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I was in the poetry workshop with Arisa White. Arisa is incredible. We hit the ground running, beginning with a free-write about “Practicing,” a poem of kissing. There was no room for fear and no time for reluctance. The workshop environment felt very safe and welcoming, but we were pushed to write about things that scared us, things that we had never thought about before, things that we were always thinking but too afraid to say. I learned to take risks, explore extreme use of language, and expect more of myself. I got over my fear of putting pen to paper without an idea of where I was going, and learned how to freewrite, how to just go with any ideas that crossed my mind.

I would describe the bookmaking course as very creative and inspiring. Who hasn’t thought about publishing their own work? No one in my course! The bookmaking gave us a chance to ask questions of talented chapbook publishers, and consider how we would like our future books to look and feel, maybe even smell! I will never consider a book a mere pile of paper and glue again. I now understand that you can make as much impact and art through the form of your book as through its text and contents. I am more thoughtful about the layout, spacing, and visual aspects of my poetry and much less limited when it comes to more inventive less simply novel forms of writing…can a poem be part illustration? Can a paragraph tell a story? How can I engage my reader through the holding of a book? Can turning the page be its own gift?

The readings and Q&As were a large part of what drew me to Juniper. Because of the concurring adult program, we heard from some of the most talented and intense writers in the country. I got to hear from, and often even speak with, people I thought I would never see off of a book jacket photo. The readers were lively, funny, sincere, and took us (the Young Writers) seriously. They gave us encouragement and inspiration. In preparation for going to Juniper I read books, poems, or bios of many of the writers, and that alone taught me a lot. Then, to actually hear their readings informed me of how powerful the spoken word can be, an art I had never before explored.

My experience was intense—I couldn’t just slide by with empty poetry and meaningless conversation. For once I was surrounded by a group of extremely intelligent and honest people. I felt like I was a part of something REAL, like I was genuinely interested in each and every one of my fellow writers, that I could sit anywhere in the cafeteria and by the end of the meal be totally engrossed and engaged.

Everything else pales in comparison. My mind has been expanded and exposed to types of writers that I didn’t know existed. Juniper was a sign that I’m on the right track. I’m a lot less unsure in my writing now, and have been motivated to write more. I’m going to explore poetry in a variety of forms, and try my hand at short stories. I’m generally going to walk around with that special “I’ve been to Juniper” glow. I hope to find myself at Juniper again, whether in the area attending a reading as a member of the public, as an adult participant, or at a totally different writing program years from now, but with a lovely feeling of “this reminds me of Juniper.”

— Emma Elisabeth Fosso McNairy, ’09 participant,
Chapel Hill, NC