Young Writers' Camp

Academic Life

A letter from Mitch Cox, Duke Young Writers’ Camp Academic Director:

Dear Young Writers and Their Parents and Teachers,

Welcome to Duke Young Writers’ Camp, Summer 2016. If you’re new to Duke Young Writers’ Camp or Duke Youth Programs, you’ll want to read on about what our program has to offer middle school- and high school-aged campers. If you’re familiar with the camp, you may want to view the classes page to see our tentative offerings and course descriptions. In either case, Duke University Continuing Education Youth Programs Director Thomas Patterson and I have prepared an exciting curriculum.

Why do young people choose Young Writers’ Camp? Here are some reasons noted by past campers:

  • It’s not like school: Imagine a place where learning and fun are the same.
  • It’s a stress-free, nonjudgmental, open environment.
  • It gives campers freedom to write on topics and genres that interest campers.
  • It teaches “the rules” for writing, but also ways to break those rules.
  • Even its academic classes allow students to be creative.
  • It’s full of writing exercises that tease the mind and bond you with fellow campers.
  • It’s a place to find and make friends; it’s a place to find people like you.

Why should parents select this camp or teachers recommend it?

  • While campers use the term “fun,” we prefer the term “engaging.” Camp engages its participants intellectually, emotionally, physically:
    • A casual observer dropping into one of our classes might see young people acting out the lives and situations of student-generated characters, rapping and performing poetry and song, walking down Ninth Street in Durham and “listening in on” and recording conversations to develop an ear for dialogue, participating in a round-table discussion of their classmates’ work, taste-testing desserts as a review of the fare at the Mad Hatter Bakeshop and Café.
    • Field trips to local businesses, art museums, gardens, and dance festivals are a regular feature of our classes.
    • While campers are given class time for quiet writing, they also draft, revise, and edit collaboratively.
    • After an academic day of writing classes, many of our extended day and residential campers choose physical afternoon activities such as sports and drama.
  • While they are having “fun,”
    • Campers learn the basics of composition:
      • Show, don't tell. Show, don't tell. Show, don't tell. Whether you're writing a narrative, informational, or argumentative essay (Common Core English Lang. Arts Standards Alert!), this is the one rule everyone needs to know.
      • Write about what you know: even if one writes fantasy, one always draws on personal experience.
    • Campers learn to initiate, plan, develop, organize, and revise and edit their writing.
    • But do campers learn “grammar” parents ask?
      • While grammar is not the primary focus of our camp or classes, we do recognize the importance of editing one’s writing for errors.
      • In fact, as part of instruction, our teachers offer campers various editing tips.
      • However, the core “rules” of writing involve finding and developing a writer’s focus, purpose, and individual voice; learning techniques for developing and organizing one’s work; gaining a sense of the structure of various genres of composition; and fostering an awareness of audience.
      • Once campers come to see themselves as writers, then the mechanics and grammar have a context, begin to matter and make sense from within.
    • Many campers become more comfortable with public speaking.
      • We begin each morning with a writing activity in which the whole camp participates and at the end of which, 10 to 15 volunteers have the opportunity to share their writing orally.
      • During classes, instructors regularly invite campers to share their works-in-progress orally with classmates.
      • Every academic day ends with a time called Readers' Forum, where 15 to 20 volunteers share from their self-composed texts.
      • During the second week, a group of 15 to 20 campers are selected by their instructors to read from original works at the Regulator Bookshop on 9th Street in Durham, NC.
      • On the last night of camp, 35 to 45 campers volunteer to share their writing in a Readers' Theatre called Final Celebration.
      • While no camper is ever forced to read in front of other campers, instructors strive to create a nurturing environment that encourages campers to share work.

Our instructors are professional teachers who write and professional writers who teach.

Because our class sizes are small, our instructors are able to give concrete, specific oral and written feedback as to what campers are doing well and on what they need to work.

As I said previously, past campers noted how unlike school, camp was, not because they weren't learning about writing, about how to write, about how to write better. Rather, the whole experience of camp goes toward helping students see themselves as writers and as a community of writers. Campers learn from each other as well as their instructors and professional writers how to craft real writing for authentic purposes and audiences. In this way, campers make the rules of writing a part of themselves. Such internalization and such community building do not usually occur in schools. Young people leave our camp, seeing it as a second home, a place and people acknowledging each camper’s creativity and individuality.

I encourage you to examine the classes page for a full course list. Each session offers fiction and poetry writing classes as well as college admissions essay and journalism courses. Whether campers are taking Paper Cuts: Words that Wound and Win (an argumentative essay writing class) or Fan Fiction (where they write narratives about their favorite comic book character), they are engaged in developing skills identified in the Common Core State Initiative of English Language Arts Standards; but more important, they are on their way to becoming lifetime writers.

I cannot wait for the summer and the prospect of meeting and working with young writers and their parents. Until then, have a wonderful start of this new year.


Mitch Cox, Duke Young Writers’ Camp Academic Director