A WITS Summer

by Paige Lester, WITS Intern

On any given weekday October through June, one can pretty much guess correctly the happenings of the WITS program. Writers travel to schools, they teach creative writing, and students make imaginative pieces.

But in the summerwhen school is out and the sun sometimes is, toothe WITS staff shifts its focus to a more behind-the-scenes project: the compilation and publication of the year-end anthology. This anthology, which compiles the top pieces of work from each school in the program, is one of the most essential parts of the WITS experience.  Year after year, students are drawn into the world of creative writing. As some discover their inner genius for the first time and others hone their already-established skills, thousands of poems, plays, memoirs, stories and comics are crafted. Giving the students the possibility of getting published only makes the WITS experience more real for them.

Considering that there are over 5,000 WITS students, it’s clear that we can’t publish each and every one of them. So, how do we narrow it down? The process can seem very straightforward, but it is also filled with tough decisions, editing quandaries, and a lot of searching for the perfect title. As the summer intern, I’ve learned exactly how fun it can be.

First and foremost, after the students have written their work, the writers in residence choose five to ten of the strongest pieces from their classrooms. These pieces are then sent to our office and read through, one by one, by the editors. Reading over the ones that are submitted is inevitably entertaining. Many students are not afraid of revealing their inner voices and truest selves. Overwhelmingly, the pieces that come in possess a very honest and heartfelt tone. Some express especially vulnerable emotions as they describe who they are via letters to their self or write poems about those closest to them. Some pieces (like a comic about falling into a vat of yogurt or a play about a magical tie) made me laugh out loud at my desk. Others use such unique word combinations and descriptions that I found myself repeating the phrases in my head and going over them again outside the office quite often.

While there is fun in reading over what the students have worked on during the past year, the process isn’t always so terribly easy. Sometimes permission forms necessary to publish someone under the age of 18 aren’t turned in by students who write really great work and we have to pass them over.

At the same time, choosing the best of the work with permissions can be overwhelming (in a good way) because of how strong all of the submissions are. After each of us read a school’s stack of pieces, we make a list of our personal favorites and then compare. These meetings are always fun as we can come together and talk about why we love certain pieces. Getting to have this discussion is definitely one of the best parts of the process because there are great reasons for wanting to publish all of our favorites. However, we know that it is not feasible to publish ten writers from a single school and so we must make difficult cuts. When a few hundred pieces become just over a hundred, though, we know our selection process is complete.

Once this is over, we realize the rewards of deliberation. Students receive acceptance letters in the mail and “proud mom” emails fill the inboxes of the WITS staff. We work with our designer, Golden Lasso, to design a beautiful book worthy of the writing within, and we choose a cover image—this year, it was a bright pink and chartreuse painting by local artist Ryan Molenkamp. And with the year-end reading only a month away we know that more celebration and empowerment is to come.

This year’s collection is entitled In the Sliver of a Second and it celebrates both the transience and permanence of the act of writing. Ideas come to us in moments, but once they are written down they can have impact for years to come. My experience at WITS reflects this. Though my two lovely months here have sadly slipped by, the students’ work is not likely to leave my mind anytime soon.

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