Webster Groves High School English department presents 2017 All-Write Festival

Andy Kimball


Jake Collins

Junior Editor

Ray Hartmann, founder of the Riverfront Times and current editor of St. Louis magazine, speaks in the auditorium for All Write 2017 on Monday, Feb. 27 during 4th hour. Photo by Page Kimzey

This week students and teachers will have the opportunity to see events, listen to speakers and participate in workshops during the third annual All Write Festival.

The festival will feature different kinds of writers, from authors Peter Ames Carlin, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and Travis Mossotti, to comedian Aparna Nancherla.

Among the professional speakers and performers some students are also involved.
Junior Kate Becker wrote and directed “ViCE,” a one act show about creative process and how phones interrupt it.

Sophomores Sam Toskin and Christian Ragin wrote “Cheating Doesn’t Pay,” a story about an underdog boxer who faces his inner demons while fighting his way to glory.
English teacher Rita Chapman started working on the idea of the All Write festival after visiting “Writers Week” at Hazelwood West High School. Chapman applied for and received a federal grant which helped start the festival.

Chapman said, “One of the things I noticed was that the students there were excited and really engaged. They were especially engaged by other students on stage, and they were very supportive towards others when they were sharing.”

Chapman said, “(I liked) the idea building of a week in the school year for writing and the sharing of writing and the idea of writing being more public. At school writing is usually just between the student and the teacher.”

Once Chapman came up with the idea, Steve Leftridge and a group of English teachers and started putting together the festival’s first year.

Leftridge said, “We did a three-day event with 20 writers, and it was all in the Little Theater, but it was a really successful first shot at it. The kids really dug it, and the staff had a great time, and the authors were really impressed with it. It just felt really good, and we were like, ‘Okay; I guess we better keep doing this.’”

The festival expanded to five days last year and has expanded even more this year with around 50 writers this year.

Leftridge said, “We’ve just worked really hard (to expand the event.) Mainly, it is just the commitment of some of our staff members by seeking out these writers and coming up with new creative ideas for presenting the events. We have worked with the arts department and have a writing award to get students involved.”

Leftridge added the festival has tried to expand student involvement.
“We worked really hard to be as inclusive and expansive as possible with what we are offering and how many students get involved,” Leftridge said.

This year speakers will receive artwork made by students as a gift for coming to All Write, students will play music before speakers, and juniors Simon Moore and Zach Biscan will direct films to be shown before sessions.

Also an All-Write at Steger event will expand the festival to multiple schools in the district.
The festival also includes the “Jonathan Franzen Award,” which is an award given out to the winner of a writing competition open to WGHS students.

WGHS’ literary magazine, The Branch, is putting out a special edition that will include the finalists for the competition. Those finalists will read their pieces before the award is handed out.
Alumni Samuel Leech received the award last year.

Also, some brief stories about writers who are speaking at the festival are below:

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock:

Author Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is a new writer coming to All-Write after publishing her debut novel “The Smell of Other People’s Houses.” The book has received accolades including an appearance on Barnes and Noble’s top 25 books of 2016.

“The Smell of Other People’s Houses” is a young adult novel that tells a story about four teenagers living in Hitchcock’s home state Alaska.

About what inspired her book, Hitchcock said, “I had just left Alaska for the first time and was incredibly homesick, so I tapped back into all of my childhood memories and wrote about the place as I remembered it, which is why it had to be set in the 1970s.”

Hitchcock said many of her past professions helped her write her novel. Before Hitchcock began writing her novel, she worked as a commercial fisherman and a reporter for Alaska public radio stations.
“One of the stories in the book comes straight out of raising my kids on a commercial salmon boat in Southeast Alaska, and I was a radio reporter for 15 years as well, so I wrote every single day and that definitely helped. It also helped me have a lot of interesting quirky characters in my book,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock also has chosen to live without much internet access.
“It’s just a personal choice of mine not to have it, probably because I did try living in the lower ’48 (what we call the rest of the U.S.) and found it to be exhausting. My book is all about what it was like growing up more removed from the rest of the country, so I think just in that way it influenced everything about my writing and my life,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock said she was interested in going to All-Write partially because her children have just moved to Saint Louis. She added, “I have become really impressed by the art community in St. Louis and how much is going on in this city” and “I’m even more thrilled to spend a week with authors and artists in this incredible place, and I’ve heard great things about All Write so I’m excited to check it out.”

Peter Ames Carlin:

Peter Ames Carlin is a music biographer who has had multiple books appear on the New York Time’s bestseller list. Carlin has written biographies about Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney.

Carlin started writing after quitting his high school jazz band to be the editor of his school paper. Then he wrote for his college papers at Macalester College and Lewis and Clark College.
After college, Carlin began writing for The Oregonian.

After writing for the Oregonian Carlin wrote longer feature pieces for People magazine.
Carlin said, “I always had the vision of being a non-fiction writer where you take people and places and put them in a larger context.”

Carlin said, “I started to write a series of stories on Brian Wilson, and then I ended up making a biography of him. It worked out really well, and then I wrote about Paul (Simon) and Bruce (Springsteen)…I always wanted to do this kind of writing and got to find a niche in it.”

Carlin wanted to come to All-Write to visit Saint Louis and to talk to students interested in becoming writers.

“Being able to come to Saint Louis and the prospect of talking to students who might want to be writers is appealing. I want to be able to point out some bread crumbs I’ve left to help people become writers later in life,” Carlin said.

Carlin said his main goal is to show students ways to become a writer and to show them that it is possible for anyone.

“I want to at least explain why (writing) is important and explain how you do it. I want to take writing from the abstract and put it in a step by step way to show people it is possible to get there. It’s hard but it’s possible,” Carlin said.

Travis Mossotti:

Poet Travis Mossotti will talk to students and teach a “Wordshop” during All-Write Week.

Mossotti was awarded the 2013 Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize for his book, Field Study, which is about “Travis Mossotti’s time in the field over the last decade, working with his wife (a carnivore biologist) on endangered species recovery efforts all across North America,” according to his website.
Mossotti, an English major with a French minor, plans to talk about how to turn the “idea of being a poet” to “being a poet.”

About his “Wordshop” plans, Mossotti laughed a bit and said he had no clue yet, but then related it back to his speaking event saying how he wants to talk about “moving from the idea of poetry as a career, to a career in poetry.”

Mossotti only found out about the All-Write Festival when Steve Leftridge e-mailed him asking if he would speak and teach a workshop at the festival.

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