At the Juniper Institute for Young Writers, I came into contact with people from different cultures, different regions of the United States, and different writing backgrounds. I met people from Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Michigan, Virginia, Washington, even as far away as Switzerland. No matter where we came from, we were all bound together by our love for writing (it’s trite but true!).
I had never before had the opportunity to be in a community of such skilled writers, so during the first few days of the program, I felt quite intimidated by the level of expertise shown by my peers. However, all the kids were friendly and willing to collaborate on class assignments, so I quickly felt at home. I also made friends. We had fun sharing our writing in class, talking over intellectual (and not-so-intellectual) topics in the cafeteria at dinner, and visiting each other in our rooms.
The evening readings brought me two inches away from greats like Grace Paley, a tiny, wise-cracking woman, two months before she died of cancer; Barry Hannah, a brilliant man who, when my twin sister and I asked for his autograph, looked at us and said, “You two have beautiful hair”; and James Tate, a funny genius whose words will always make me giggle: “The urge to be creative is a universal impulse. Some people fulfill it through writing – others fulfill it through activities like Minor League Baseball or killing people.”
After the readings, Q and A sessions allowed us to ask questions and get to know these writers better. It was inspiring to read Paley’s, Tate’s, and Hannah’s works and then to learn what interesting people they were. In our dorm, my friends and I would stay up late discussing these talented writers (after that, we would race chairs down the hallway or eat mounds of candy bars).
On the last day, all of us, students and teachers alike, gathered in a dorm kitchen to make blueberry cobbler and chat. We were sad to leave each other. In Juniper’s warm, smart, nutty community of writers, my writing had flourished and I had opened myself up to fresh ways of thinking. I had made true friends and found mentors. Alex Phillips and Leni Zumas were two of the greatest teachers I could have asked for. They made me feel comfortable with my surroundings and pushed me to explore my writing. All in all, Juniper may have been only a week, but it was an unforgettable week.
—Lily Barrett,'07 and '08 participant