At the top of Shock Rock in Frederick, Md., 23 students gathered this summer to write. They were 50 miles away from their homes and schools in Baltimore City, but they might as well have been in another world. Looking out from a birds-eye perch at farmland and treetops, waterways—even blue-gray mountains—they breathed in the day’s air, and noted hints of sarsaparilla. They traversed the rocky planks and soaked in the sun. Some talked amongst themselves—about their favorite storybook-turned-movie characters, about patriarchal societies, standardized testing and nature. Others sat quietly alone, thinking of music and love, memories old and new—words, words and more words.
This is just what Patrice Hutton imagined three years ago when she built into her successful after-school writers’ program a sleep-away summer camp for middle and high schoolers. She wanted to get her students out of the city and immersed in their writing. She wanted to give them simultaneously the power of solitude and the nourishment of being in a writers’ community.
“There’s something special about taking them to this remote environment outside of Baltimore,” says Hutton, who started Writers in Baltimore Schools in 2008, with the help of an OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship, and has grown the program from one school to four. “It shows them how your brain can function in other ways—outside of the hubbub of the city and school—that are more conducive to concentration and creativity.”
The writers spend a week at Mar-Lu-Ridge Summer Camp and Education and Conference Center, doing things that campers do—hiking, telling ghost stories, roasting marshmallows, swimming. But they also spend intense time in workshops learning about imagery, metaphors, narration and points of view. And then more time still sprawled out on sofas, or curled up on Adirondack chairs, writing, revising, and writing some more.
“Because of Ms. Hutton, I’ve been able to experience a lot of things,” says Terrell Kellam, one of Patrice Hutton’s first students who came back this summer as a junior camper. “She gave me a chance to be around people who thought like me. Once or twice a week I had something to look forward to. And it made a difference.”
With Hutton’s help, Terrell was accepted into both the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, experiences he calls “amazing.”
“Iowa and Kenyon would’ve never happened if it weren’t for her,” he says. “She’s just always there for me.”
Read more from Hutton’s Writers in Baltimore Schools—who are working on a project called “Black Words Matter” here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/storyline/wp/2014/12/12/why-they-started-writing-poems-about-ferguson-from-baltimore-city-kids/.
As an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Patrice Hutton taught creative writing in a city school where she saw first-hand the dearth of creative writing in classrooms in low-income neighborhoods. So in 2008, she started the after-school program Writers in Baltimore Schools, with the help of an OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship.
Every summer—as a highlight of her program—Hutton brings a group of talented students from the city’s schools to camp for a week of learning, writing and camaraderie.