Young Writers Look Forward to Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival

Facilitators and six to eleven year-old students respond to pictorial prompts during the workshop. (Photo by Philippe Theise)
New York Writers Coalition facilitators and students respond to respond to pictorial prompts during the coalition’s summer youth workshop in Fort Greene Park on Saturday, Aug. 3. (Photo by Philippe Theise)

For young writers such as Najaya Royal, 16, who rose early to commute from East New York to Fort Greene on six Saturday mornings in July and August, the annual Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival happening this week is both a beacon and a reward.

“I like to share what I’ve worked on, and each year people can see how I’ve grown,” said Royal, who has attended the New York Writers Coalition’s Fort Greene Park Summer Youth Workshops for the past seven years.

The coalition, a nonprofit that organizes the festival and the workshops, facilitates group writing activities year-round throughout the five boroughs, aiming to give writers from marginalized groups opportunities for self-expression.

The constructive, polyvocal nature of the summer workshops draws Samori Covington, 13, year after year.

“They actually let me read my stuff and get feedback and tell what I can improve on,” Covington said. “At school … you just write and the teacher reads it and gives you the grade.”

The park itself provides stimuli that most writing classrooms cannot.

“You see trees, you see birds,” said Mariah Thomas, 15. “It’s very inspiring, because it’s just an open space and sometimes there are people around and you can … try to make a whole story and view on what they’re doing.”

During the literary festival, writers such as Royal, Covington and Thomas will share the stage with faculty from The Writer’s Foundry at nearby St. Joseph’s College: Chris Adrian, who has published short stories and three novels; Timothy Small, a former journalist working on a novel; and Jackson Taylor, a poet, novelist and anthologist.

Angel Nafis, a poet and educator who works at Greenlight Bookstore, one of several local sponsors of the festival, will also read from her 2012 chapbook, “BlackGirl Mansion.”

During the penultimate summer workshop on Aug. 3, students wrote under the roof of the Fort Greene Park Visitors Center to avoid the intermittent rain.

Matt Matros facilitates a group of 14- to 17- year-old students inside the visitor's center. (Photo by Philippe Theise)
Matt Matros facilitates a group of 14- to 17- year-old students inside the Fort Greene Park Visitor’s Center on Saturday, Aug. 3. (Photo by Philippe Theise)

Two groups of older students sat inside the building, while a group of 6- to 11-year-olds sat on dull blue and turquoise blankets atop the front steps.

Everyone wrote in notebooks. Facilitators Tim Fredrick and Matt Matros gave the older students verbal prompts for inspiration, and facilitators Kaitlyn Greenidge and Jen Weitsen asked the youngsters to respond to black and white photographs. One of Greenidge and Weitsen’s students announced that she had written her response in the style of “a New York Times article.”

“Scientist on beach dies of shark attack,” she read in a news anchor’s brisk tone.

“I’m just amazed at … what comes out of their imaginations every week,” said Weitsen, 35. “It helps me with my writing because it sparks my imagination and creativity.”

Weitsen said that she looks forward to the festival.

“It always blows me away … to come and watch these kids read all the writing that they worked on all summer,” she said.

And Carlene Phillander, 9, noted how the summer workshops have helped her grow.

“I think that I’m getting better at writing,” she said. “My goal is to be a writer. I think that I’m going to accomplish that goal.”

The Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival, a free event, takes place beside Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24. If it’s raining, the festival moves to Queen of All Saints Church at 300 Vanderbilt Avenue. You can keep up with the festival’s latest news on its Facebook page.