1:34 p.m., March 16, 2011----Samuel Johnson, 18th century British author, once said, "A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” On March 12, middle school and high school students from across Delaware had the opportunity to be both. The 11th annual Festival of Words, held in the Willard Hall Education Building at the University of Delaware, welcomed about 200 aspiring young authors and students who have a passion for reading.
"It's wonderful," said Peggy Dillner, coordinator of the School Library Media Specialist program and co-chair of the event. "These kids are giving up an entire Saturday. If we can get students to walk away from this more excited about reading and writing and the interconnection, it's been a worthwhile day."
The event was organized around a series of nine discussion books, which featured a wide-selection of genres, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Students had the opportunity to attend sessions and workshops throughout the day that focused on each of these books.
Festival of Words session presenters included UD professors and students as well as public school teachers and their classes. William Lewis, assistant professor in the School of Education, and his students in EDUC 403 gave a presentation on the book, Zombie Haiku. To encourage participation, Lewis and his University students gave the presentation dressed as zombies.
Award-winning young adult author Rita Williams-Garcia served as the keynote speaker for the event. She offered students a road map on how to go from being a 12-year-old writer to an award-winning author. Despite being the recipient of the Coretta Scott King award, the Newbery Honor award and being a National Book award finalist, Williams-Garcia was able to outline the struggles writers can face as she discussed the difficulties she had trying to sell her first book. She says it was definitely worth it.
"I like showing them that I'm a real person," she said. "I'm a little on the silly side, but I take my writing seriously. It's never too early to start, to commit to the love of literature, to the love of words and writing and honing your craft and reading great books. You don't have to wait until you're in graduate school, if you're thinking and reading, you can write, even if you're only writing for yourself."
Besides attending book workshops, students had the opportunity to participate in writing and art contests. Members from Poetry Alive! also gave a high-energy performance that was designed to educate students and teachers about the possibilities of reading and writing poetry, including using it in the classroom.
"I never know whether to be more impressed with the dedicated teachers who make it their mission to make sure kids have access to the books and give up a weekend to bring them to campus, or the students who are so eager to participate," said Bonnie Albertson, coordinator in the Delaware Center for Teacher Education (DCTE) and co-organizer of the event. "Regardless, the event continues to remind us why we all became teachers."
Article and photos by Cassandra Kramer