Reminiscing with TWC Directors Judith Lindbergh and Michelle Cameron
After nearly a decade of running the Summer Creative Writing Intensives, The Writers Circle’s completely out-of-the-box, super-fun, creative writing program for teens, TWC directors Judith Lindbergh and Michelle Cameron got together to recall about how it all began and what the heck they were thinking…!
Michelle: So, once upon a time we had this great idea. We called it Creativity Camp, intended for the younger kids. Judy, do you remember what we thought we’d do there?
Judith: I wanted to have this crazy kids’ camp where we’d make found-object sculptures and build shelters in the woods. At that time, my kids were little and we were doing all that at home and I wanted other kids to have the chance to be wildly creative. But we were The Writers Circle, after all, and it didn’t quite fit what we were teaching throughout the rest of the year.
Michelle: I remember going along with your idea – up to a point. But I think my vision of it was to bring in artists and musicians to work with the kids. And that may be where it all fell apart – realizing it wasn’t all about the writing.
Judith: Yes, it was all a bit off topic. But do you remember how we sat in that room on the third floor at MONDO, trying to work out what to do instead? The first thing was to narrow down the program to creative writing. And the second was to make it for older kids.
Michelle: The idea of keeping the little ones occupied through a full day was kind of scary. Working with teens felt less daunting. So we started thinking through how it could work, jotting down notes, taking up the entirety of that whiteboard that no longer exists at MONDO. Sketching out the schedule. Wondering if anyone would actually show up.
Judith: That first summer we did a trial run: only two weeks. We weren’t sure there would be enough interest to do more. Little did we know! And we held it right there at MONDO.
Michelle: We used both the top floor and the basement, dividing ourselves into four classes. Sometimes it got a little loud – I remember having my poetry kids do a spoken word slam and you were right on the other side of the divider…
Judith: Yes, without solid walls, it wasn’t ideal, but we made it work. And it was so much fun. We achieved our dream of having kids on the tables, under the tables, lying on the rugs writing with their feet against the walls. It was not school, which was exactly the vision. We made all the kids feel that they could relax and be themselves.
Michelle: It became a safe space to create – to express themselves. We also tried to spend time outside. We walked to the local park, where you took that photo of the original Teen Intensive circle. And people-spying around Summit. Remember the policeman who came over that first day to ask what we were doing? We all freaked out a bit because we didn’t know what we’d done wrong, but he was just curious, and so impressed with our group.
Judith: I also remember the first day we did “Free-write” for a full hour after lunch. It was all planned, and yet I was so worried. All of the sudden, the whole place went silent, and I said to you, “Is this OK? Should we do something? Say something?”
Michelle: And I said, “No! This is exactly what we want to happen.” It really was–and is–the quietest hour of any summer program anywhere. And the kids loved it. They still do.
Judith: After a couple of years, we realized we were growing out of MONDO. Cool as it was with the beautiful windows and exposed brick walls, we needed proper classrooms. We were lucky to find a welcoming home at Drew University. I had never been to the campus before, and it was beautiful!
Michelle: It gave the whole program a college-y vibe – and plenty of room outdoors to hold classes, eat lunch – and play FRISBEE!
Judith: Yes, Frisbee has become a Summer Intensive tradition. I love how the kids who’ve been joining us for years have developed some serious rivalries. Jake and Rebecca were the team captains for years, and even during the school year, we would hear about them challenging each other for the upcoming summer.
Michelle: Our fantastic instructors have opened these kids’ eyes to how creative they can be – doing everything from murder investigations (in Crime/Mystery Writing) to blindfolded observation of the senses (in Poetry in the Drew Arboretum), to pitched paper ball battles (in Live Your Character).
Judith: But we made even the more technical writing lessons fun, like when we have them draw their story’s plotlines on giant sheets of paper using multi-colored markers and sticky-notes.
Michelle: We’ve taken some pretty intense field trips, too.
Judith: “Intense” definitely is the right word.
Michelle: Like the trip to Ellis Island. Getting forty kids on and off the bus, and the ferry, and the bus again was, well, scary.
Judith: We were so worried that someone would hop off at the Statue of Liberty, or simply get lost! But all the kids and interns were terrific and it turned out to be a fantastic day of creative writing.
Michelle: The trips were always so great for bonding. Even beyond the writing…
Judith: We’ve seen so many life-long friendships grow out of the Summer Intensives. Even the kids who are now at college reach out to us to share that they saw so-and-so or spent time visiting them on breaks. At the Summer Intensives, they find friends who “get them.” I mean, it’s not every kid who wants to spend a whole week writing.
Michelle: So that day at MONDO when we planned the whole thing, could you ever have imagined what it would become?
Judith: I don’t think either of us could’ve foreseen it, but I’m so glad we did it. Every year, it’s exhausting and exhilarating in equal measures. But it’s always one of the highlights of The Writers Circle’s year.