Ask Angela Stockman to tell you about her WNY Young Writers’ Studio and she’ll identify some of the key components to any good story – a beginning, main character and problem.
In her work as an literacy consultant for area school districts, she heard from parents and teachers who wished for a place where creative writing could be nurtured year-round in elementary, middle and high school students. So in 2008 she founded the studio as a place for students and teachers to learn together.
Stockman first rented space at Daemen College in Amherst but found its adult classrooms not “kid-friendly” enough. The Cheektowaga School District invited her to set up in Union East Elementary library and computer lab, which worked out well for the group.
But the studio has found a new home in the Village of Kenmore. It’s now renting a corner space on Delaware Avenue formerly occupied by a consignment shop and mobile phone retailer.
“Now we have a space of our own that we have access to 24/7, and it gives us a lot of potential to try new things,” said Stockman, a Kenmore resident.
It’s obvious the studio’s interior design had a young person’s touch. There’s blackboard-style paint on the desks to encourage chalk scribbling, bean bag chairs, window seats and a small lending library. Rolls of paper hang from the wall and inspirational quotes from authors Neil Gaiman and Anne Lamott written large on the wall all serve to help young writers find their voices.
“The vision for it came from the kids,” Stockman said. “We had a party shortly after I got the keys and before it was filled. Kids came and did a lot of planning around what kind of furniture they wanted and how they wanted to decorate the space. We’ve really tried to honor that.”
Workshops and half-day sessions are being offered now, but its main initiative is an intensive fellowship program that runs August 12-16, then meets on the second Saturday of the month for a year. They develop ideas and go through the constant process of drafting, feedback and revising. The studio uses a “give-what-you-can” fee structure, but Stockman says they’ve never turned a child away. Her work as a consultant helps subsidize the studio’s costs.
“We also started writing groups for adults this year, which is new, and I’m excited about that as well,” she said.
On a recent weekday, Stockman led a group of about a dozen young writers through a short story writing exercise. They found items inside pairs of shorts scattered around the room. Sydney Arnold, 8, a second grader at Charles Upson Elementary in Lockport, found a JoAnn Fabrics ad and a box of safety pins. She was asked to develop a story about the character who might have worn those shorts.
“Sydney doesn’t get to go that deep into creative writing in school because they have so many requirements they have to meet,” said Sydney’s mom, Heather.
Stockman has an idea about how her story should conclude.
“The end of the story would be that studio would be able to sustain itself without me being a part of it,” she said. “I hope the influence of our organization carries on through generations and takes root in others.”