Heading home….

The view from my hotel room, looking north up Miami Beach.

I’m writing this from the Miami Airport, where the air conditioning is cold and the air outside is warm and heavy with humidity. I’ve been in South Florida for eight days now, and I’m ready to get home to the crisp and dry air of Southern Colorado. Even though it is cold.

Bitter cold: it was minus thirteen this morning, bound for a high today of 15 degrees above zero. It’s been so cold while I’ve been away that my water meter froze. If my neighbor Bev hadn’t been watching out for my house and the shop, I would have come home to a disaster….

When I left for Miami, the weather was seasonable, so I hadn’t prepared for this unusually bitter cold. And I haven’t had time to even think about it during Young Arts Week, six-plus days of non-stop teaching, mentoring, master classes, evaluations, performances, and generally celebrating and nurturing an extraordinary crop of young writers and their compatriots in dance, cinema, theater, music (jazz, classical, voice), visual art, and photography.

In addition to the day-long workshops and master classes, there was at least one performance every night in this one-of-a-kind, week-long celebration of the country’s best emerging artists aged 16 to 18 years.

A quiet moment in the courtyard at Books and Books, reading in the courtyard while waiting for the bus back to the hotel.

We writers spent a wonderful afternoon with novelist Rob Van Wagoner, hearing his new work and doing new writing ourselves, talking about story and ideas. Another afternoon we took at “field trip” from our base (the Deauville Beach Resort right on the beach) to go to Books and Books, where bookstore owner Mitch Kaplan, founder of the Miami Book Fair, talked to us about the business of writing and publishing.

Mitch also gifted us each a copy of Blue Christmas, an anthology edited by noted Miami fiction writer John Dufresne and published by the bookstore, along with a gift certificate, so we spent a happy hour browsing the store and selecting new books to read.

Bouganvillea grows “wild” through beach grass, Miami Beach Botanical Gardens.

There was the morning at Miami Beach Botanical Garden working with fiction writer Beth Kephart and her photographer husband, Bill, who are collaborating on a booklet of the writers’ work.

And there was “our” writers’ Friday night performance, a reading of two-minute excerpts of their fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction that had the audience hushed and on the edge of their seats, drinking in every word, and then standing as one afterwards to give these courageous and creative young writers an ovation as they danced their way out of the hall at the Miami Performing Arts Center.

In short, it was a magical, inspiring, high-energy, transformative, seriously exhausting week. Worth every minute.

I snatched 20 minutes to walk on the beach one day, long enough to actually get my feet in the warm Atlantic.

When I say I’m headed off to Miami to work with teen writers, people often assume we’re working with sappy, angst-ridden love poems with tiny hearts dotting the ‘i’s or stories about sports figures and video games. And that we get in serious beach time. False on both.

These writers may be short on years, but they’re long on wit and sophisticated thinking, depth, creativity and an enduring passion for words and story. Their writing is strikingly ahead of their age–I was not nearly so self-aware and focused when I was their age!

As I wrote in the introduction to the anthology excerpting the work of this year’s 24 finalists:

How does a young writer get to Arts Week? By paying attention to the craft, digging deep for freshness, authenticity, resonance. By having the courage and tenacity to pursue their unique creative voice–listening intently within, and by honing their words until those words sing, rail, make us laugh and sigh and exclaim out loud….

Here’s to you,Young Arts 2013 Finalists in Writing: Lois Carlisle, Kathleen Cole, Allison Cooke, Amanda Crist, Alexa Derman, Stefania Gomez, Emily Hittner-Cunningham, Julia Hogan, Shelley (Anne Shelton) Hucks, Flannery James, Libbie Katsev, Peter LaBerge, Natalie Landers, Amy Mattox, Annyston Pennington, Kathleen Radigan, Laura Rashley, Anne Malin Ringwalt, Lizza Rodriguez, Fances Saux, Lila Thulen, Victoria White, Catherine Wong, and Ashley Zhou.

I can’t wait to read more from you all.