Master Class Inspires Young Writers from Local High Schools

Pictured Above: Rippowam Sisqua student Olivia Grubb works on a short story about the rise of the Third Reich with mystery writer Alan Beechey at the Young Authors Master Class at Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES Tuesday, December 6. Pictured Below: Putnam Valley student Eliana Dropkin gets editing advice from Cathy Greenwood, a writer and creative writing teacher, at the Young Authors Master Class at Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES Tuesday, December 6.

The writer, Olivia Grubb, is working on a short story about an ordinary German citizen during the rise of the Third Reich. Her editor, Alan Beechey, reads the prose carefully, highlighting the poetic devices the writer has used and asking questions about her intention. It is a very professional and collaborative meeting of two creative people.

But this scene did not take place in the offices of a New York City publisher. Rather, it was part of the annual Young Authors Master Class sponsored by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES. The full-day seminar held Tuesday gathered some of the region’s most talented young writers from local high schools, giving them an opportunity to focus on the craft of writing and learn from professionals.

The Master Class also provided a chance for aspiring writers to discuss their work with fellow students who share their love for writing and language. The workshop, sponsored by the Curriculum Center at BOCES, was led by Cathy Greenwood, a writer and creative writing expert.

During one group exercise, the students were asked to write an ode to an ordinary object. So rather than an “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” the group came up with such instant classics as an “Ode to My Pillow,” which praised its “marshmellowy greatness” and an “Ode to That One Tree,” which said “for I will never find beauty like you again though you will find a thousand of me.”

In another session, the students were given masks of animals, Vikings, Renaissance figures and others and asked to write a narrative from the perspective of the persona of the mask. The highlight of the day, however, was getting to work with a professional writer or editor on a particular piece of writing.

In his meeting with Grubb, a student at Rippowam Sisqua, Beechey, a mystery writer, praised her poetic language and delved into her intention to help the young author make her short story even more compelling. Grubb used the phrase “shadows being tossed up,” in her story about the lead up to Hitler’s full dictatorship. Beechey discussed the pros and cons of using the passive voice and told Grubb that the line made him think about how shadows appear and disappear as something blocks the light.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the quality of writing I have seen in the four editing sessions I did,” said Beechey, a London-born writer who lives in Rye and has written three mysteries and a non-fiction book.

Kyle Gottlieb, a Mount Pleasant High School student, shared Beechey’s sentiment. “It has been eye-opening to see how brilliant and capable people our age can be when it comes to writing,” she said.

Frejva Varga, another Mount Pleasant student, said she was honored to have been selected for the program. “I think I was asked because my teacher saw potential in my writing,” said Varga, adding that the wide variety of writing styles discussed and practiced at the seminar helped her to see what type of work she would like to do.

Greenwood, who has run the Master Class for several years, likened the event to a “pep rally for writing students.” She said, “This is a place where they can come together, take chances with their writing and hear what other students and professionals have to say about it. The students who are here are also excited to be in a room with peers who are just as excited by writing as they are.”

Master Class participants were invited to submit their writing for consideration for a Young Authors Digital Anthology, which will be made available later through the BOCES website. The Curriculum Center at BOCES also will sponsor a Young Authors Conference in the spring for high school students from across the region. The conference will feature a day of workshops with poets, journalists, novelists, screenwriters and editors.