More on YoungARTS week

I promised to write more about YoungARTS Week when I had more brain power and wasn’t so exhausted. Then I plunged back into getting caught up on my various deadlines, and filling out more after-death paperwork (I’ve come to think that paperwork is perhaps the only eternal part of our existence) and the week flew by. So much for good intentions.

(The photo above, from poet and finalist Maggie Zhang, is our writers at Books & Books, downtown Miami’s fabulous indie bookstore, where we had a master class with fiction writer John Dufresne and store owner Mitch Kaplan.)

YoungARTS week is the flagship program of National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, and it’s open to kids who will are seniors in high school or who will be 17 or 18 in the year they’re applying. (They also need to be U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents, but don’t necessarily need to be living in the U.S. when they apply–one of our finalists this year is at Bath University in England and grew up mostly in Africa.)


For the 2011-2012 year, over 5,000 kids applied to YoungARTS in nine artistic disciplines: dance, cinematic arts, jazz, visual arts, music (all instrumental except jazz), photography, theatre, writing, and vocal. Some apply in more than one discipline–these are truly talented kids. The 150 kids chosen as finalists, those who attend YoungARTS week, come from high schools that specialize in the arts, prep schools, and ordinary public high schools.

Three things unite the writing finalists (and I suspect the finalists in other disciplines too, but I only work with the writers): a passion to be heard, a hunger to learn more about writing, both craft and art, and a yearning to be around others of their kind.

Watching our 22 young writers bond over the week was just sweet. We told them repeatedly that they weren’t competing with each other, and they took it to heart.

By the end of the first full workshop day they were clustered at dinner, exchanging stories. (They had formed a Facebook group when they learned they were finalists for YoungARTS week, so their meeting was punctuated with cries of “I recognize you!” “So you’re…!”) They each were chosen based on a submission in a particular genre: short story, creative non-fiction, or poetry–we didn’t have any playwrights or novelists this year.

That first night they began helping each other cut down their winning pieces their three-minute selections for the big Thursday night reading. Over the course of the week, they gave each other constructive feedback and support in workshop, and continued working and playing together outside workshop.

By the end of the week, they were inseparable. For young artists, finding compatriots who understand their passion for something society often sees as a “frill” at best is critical to their survival. (They’re still chatting away about adjusting to life after YoungARTS week on that Facebook group.)

If past years are any guide, at least some of these young writers will be friends for life. And we’ll be reading their words in coming decades.

We nominated ten of our writers to be considered for the twenty total slots (among all nine disciplines) as Presidential Scholars Medals in the Arts. The winners will receive their medals at the White House and read at the Smithsonian Institution. Heady stuff. But they’re that good.

So yeah, I worked too hard (our teaching days begin at breakfast and end after the last performance at ten or eleven o’clock at night), got too little sleep, ate too much, didn’t exercise enough… And it was more than worth it to work with these talented young writers, and with my fellow panelists, poet Dave Lee, novelist Rob Van Wagoner, and poet Gailmarie Pahmeier, and our coordinator, visual artist Mary Lee Adler. You all rock!


Now I’m home in the land of spectacular dawn skies, working to finish up projects with immediate deadlines and looking forward some time to think about what’s ahead now that my life has been radically reshaped by the death of my husband, sculptor and economist Richard Cabe.

I didn’t imagine that our nearly 29-year partnership in love, life and art would dissolve this soon. But it did. Which gives me the opportunity–perhaps unwanted, but still an opportunity–to reshape my life, rethink my path. Thanks for walking with me…