By WALLACE BAINE
Writers don’t just drop out of trees fully formed. They have to be cultivated and they have to grow and ripen at their own pace.
If applying words to paper – or its computerized equivalent – is to survive as an artform in a streaming-video world, then someone, to extend our metaphor, has to tend the garden.
In Santa Cruz, one of those cultivators is the Young Writers Program, co-sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and the group Santa Cruz Writes. The YWP is dedicated to exposing children to the rigors of the writing life, and the program is now bearing fruit.
The program is announcing the publication of its first book, “My Heart Jumped Out of My Body,” a collection of short personal narratives written by young writers in Jody Lust’s 5th grade class at Santa Cruz’s Gault Elementary School. It features 29 stories from 29 neophyte writers who worked with a group of community volunteers in class to refine and redraft their work.
The program’s director, Julia Chiapella of Santa Cruz Writes, said that the idea was show the writers the process of honing their works over the course of six weeks last fall. Each writer went through five revisions of their work.
“Some of them were telling us they were getting blisters on their fingers,” she said. “We wanted to show them that the kind of writing in the real world by real authors has to go through an editing process.”
The project, said Chiapella, was inspired by the works of 826 Valencia, a San Francisco non-profit co-founded by famed novelist Dave Eggers that is dedicated to offering workshops, feedback and instruction to young writers and inspiration to teachers of writing. The YWP indeed has something of an 826 Valencia pedigree. Artist/designer Justin Carder, an alum of 826, designed the book. And the non-profit’s co-founder Ninive Calegari has offered support and, in fact, will appear at a February fundraiser for the program.
“That is something we aspire to,” she said. “What they do there absolutely serves as a model for us.”
The book will be introduced at a special event on Jan. 17 at Gault with special guests the county’s superintendent of school Michael Watkins and Santa Cruz novelist Elizabeth McKenzie, who wrote the book’s foreword.
The kids’ assignment, said Chiapella, was to draw from their own lives to find a memorble and meaningful moment. “We had all kinds of stories and scenarios, from car crashes to an adoption story.” The editing volunteers ran the gamut as well from a professional dancer to an attorney to a chef.
The 97-page book will be available at Bookshop Santa Cruz.
The Young Writers Program is just getting started with its projects in local schools. Watsonville High School and Santa Cruz’s Mission Hill Middle School and Pacific Elementary School are among the schools targeted for other writing projects.
JAN. 17 6 to 8 p.m. 1320 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. Free. Details: www.santacruzwrites.org.