The University of Massachusetts Amherst


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Bianca stone with young writers in workshop classroom
I had expected that the workshop would work much like a regular writing class where the instructor is very separate from the students and I was surprised to find that this was not the case at all. Wherever I went I was treated as an equal, not just a "teen writer."
A "pod" of young writers strikes a funny pose at UMass Amherst Juniper Institute for Young Writers
It was incredibly refreshing to meet a whole host of young writers who I immediately clicked with. Juniper offered me with a support system for the future to fall back on whenever I need an extra boost of confidence (whether it be in my personal life or with my writing). All in all, I learned a lot about myself as a writer and even more so about myself as a person.
Stephen Graham Jones reads for Juniper participants in a darkened auditorium
Sometimes I think writers seem far away behind that microphone, unreachable to mere 17-year-olds, but these were people who ate lunch with us, people we had real conversations with. People we could be someday.
Young writers at a book-making studio session
Since participating at Juniper, I've found it easier to change my writing and experiment with styles. I don't feel stuck in any certain writing style—now I find it easier to draw inspiration from everything around me, like what I read, what I experience, the people that I meet.
Young writers browse the table of books for sale at the Juniper reading series
Because writing is such a solitary activity, it's good to spend time living in a community of people who are as passionate about writing as you are. My friends and fellow writers definitely fueled my love of writing. Everyone was so supportive of each other and their enthusiastic energy was palpable.
Smiling audience of young writers in an auditorium applauding
I was able to sit with people that made me feel whole. Finding a community full of people like you and that share the same interests as you is something that can prove to be difficult. At home when I would tell people I like to write for fun, often times I was met with a dirty look or “How do you write just because?” and things like that made me feel out of place. At Juniper, it was the opposite. People asked me what I write, how I write, and everything you could ever want to know about a writer. I didn’t feel out of place at Juniper, not once.
Young woman with glasses and a ponytail sitting in tall grass writing in a notebook, with prayer flags flapping above her.
Words cannot truly express how grateful I am for the opportunity to have been able to attend and immerse myself in doing something I love. Thank you for letting me take root in your garden. Thank you for letting me bloom into something beautiful and a little strange. That’s what makes this garden so beautiful; that us writers are strange in our own wonderful ways.
A group photo of all 80 young writers participating in the Juniper Institute for Young Writers
I wish time travel was a thing because I want to relive my experience at Juniper over and over again. It was such a healthy environment, there was always somewhere to write and let your creativity flow with reckless abandon and I loved every moment of it.
A small group of five young writers make goofy faces in a sun-filled lobby.
During my time at Juniper, I met the most intelligent and talented people. My “pod” clicked in a way that I've never experienced--within our first few hours together, we were laughing like old friends. We fed off of each other’s unique energies and talents during our workshops and writing sessions, and remain in close contact! I've made new friends from all over the country, and feel that sharing our life and writing experiences with one another has enriched us all as writers and as people.
Young writers with cowboy hats, feather boas, and other photobooth props mug for the camera.
At Juniper I was challenged to allow myself to be uncomfortable, to experience my insecurities at their fullest and then find my strength through writing. Since Juniper is a community, I was never alone in being challenged and uncomfortable and it was because my fellow writers were also struggling that we were able to push and support each other.
Three young women writing in notebooks under a willow tree
My favorite memory will always be my pod walking back from a reading and then not being able to make it back to the dorms without plopping down and having a writing session.
The backs of a group of ten or so young writers walk away from us down a trail into the forest.
One of my best memories with my pod was on our last day with our instructor Otto when we were in the midst of an exciting writing prompt and it began to pour. It wasn’t a light drizzle, or even a regular day of rain, it was the kind of rain that comes when the earth has just been sucked dry and left parched. We were in awe of the rain’s amazing ability to crush everything in its path and yet heal it as well. It was the kind of rain my pod needed to experience in all its beauty and strength. We left our pencils and notebooks sprawled across the table, took off our shoes, and dived courageously into shaky waters. We transformed into dancers as we splashed one another, our heads thrown back with laughter, hands clasped together and our eyes closed so we could just feel. That was what Juniper gave us, the ability to dive in head first, crash a couple of times, pick each other up and then dance in the rain.
A young writer sits at a computer with headphones during a podcasting session and other young writers take notes for their turns.
My passion for writing was reignited during my workshop, and I received clarity on how to move forward as a writer in the modern world, something I had previously felt very lost about. I was also feeling lost about college, and Juniper gave me clarity on that too. From being at UMass, I was able to specify some of the criteria I want in prospective colleges.
A female student reads aloud from a sheet of paper while peers in the classroom listen.
Never had I been exposed to kids interested in the same things, leading such different lives in such different places than myself. We were able to engage in meaningful discussions with such different perspectives, ideas, and opinions, and appreciate the work of others.
Dara Wier reads from poems at a podium
I loved the readings. They’re like bedtime stories that you can’t fall asleep to but still dream about.
A young man stands at a microphone in the center, reading from a book, as a group of young writers walk around him in a wide circle.
It was outstanding to be in a community of writers. I find that my peers have made me want to write as much as possible, and to not have dull conversations, to really dig deep into myself and others.