Summer Youth Writing Program has successful sixth year

Local high school and middle school students participate in annual creative writing program at the University

Local high school and middle school students gathered around typewriters during the summer writing program

8/17/2016 | By: Hannah Richardson |

To beat the heat this summer, local Washoe County high school and middle school students participated in the Summer Youth Writing Program at the University of Nevada, Reno July 18-22. The students learned how to write creatively through workshops and lessons taught by volunteer mentors and authors Ben Rodgers, Ellen Hopkins and Laura Wetherington, all from Reno and the surrounding areas.

"Four of our mentors this year were graduates of the writing program who came back and spent almost every hour, every day this week giving back to the program that they liked so much," Christopher Coake, associate professor of English at the University, said.

The program was founded six years ago by University Lecturer Angela Spires while she was pursuing her master's degree in the department of English through the College of Liberal Arts in 2010. She had created the program at the University because she heard how much fun Coake had teaching in a similar program at Ohio State University, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree.

Spires ran the program for four years before Coake took over last summer. Coake runs the program through the new Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing, which he created at the University. The Youth Writing Program is funded by a grant from the Nevada Humanities, as well as by the Department of English, the Core Writing office, and other sources on campus. Coake also went around to local eateries My Favorite Muffin and Port of Subs, to ask for donations of food to give the students as an added bonus during the week.

This year, 25 students enjoyed learning, writing and making friends during the week-long program. The students' goal was to create a piece that they would want to read to their friends and family at the end of the week. They wrote continually on their pieces during the week, as they worked with their new friends, mentors and other volunteers. The students learned how to edit each other's work by giving constructive criticism and to use the countless creative-writing tips and tricks given by the volunteers, mentors and novelists.

The students' creations will become a part of a published anthology, put together by Coake and edited by program volunteers. On the final day of the program, the students invited family and friends to listen as they bravely read aloud their stories to the audience.

"The students like the program a lot," Coake said. "They have a really good time, and they are all sorry to see it end; they work really hard and are exhausted by the end of the week - as are we."

Coake enjoys running the program, as he believes it fills a need for these students in terms of how to write creatively, as well as giving the students a chance to make new friends. He plans to keep the program running for as long as he can.

"I don't feel like I'm in a hurry to stop this program, I'd love it to go on for 20 years," Coake said. "It's hard work, but it's necessary work."

Coake accepts applications for the program, and depending on funding, the program will return in the summer of 2017. For more information about the program and to receive an application, email Coake at


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