As the Inklings authors arrive at Hicklebees, the sidewalk fills with excitement. Books are held and cracked open for the first time. We wait for the store to open, for the event to start, and I can almost see the butterflies flittering in stomachs. These young people are published, most for the very first time. They’re about to read words crafted from their hearts to a packed house. Proudly, they’ll take the same stage from which luminaries such as Kate DiCamillo, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and J.K. Rowling have read.
2018 Inklings Book
This year, our Inklings Book event celebrated the 242 youth writers who entered the contest, the 92 finalists, the 34 pros who volunteered as mentors and letter writers, the many other volunteers and staff who supported the program, and of course, the eighteen published winners. We also celebrated all of the program participants from past years—this was our tenth annual.
Over those ten years, we’ve heard stories and poems with titles that range from “Fruit Apocalypse,” to “The Storm Inside Her.” When answering questions about the revision process with their mentors, our youth have said “It was really hard for me to say goodbye to some parts [of my poem] because I really liked them, but in the end, all the edits that my mentor and I made were for the best. I had a ton of fun working with her and I learned a lot,” and “My favorite part of participating in the contest was getting to meet and work with an actual author. The experience was altogether very neat, inspirational, and helpful to my writing skills. I enjoyed getting critiqued and help with my writing also getting some nice compliments along the way.”
And the stories themselves! Here are a few lines we heard at this year’s reading. (If only I could include them all—every piece was so very good!) To savor the full reading experience, you can pick up your own copy of the book here.
“Your smile never died,
Even when I last saw you on my dream stage wearing a red kimono,
People say I dance like you,
And when I dance I am still mimicking your moves.”
“A Letter to Waka-sensei” — Mito Funatsu
“I have made it my goal to find something that is greater than humans and robots, something that we can look at and see for what it truly is, and hopefully it will be free from the flaws that scar us.”
“By Chance or By Guilt” — Max Wang
I use words
That don’t make too much sense
Darkness isn’t a place
And red lipstick can’t describe a feeling
And blue doesn’t have a smell”
“Blue Doesn’t Have a Smell” — Nuala Kilroy
Growth Through Revision
Myself personally, as founder of SYI and as Executive Director? What have I learned over those ten years?
Each year, I gain a renewed sense of commitment to our publishing programs. Writers shouldn’t have to wait until they’re adults to share their stories and poems, their ideas and insight. Youth may not have graduate degrees or time-tested marketing platforms, but they do have their own remarkable vantage point on our world. One of the reasons we read is to see life from a fresh perspective, to open our hearts, to build our empathy and understanding. When we read writing penned by youth, we remember who we once were, and we also see life as never before.
Each year, I also renew my commitment to the heart of our publishing programs: revision with a pro. Before publishing their pieces in the Inklings Book, writers revise one-on-one with a mentor. Before publishing their pieces on our site, finalists revise their work with the help of an in-depth editorial letter, written by one of our mentors. Either way, these youth dig deep, making stand-out pieces even stronger than they were when they won. Through that revision process, youth writers grow. They’ve taken a Hero’s Journey, faced challenges, wrestled inner dragons, and come out the other side with gifts to take back to the rest of their lives.
Grit, Empathy, and Vision
At the event this year, I gave our authors a piece of sandpaper, a key, and a Spill Some Ink book. Like the tokens given by the Great Wizard of Oz, these items represent gifts that can only be gained through struggle and growth. The sandpaper represents grit, the determination built when one faces down the inner critic and is admits that any work, even spectacular work, can always be improved. The key represents empathy, the self-understanding and understanding of others that develops when we ask ourselves: What does this piece of writing truly mean to me? What might it mean for others, or for the larger world? The Spill Some Ink book is filled with writing prompts for writers to explore as they consider next steps. This invitation to new creative work represents vision. When we write creatively and then revise, we learn to look beyond what exists to what’s possible. Whether that vision translates to innovative art, or to innovation in our lives, our communities, and the world, the skill is the same.
Grit, empathy, and vision—three priceless and hard-won gifts. I’m so proud of our Inklings, current, past, and even those of the future. I’m proud of them for daring to pour the big ideas from their hearts and heads onto the page, and I can’t wait to see how they impact and change our world.
How Can You Take Part?
1. Get Involved
Join Society of Young Inklings as a youth writer, an educator, or a pro. Our free membership programs offer creativity-sparking resources and activities, writing challenges and publishing opportunities, plus exclusive interviews with beloved authors. For pros, we offer many quick, easy opportunities to give back to creative youth.
2. Spread the Word
If you know a youth writer who’s ready to take on a challenge, send them our way. The Inklings Book Contest happens every year, and we also have year-round mentorships, Writers’ Circles, and online courses.
3. Give Time or Treasure
Support the Inklings Book Program with a donation. Here are some possibilities of what your gifts might do:
$25: print and deliver two Inklings Book 2018 copies to classrooms in need, inspiring more youth to take part in the contest.
$50: outreach to a new, underserved school, including flyers and online tools to support educators and help youth prepare their entries.
$250: Training and support for five additional volunteer mentors, who can provide editorial letters for 25-50 additional applicants.
$1000: Live video writing workshops for five underserved classrooms, with the replay available on demand, to guide writers and teachers in the development of contest entries.
$25,000: Launch a high-school level Inklings Book Contest, to complement our current program for 3rd-9th graders.
Volunteer! We offer small, medium and large volunteer opportunities year-round for youth, parents, educators and creative pros. Fill out this quick form so we can match you with the best-fit opportunities for your availability and skill-set.