A day when youth was not wasted on the young

It had been planned for this past weekend for nearly a year and now it was over. I had involved myself with Capitol City Young Writers ( CCYW), a fairly new non-profit organization that gives young people a mentoring venue for creative writing, and I (feeling like a kid myself where writing is concerned) was giddy over the prospect of attending and helping out.

It was the group’s first-ever conference, held at a campus-like private school in woodsy San Anselmo, CA. Rock-star authors, journalists, radio personalities, songwriters and all manner of scribes came together to inspire youthful would-be poets, novelists, columnists and playwrights for an entire day. The air was absolutely electric with anticipation.

Even though the conference was geared to young writers, I listened intently to keynote speaker James Redford as he told his own story about having two liver transplants and becoming a screenwriter writer as well telling of the kind of life he had led as a movie star’s son. I had my photo taken with Peter S. Beagle, who became a best-selling author for the first time at the tender age of nineteen after having his first novel, A Fine and Private Place, published. He then gained worldwide recognition with The Last Unicorn. In addition to this, there was a drama professor from Stanford University who gave an acting lesson, a radio personality from NPR who, in his career had interviewed everyone from past presidents to famous artists, and a nuclear physicist who now writes about things as far ranging as science vs. religion to bringing up teenagers.

It was an amazing experience not only for the kids, but for those of us who had never been in such illustrious company as well. An interesting phenomenon about the kids who attended, however, was the advanced way in which they expressed themselves – even those as young as 12. I  began to wonder how they were received by others their own age when they spoke in fairly adult-like fashion.

In this setting, the kids were the real stars. Some of them knew the cinematic anthology and film secrets of Alfred Hitchcock. Others could verbally illustrate the use and beauty of satire, and still others understood how storyboards are used to write a novel. I was literally blown away by their contributions to the workshop discussions as adults sat all around them, often slack-jawed. I kept thinking to myself how much I would have benefited by a seminar like this if one had taken place near where I lived as a child.

On my drive home, I pinched myself for having been a part of this day. The sun set on my back as I headed east to California’s valley, and I felt more than a bit guilty for not staying longer to thank all those who attended. But then I realized that this was only the beginning, not only for the young people who attended, but also for the organization itself.

I believe that it is indeed our solemn duty as adults to find ways to encourage the generations that follow to keep writing alive and to elevate its worth. I reasoned that no matter what form it takes, communication and the literary arts are what we leave behind like golden artifacts – whether the words take the forms of print on paper, an electronic download on an iPhone, a link on the Internet or an outrageously entertaining new play or movie. Our youth are our future novelists, musicians, journalists and playwrights, offering us a respite from the stresses and challenges of everyday life with their contributions to the literary world.

So the next time you run into a budding scribe, instead of telling them you have no time to read their story or essay, read it as if you were receiving a prized orchid whose young roots are forming underground. Be encouraging, be tactfully honest, but never, never be brutal with your assessments. The future of the literary arts may just be in your hands.


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