This Friday marks the date of the 6th annual Montreat Creative Writing Festival. The English Department, largely from the initiative and vision of Dr. Rich Gray, started the Festival in the Spring of 2008 as an outreach and service to high school students in the area. Over the years – to our delighted surprise – we have attracted participants from as far away as Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. We drew in over 100 participants the inaugural year, and we were thrilled to see many of the participating schools come back the next year! This was an affirmation of the quality of our workshops: Bill Forstchen’s book “conversations” and Kevin Auman’s “Song Lyric Workshops,” to name a few, have been perennial favorites. From fiction, to poetry, to screenplays, to comic book writing – we have all learned much and been inspired in the workshops.
Over the years, we have offered over 25 workshops, hosted by published, award-winning authors; we developed a Creative Writing Contest in fiction and poetry, awarded well over $15,000 in Montreat Collage Scholarships, and hosted over 750 participants on our campus. In 2013 we added a SLAM! (performance poetry) Event and Competition that was initiated by McDowell High School Creative Writers. McDowell, Owen, and North Buncombe High Schools have been our token participants, joining us every year for the past 5 years. We also draw students from Christian schools such as Haywood, North Asheville, and ACA, as well as local home-school programs.
The true purpose of the event is to encourage and excite young writers, and we think we are accomplishing that goal. I have had feedback from teachers saying how inspired their students were after the festival; one year a teacher said that her students wrote, all the way back, on the bus! Other teachers have spoken about reluctant writers who were positively encouraged at the festival – with long-lasting results – they became excited about writing and actually started asking in early spring, “When is the Creative Writing Festival?”
My favorite part of the Festival is the Open Mic – when students have the opportunity to “publish” their work for their peers. Everyone cheers and celebrates each other’s creativity; we yell and clap for our writers like we applaud for sporting events and musical performances. At the Montreat Creative Writing Festival, writing and creativity are given the spotlight; the lasting message we hope to send is that writing matters, creativity matters, and voice matters. For all of the imaginative minds that participate in our Festival, it is a powerful message, one that we don’t hear often enough.