“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.”
-Charlie, Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
As my time as the 2018 Duquesne Summer Writing Camp Intern winds down to a close (only officially—I will be doing some work with the actual camp this summer), I’ve nearly finished my marketing and administrative tasks, and all I have left to do now is to stay in contact with the campers until June. I want to reflect a little bit on the importance of creative writing as a voice and outlet for adolescents. I participated in writing contests and competitions in high school, and despite having a greater affinity for analytic writing in my college years, those experiences have been endlessly valuable to my education and writing skills.
My work with :Lexicon, Duquesne’s literary journal, has also been very influential. Reading the submissions of fiction and poetry from Duquesne’s students has taught me a lot about the writing preferences, as well as the life experiences, of the Duquesne student. I’ve also been lucky enough to experiment with a little creative writing my own, for the first time since high school, in my “Critical Issues in Literary Studies” course (ENG 300). Specifically, we looked at works of classic fairy tales, as well as contemporary versions of them that have been reworked in a collection of short stories by Angela Carter called The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories. By comparing these classic tales side by side with some of their most highly praised adaptations, my peers and I really got a sense for why people love fiction so much. The stories we read ranged from horrifying to cheerful to utterly depressing, familiar to completely original, and so on. Some were intimately connected to themes of our world (such as gender roles, courtship and marriage expectations, mental health, etc.), while some remained focused on themes common in traditional fairy tales (chivalry, loyalty, judgement, and cleverness). All of them offered valuable, timeless lessons and themes about human nature.
Cliché as it is to mention, America’s teenagers really are the future of what our society will look like. Their voices are so unique and important, since they are reflective of their experiences from their position in life. I am so excited for the camp and really want it to be an experience for them to learn how to best harness their voice into their passion: creative writing. After all, teenage perspectives from characters like Charlie’s, in the Perks of Being a Wallflower quote that began this blog post, appeal to readers for a reason. Young adult literature is wildly popular, and not just among young adults. The voice of a teenager is controversial, enlightening, hilarious, and best of all, totally honest. I think one of the reasons readers love a teenaged character/narrator in a story is that it brings a distinct level of relatability and realism to a text. Our society can’t get enough of authors like John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Judy Blume (Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret.), Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), and on and on and on.
But as great as it is for these adults to take literary inspiration from their adolescent years, there’s nothing quite like a teenage voice written by an actual teenager (I’m thinking The Outsiders: written while author S.E. Hinton was in high school)! As I’ve said before, I’m thrilled to have been a part of the process preparing for the camp, and of course, to be attending the camp in June and getting to know all of the writers…officially counting down the days (53 to be exact). I’ll leave you with another quote that sums up how I’m feeling about the value of the teenage voice:
“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.” -Mr. Antolini, J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye