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The Next Chapter: Seattle's Thriving Young Adult Literary Community

Published on: December 30, 2013

By Deanna Duff

Julia McCotter, 16, at Richard Hugo House. Photo: Amy Benson/NonFiction Weddings
Julia McCotter, 16, at Richard Hugo House. Photo: Amy Benson/NonFiction Weddings

Visit a Seattle bookstore, reading or writing group and you’re likely to see as many young, fresh faces as established pros. The city is a renowned literary hotspot, and young adults have long been a vibrant part of the community. However, youth participation is experiencing a current boom thanks to increased youth opportunities.

On a recent night inside the cozy, creaky Capitol Hill rooms of one of Seattle's most recognized literary centers, Hugo House, Julia McCotter, purple nails flashing, confidently held court as the emcee of the inaugural “Cheap Coffee and Young Adult Fiction” event.

Somewhat of a fixture on the young adult (YA) scene McCotter, who wowed the crowd with an improvised, slam-poetry-style introduction for one of the adult novelists, has worked with both Hugo House and the poetry-focused Youth Speaks Seattle. She writes, networks, and mingles comfortably among Seattle's multi-generational literary scene.

And she's only 16 years old.

McCotter is an example of the passion for literary pursuits that is driving tweens and teens in the Puget Sound region to form reading groups and to write, perform and publish their own works before they even exit high school. Or enter it.

And it's not just other teens who are interested in youth-themed or written literature anymore. The genre is gaining an adult following and recognition as well.

“Good writing is good writing and the YA audience is expanding beyond just kids,” says Brian McGuigan, Richard Hugo House program director. “With major writers such as Sherman Alexie choosing to write YA novels (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), it’s a genre that’s gaining respect.”

Seattle writer Karen Finneyfrock is an enthusiastic supporter or the YA lit scene and organized Cheap Coffee. Her first YA novel, The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door, will be published February 2013.

“I like (writing for) the age range because it’s a fertile time for influencing change and growth,” explains Finneyfrock.

Young writing is 'real' writing

The openness young adults bring to reading also frequently translates to their writing, which Finneyfrock witnesses during Hugo House’s Write Time Poetry, a weekly, drop-in YA writing circle.

Seattle has long been a welcoming environment for YA lit, but the current, exciting trend is that organizations are offering more opportunities specifically tailored to the tastes and needs of young adults.

“I think what we’re seeing is a newer concept to create classes, group meetings and reading spaces specifically for kids. There is a shift happening in that it’s (YA lit) is becoming an actual art form that people, both adults and kids, are interested in studying,” says Finneyfrock.

Such opportunities are invaluable to aspiring young writers, many of whom publish their work.

Young adults can enroll in any of Hugo House’s adult programs, but a wide variety of YA-specific classes are also offered: Write Time Prose program, Young Writers Mentorship Project and the spring 2013 launch of a new spoken word poetry program (see below for complete program listings).

826 Seattle, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center dedicated to young adults, publishes YA writings in their thrice-yearly newspaper as well as the professionally-published book series, What to Read in The Rain. The books compile the works of young writers and award-winning writers, such as Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins and Dave Eggers.

“There is no distinction between it being kids' writing and “real” writing. The quality is consistent throughout the books,” says Alicia Craven, 826 Seattle’s programs manager.

Learning leadership

However, even for kids who don’t intend to pursue a writing career, participation in the YA community can be invaluable for other reasons.

An essential component of many Seattle YA programs is the involvement and leadership of young people themselves. Hugo House’s Youth Leadership Board and 826 Seattle’s Youth Advisory Board actively provide guidance. Youth Speaks Seattle focuses on poetry for young adults through writing circles, open mics and poetry slams. In addition to an established youth council, Youth Speaks is offering four paid internships to teenagers for the first time this fall.

“We’re really investing in the (youth) leadership because we want to compensate them as well as help them get skills they can use for the rest of their lives,” says Henry Luke, a Youth Speaks coordinator. Luke, 19 years old, began as a Youth Speaks participant before joining the staff.

“This is a way for young people to tell their stories and share their opinions in a respectful, meaningful, powerful way. We want them to be heard,” says Luke.

With many new programs and events launching this year and next, the story of Seattle’s YA literature community will continue to evolve and expand, and tweens and teens are waiting eagerly for whatever comes next. In many cases, their literary tastes and talents are helping to transform the landscape.

“I can’t even say how much it means to have the community interested in what we care about,” says McCotter, who attends Youth Speaks and Hugo House writing circles in addition to her successful turn as Cheap Coffee’s emcee.

“It’s wonderful to have these opportunities, and I hope they continue for a long time to come.”

Young adult literature resource list

Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Avenue, Seattle. All of Hugo House’s classes are open to young adult writers. The listings below are teen-specific programs.

- Write Time Poetry: Weekly, drop-in writing circle. Wednesdays, 6-7 p.m.

- Write Time Prose: Weekly drop-in creating writing group. Tuesdays, 6-7 p.m.

- Youth Leadership Board: Youth members help develop and promote teen programming as well as organize events and offer peer-to-peer mentorship. Approximately October 2012-June 2013

- Young Writers Mentorship Project: Nine-month program offering ongoing mentorship by an adult instructor and individual feedback for young writers. October 2012-June 2013

- Youth New Works Competition: Students submit work - poems, short stories or personal essays - based on the writing prompt, “Strong Female Leads.” No more than 1,000 words. Winner receives $100 and reads as part of Hugo House’s Literary Series on February 8, 2013. Deadline: January 11, 2013

- Stage Fright: Offered since 1997, the open mic night is available to teen writers. Upcoming events: December 12, February 13, April 10, June 12

- Scribes summer creative writing camp. Two-week summer writing program for middle and high school students. 2013 applications available beginning October 2012. Early registration, January 31, 2013. Regular registration, April 30, 2013.

- Slam Camp NEW! One-week poetry camp for teens to develop as writers/poets and performers, as well as interact with professional performance poets. Camp: April 15-20, 2013 (Seattle Public School’s spring break). Applications available beginning October 2012.

826 Seattle, 8414 Greenwood Avenue N., Seattle

- All-ages after-school tutoring. Currently full, but applications accepted for wait list consideration. Check the website. Monday-Thursday, 3-6 p.m.

- High School, after-school tutoring. Open to 8th -12 graders. Monday-Thursday, 6-8 p.m.

- Workshops. Workshop topics change regularly; check website for updated schedules. Past examples include travel writing, fantasy books and songwriting.

- Publishing Projects. 826 Seattle produces numerous publications such as a newspaper three times yearly (spring and fall issues produced by after-school tutoring students and summer issue as a writing workshop). The third annual What to Read in the Rain will be published in December 2013. The anthology includes renowned writers - past examples such as Dave Eggers and Tom Robbins - alongside the writing of 826 Seattle students. Check the website for more details, how to participate and where to purchase the book.

Youth Speaks Seattle

Open mic nights. Participants, 13-19 years old, can perform in their chosen style: music, freestyle, poetry, and more.

- WAPI, 3722 South Hudson Street. Third Sunday of the month, 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m.

- Alley Upstairs Room at Cafe Allegro. 1408 NE 42nd St. First Sunday of the month. 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m.

- Writing Circles. Open to young adults across the city for either self-directed/free-form writing or writing exercises.

- Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW, Room 111, Seattle. Tuesdays, 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m.

- Seattle Young People’s Project, 2820 East Cherry St. Fridays, 4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Slam Competition. The annual, all-city poetry slam features upwards of 60 performers per year with five poets representing Seattle at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam. Details for 2013 to be announced soon. Check website.

- Paid internships - NEW! For the first time, Youth Speaks will offer four, paid internships available to applicants 13-19 years old. The internships will last approximately four months, beginning in early November. Applications available soon; check website.

Deanna Duff is a Seattle-based freelance writer who contributes to a wide variety of regional and national publications. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Press Association which has awarded her writing. A Northwest native, she grew up working on her family's organic farm and selling at the Pike Place Market. She enjoys featuring and celebrating all aspects of family life.

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