April 09, 2003 | Myrna Anderson

A 27-year Calvin College tradition has a new name, a new logo and an expanded audience.

A 27-year Calvin College tradition has a new name, a new logo and an expanded audience.

For almost three decades, the college's Young Authors Festival has drawn youthful scribes - clutching their own poems, stories and picture books - from West Michigan area elementary and middle schools to the Calvin campus for advice, encouragement and a chance to meet an actual published author. 

Newly christened as the Calvin College Youth Writing Festivals, the event is expanding from one to two days and will include a festival geared to high school writers.

Two different groups of young authors - all in grades 1 through 5 - will gather on the campus from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Friday and Saturday, April 25-26. Friday will also see the debut of the High School Writer's Workshop from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Saturday the Middle School Writers Workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Altogether, the Youth Writing Festivals are expected to draw 2,100 student writers to campus.

Although the name has changed the Festival will retain much of its past. Young authors will gather in small groups to praise and critique the writing of their peers. Local journalists, poets, children's authors and educators will teach the tricks of their various trades in workshop settings. And celebrated authors will take to the stage to talk about their work and the writing life. This year's roster includes Richard Peck, the 2001 winner of the Newbery Medal for "A Year Down Yonder," author and illustrator Tedd Arnold and Gary Schmidt, a Calvin English professor and author of young adult literature.

The best of the middle and high school writing in six genres will be recognized with awards. The Golden Pen will be awarded to the middle school and high school authors of the best overall piece of writing in the festival.
"Think about how many times students are feted and acknowledged for athletics, says Schmidt. "To have them feted and acknowledged for writing skills is pretty significant."

The Young Author's Festival began in 1976 in Calvin's Education department, hosting children from local elementary schools on a spring Saturday morning. The student writers would meet in small groups, and a popular children's author would serve as a featured speaker. In 1996, following the retirement of one of the event's originators, Calvin's English department took over the festival.

The new planners made a crucial change to the roster of featured speakers. "We didn't think one writer was enough. We tried to focus on an illustrator for the younger students and a writer for the older students," Schmidt says. Past festivals have welcomed Louis Sachar, Ann Rinaldi, Avi, Christopher Paul Curtis, Eric Kimmel, Sarah Stewart, David Small and other recognizable names in the world of children's literature. 

In 1999, the festival added an all-day session geared to middle school students. Local children's authors and writers from the Grand Rapids Press, WOOD TV, the Peninsula Writers Club and other sources were drafted to teach workshops to these slightly more mature authors.

Calvin English and Education students serve as small group leaders and guides for the event, something English professor Nancy Hull sees as the joining of two communities: "I love that blend," she says, "our students working with students from the greater Grand Rapids area. It's a chance for our students to model good practices for writing." 

All are invited to the Kathryn Blok and Bette Bosma Children's Literature Interviews with Richard Peck and Tedd Arnold on Friday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Youth Writing Festivals at Calvin College. The event, to be held in Calvin's Prince Conference Center, will feature an interview with an author and illustrator on their work in children's literature and young adult literature. A book sale, signing and reception will follow. Free and open to all.

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