Summer Camp 2014 Registration Opens January 31st

Posted January 27, 2014 & filed under Notebook.


Sign up for Creative Writing Camp, sponsored by WITS and Rice University, in locations across Houston. Campers ages K-12 will immerse themselves in fun activities and exercises all focused around building and strengthening their love of reading and writing. Registration begins January 31st. Classes will fill up that day so mark your calendars!

Child Authors

Posted May 11, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

When our daughter turned 4 years old, we signed her up for the Summer Creative Writing Workshops sponsored by Writers in the Schools and Rice University’s School Literacy & Culture Project. Carrie wasn’t really “writing” at all when she started camp, but she was bursting with energy and ideas. By the end of camp, she had amassed, through dictation and scribbling and drawing, a stunning portfolio of stories and poems and illustrations. She announced to anyone who would listen, “I’m a writer.” And she was.

If you have a young child and you’re looking for a wonderful summer literacy experience, please visit our website to sign up for summer writing camp. You may be nurturing the next Hilda Conkling!

Hilda Conkling started writing poetry daily when she was just four years old. Her mother, a teacher at Smith College, began sending Hilda’s poems to magazines and when she was 10, she had one hundred poems collected and published entitled Poems by a Little Girl.

by Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools

Mayor and Ambassador Praise WITS Writers of Bitola

Posted July 24, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

bitola art of wordsYesterday the United States Ambassador to Macedonia came, with the mayor of Bitola, to give out the awards to the children who are completing the Creative Writing Camp.  Today we did a new assignment that basically uses chopsticks to create a proclamation of the rights of children. We glue the chopsticks to a paper that has been turned sideways once the child has written about the rights of children all over the world.  We talked about the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States and what it meant.  Then we played (thanks to YouTube) a song by Tose called “This World.”  It is an amazing song about the rights of children that seems to both owe a debt to Michael Jackson’s songs about children and move away from concepts of Neverland.  If you have time, you should take a look at the musical poem.


After they read their proclamations and tied the proclamation with ribbon we began working on the plays.  All agreed on the rights of children to have kind families, to have enough clean food and water, to have access to education, books, and information, to be treated with dignity, to have health care. The debate was over whether or not a child had the right to have a dog. So you can see how things are going here.  Things that great men are still debating, are easy to solve here, but the right to have a dog, now that is an issue. Perhaps this battle is fresh in the minds and hearts of some of the children at the camp.  I remember this battle with my own child, Meredith Cunningham, who bought a dog and walked the dog four miles home and simply dared me to take that dog (Buster) back.  Of course, I did not.

Today, the play is the thing.  This afternoon the students will present 6 plays as writer/actors.  They are busy memorizing their lines.  That is right.  I said memorizing.  Some of these plays are long, but Macedonia has a great bardic tradition.  I discovered this last year when I listened with wonder and amazement to my students, who memorized their play in 48 hours.  I did not ask them to memorize their lines. I told them this was “Reader’s Theatre”; that we are a Creative Writing Camp, not a group of roving players.

It didn’t matter. They were sure that I needed saving from myself and the best way to do it was simply present me with the Macedonian reality that you don’t bring paper with your lines on it into a threatre in Macedonia.  I had read about the great 20th century bardic tradition in Macedonia, about a man who could simply speak poems for 33 hours at a time, but I had no idea that I would be looking at the bardic tradition with my on eyes and hearing it with my own ears.  It reminded me that Mnemosyne (memory) is the mother of the muses. (We will get into their paternity another time). I will let you know how the plays work out in the next blog post.

Until then farewell from the World Capital of Memory, Bitola and the Macedonian Express,

Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

Young Authors Gather in Bitola, Macedonia

Posted July 22, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

Yesterday was the first day of the Creative Writing Camp at Bitola in Macedonia.   In the morning we had all the younger children show up to the camp and the American Corners was abuzz with life, energy, and joy — some of my favorite things.

We did a really great lesson called “Put in a Bag” where we had a big bag and a little bag and the children were to place things that they liked in one of the bags and things that they hoped a pirate would carry away in another bag.  I wished that I had had my brother Steven Riggall, a Dartmouth trained psychiatrist to help me on the results of this one.  Feral dogs, spiders and snakes were just some of the things that they wanted in a bag.

I asked the kids if they could think of a feral king and eventually, one of the afternoon kids came up with the Roman King Romulus, who as a child was feral.  I admitted that we don’t often use words in such oxymoronic fashion as in the case of “feral kings” but that makes it more interesting.

Today we are doing one of my favorite assignments.  It’s called “A shield; to shield; shielding”.  We take little paper umbrellas, like the ones that, if you were lucky, you have seen in a fruit drink sometime this summer.  The umbrellas have had their pointed toothpick center clipped off.  Then later we put the umbrellas in their juice during the mid-day break.

We ask them how an umbrella is like a shield. What does an umbrella shield us from?  What other kinds of shields are there.  Then I read a little Gilgamesh and talk about Gilgamesh and Enkidu as shields of Uruk, city of walls.  Sometimes I add similar epic epithets from Homeric epic and Sundiata.  We ask the children who their shields are, what their shields are, and who and what do they shield. Then we give them pictures of the new park in Bitola with the wonderful married metal shields in the park, similar, but not exactly like Alexander the Great’s famous 16 ray shield, which has been adapted into 8 rays and 8 points. To me, this represents the logic of a compass and indeed turns a shield into a compass.  Then I ask them how a shield is like a compass.

The idea came from my passion for the park, which the Macedonians are hoping to turn into an Istanbul-like light show as the park is located between very important Ottoman, Muslim, and Christian historical places, similar to the light show park between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  The copper and bronze shields that decorate it are brilliant.

I love shields.  I have always loved shields.  I even collect shield iconography.  Ask my World Literature students if this isn’t true.  What would a classical metal smith, who surely knows he is making an object meant to keep his client alive in the the great moments of danger and life and death, select to put on the shield?  A compass, a way home a la Henry V’s imaginative speeches to his men in Shakespeare’s plays. Who doesn’t want a compass on their shield?

We need a shield, and we need a compass.  Shields with the Medusa head illustrate that we are afraid of what will turn us into stone.  But what about that compass and the points and strikes on it? Will it take us there and back again as Tolkien implies?  Can we reach home if we are homesick and have a compass? Are we as centered as a compass on a shield makes us?  Is that point in the center home, base (as in my beloved baseball)?

Those extra 8 sword-like strikes to points, asks us to define the difference between a point and a strike, and I say there is a huge difference, as the points look more like home than the strikes. They also move away from traditional depictions of the compass as the Mesopotamian sun god Shamash, with his zig-zag strikes, like legs walking across the desert, or Aten-Ra, all rays.  I love the iconographic variety of the strikes and the dotes, but they do imply that home is not just at the center, that it is also found outside that center, that home can move outward, even on a shield.

I must go now as the children will be here in just a bit, and they are forces of nature, walking energy wanting to learn, write, express themselves, from their home in Bitola, Macedonia.  And we are, for a moment, their shields.

Merillee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

WITS Writer to the children of Macedonia

WITS Students Featured in the Houston Chronicle

Posted June 18, 2009 & filed under Notebook.


Students attending the Summer Creative Writing Workshops recently visited The Menil Collection for inspiration.  The Houston Chronicle decided to come along and bear witness to the creative process in action.  Photographer, R. Clayton McKee, caught some tremendous shots of students and their teachers as they discussed and contemplated famous works of art.  Click here to see the slideshow.

The Summer Creative Writing Workshops are a collaboration between Writers in the Schools (WITS) and Rice University’s School Literacy and Culture Project.

Photo Credit: R. Clayton McKee