Shared Worlds is Turning 7
This dragon is comprised of over 90 hands of writing advice written by author Leah Thomas' 7th grade ELA students at Eaton Rapids Middle School. They reviewed the Hand-In-Hand advice from Shared Worlds writers at the tail-end of a month long unit on science fiction. ‘Never give up’ and ‘ignore the haters’ were common themes.
Shared Worlds: Our Seven-Year Anniversary
Shared Worlds is seven years old! We’ve gone from 19 students to an average of 60—from all over the world. Over the years, we've been fortunate enough to have received some very kind press coverage, including mentions on radio, in print, and on the web.
Carolyn Kellogg at the L. A. Times and the book bloggers at The Guardian (UK) wrote about our piece on Fantastical Cities.
Suvudu.com ran an article with Jeff about teaching the next generation of writers and Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing has written about us more than once.
John DeNardo and SFSignal.com have been strong supporters from the start, including a Mind Meld on worldbuilding that we integrated into the curriculum in 2008. More Mind Melds followed.
We've also launched a few of our own PR campaigns with the help of artists and writers. The Bestiary features fantastical creatures created by dozens of writers, The Critter Map features flash-fiction imbedded in a graphic by Jeremy Zerfoss, and Hand in Hand is a gallery of advice from author’s written on their hands. Both features included such luminaries as Neil Gaiman.
Each of these campaigns received national and international media attention. Notably, Whitney Matheson at USA Today wrote about The Bestiary and The Huffington Post got sucked into The Critter Map along with a lot of other people around the web,
And we’ve had the kind and generous support of Amazon.com, which allowed us to give more scholarships and to create (and expand) the Amazon Writer in Residence program. What a thrill and privilege it’s been to host Nnedi Okorafor, Karin Lowachee, and Karen Lord through the Amazon.com program!
A Message from Our Founder
Shared Worlds 2014 will be our seventh session. What a great age this is to be!
I was seven years old when Star Wars: A New Hope came out, and 30 years later I found myself working on a creative writing and world-building program -- a program that challenges young people to use their imaginations to create imaginary worlds as vast and intricate as Lucas' Expanded Universe and Tolkien's Middle Earth.
The line between the seven-year-old me seeing A New Hope on the big screen and bringing Shared Worlds to Wofford isn't a direct one, but its close.
Shared Worlds is a two week residential summer program during which groups of students get together to create imaginary worlds then write individual stories set in those worlds. It’s two weeks of hanging out with like-minded, creative friends from all over the world. It’s working in groups and one-on-one with college professors and professional writers whose books I’d actually read.
My seven year old nervous system would’ve short-circuited. My head would’ve exploded. I couldn’t have grasped such a thing, but I do know that I would’ve signed up for Shared Worlds the first summer I was eligible.
(If you’re interested in reading more about how Shared Worlds came about and what we do each summer, check out this round-table interview at Strange Horizons with me, S. J. Chambers, former student Megan Jackson and her father Daric, novelist Kathe Koja, editor Ann VanderMeer, and Shared World’s co-director Jeff VanderMeer.)
It's hard to believe that we've been doing this for seven years. It's not that I didn't expect Shared Worlds to last--just the opposite. We built Shared Worlds to go the distance. Time flies when you're working hard and having fun, and we've poured countless hours of work into Shared Worlds and had a lot of fun doing it.
I conceived of the classroom activity that would eventually become Shared World over a decade ago. The program as we know it now, though, far exceeds my original vision. The reason for that is, of course, because of all the other people involved.
Many of the people involved from the start have stuck around. There’s the indefatigable executive team -- Tim Schmitz, the director of summer programs; Jeff VanderMeer, co-director; and me, founder and co-director. There are so many more people involved with Shared Worlds to mention everyone in this limited space, but the support and enthusiasm of David Wood, Boyce Lawton, Cathy Connor, Laura Corbin, Christine Dinkins, Chris Dinkins, Will Hindmarch, and Joseph Spivey has been invaluable.
Check out this article about Shared Worlds 2008, the first Shared Worlds; it’s written by Kelly Czarnecki, who spent a day at the camp in 2008, and it appeared in the School Library Journal.
We've built many worlds since that first Shared Worlds, not the least of which is Shared Worlds itself. The program--the curriculum, the community, the ethos--grows with each person involved, and as a result that growth has been immeasurable.
There have been too many highlights to list. There have been moving e-mails and phone calls from parents, book giveaways in Olin Theater that have felt simultaneously like a sacrament and a feeding frenzy, multi-media presentations that gave us all chills, students swarming guest writers after a reading, and stunned comments from critiquers about the sophistication and high-quality of our students writing.
Interestingly, too, the Shared Worlds community has had the honor and joy of accompanying co-director Jeff VanderMeer on a professional journey that is both exciting and a bit harrowing. When Jeff first became involved in Shared Worlds, he had recently “gone full-time” as a writer. Since then he has written a handful of books, including Predator: South China Sea, Finch, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer, and Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. And, recently, he signed a movie deal for his Southern Reach Trilogy.
My favorite moments--the best parts of Shared Worlds for me--are those in the classroom. There's nothing more arresting that to be in a classroom with twelve fully engaged, wildly enthusiastic teenagers, each giving his or her best. It's in those moments that I know we've succeeded in providing a safe, open, inspiring, challenging, and rigorous world in which these young people can shine their brightest. It's in those moments that every student exceeds our expectations--and our expectations are very, very high at Shared Worlds.
Early on, Tim Schmitz pointed out that, with Shared Worlds, we have made the sort of program that we would’ve wanted for ourselves when we were teenagers—the sort of place where we were free to be ourselves, pursue our interests, and let our imaginations run wild. It’s also the sort of place we want for our own daughters.
So here we are, rapidly approaching our seventh session of Shared Worlds. We've had students who came every year that they were eligible. We've had students from France, Germany, Japan, and Finland and from around the United States. We've had siblings and cousins. We've had students return as staff. The longer we do this—and we most certainly plan on doing this for a long, long time—the more Shared Worlds grows as a community. Yes, seven is a great age to be.
Jeremy L. C. Jones