes, creative flow, speculative fiction (which includes fantasy, sci-fi, steam punk, horror, etc.) --and I'm missing many more. It's quite exciting!

The kids who attend get very attached to the program and to each other. How do you support this?

This is true. Some of our participants meet and form some of their most important friendships (to date) at WordsWorth. When I first began this job I saw this and thought it was my responsibility to find ways to get them together throughout the year. But then I realized these guys are resourceful and they find ways to meet up or keep in touch over texts or skype or IM and my efforts are largely not needed. However, I do enjoy our time together as well! As a result of our first year together, a student initiative began. It is called The Inkswell Collective (formerly A Place Called WordsWorth). Students funded and created a website to keep in touch across the distance, create open mics and other ways to keep in touch. Each fall when the anthologies are completed (we publish a book of writing created each week of WordsWorth) we hold a book launch and open mic in Edmonton and in Calgary. And in the winter we have a weekend winter WordsWorth called Drink the Wild Air. I'm also involved in the People's Poetry Festival in Calgary in August and I get many students, and former students, on stage (paid) or as part of the youth open mic or out as volunteers. If i hear of other opportunities I try to involve as many as I can. And we work in collaboration with other youth organizations in Calgary to keep these young creative minds active and connected. Many of our writers come from Kim Firmston's Reality Is Optional kids' writing club and continue together there after. The Writers Guild of Alberta also hosts two monthly teen groups (Edmonton and Calgary). Facebook and good old fashioned letter writing also keeps us in touch.

How can kids and parents find out more about WordsWorth?

Our new website has all the updates on WordsWorth and our different opportunities and communities. This is where you can find out about the different groups I've talked about, register for WordsWorth and Drink the Wild Air, read and listen to what the students and mentors of WordsWorth are creating and also enter contests.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kim Firmston

Kim Firmston is a writer and creative writing instructor in Calgary. Her teen novels Schizo and Hook Up were Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Bet Selections. Her short story "Life Before War" was shortlisted for the 2008 CBC Literary Awards. Her most recent novel for teens is Touch, about a teenage hacker with a troubled family life.

Go to Kim Firmston’s Author Page