More than 100 Knoxville high school students and teachers will visit campus Saturday to learn about the art of creative writing.
The Brian M. Conley Young Writers' Institute, which is sponsored by the UT alumnus himself in partnership with the Hodges Better English Fund and UT's English Department, consists of workshops led by local writers and UT graduate students.
Students and teachers can take classes in fiction, poetry, screenwriting, songwriting and journalism, as well as engage in creative discussion. They will be able to share what they've worked on at an open mic at the end of the day.
This is the 20th anniversary of the event, and Dr. Marilyn Kallet, director of creative writing at UT, has been involved with the event since the beginning.
"I remember being hesitant at first. I didn't know anything about teenagers," Kallet said. "But they turned out to be wonderful kids, creative and engaged. They were writers like me, just a little younger."
Ryan Woldruff, a doctoral candidate in English, helped organize and plan this year's event. A few years ago he taught a fiction class at the institute.
"I was all prepared to talk about 'Lord of the Rings,' but the class turned out to be all female so they wanted to talk about 'Twilight,'" Woldruff said. "It turned out to be really cool. It's a good thing they are interested, even if it's genre fiction, and we want to foster that."
He finds it interesting how students connect with people from their own school at the institute.
"Students get to engage with other students at their own high school with the same interests," Woldruff said.
"Sometimes schools are so big that students just aren't aware there are others that like creative writing, too."
Kallet said that in a lot of ways the program is also good for the university. The students get comfortable on UT's campus, avoiding the alienating experience that some freshman college students experience.
"A lot of students in Knoxville apply to UT and this is a good chance to expose them to the creative writing program," she said.
Tennessee's legislature has recently pushed for a higher emphasis on math and science skills in the state education system. With that push in mind, this event offers a chance for students to learn about creativity through writing without the pressure of a class period or high price tag.
"Often there's just not enough time and money in public schools to get students actively involved in this type of writing," Kallet said. "We do this to further students' interests and teach teachers about these subjects at no cost to them."
Because this is the event's 20th year, a demand has grown in the Knoxville community for the Young Writers' Institute and the teaching it offers.
"There's a need from students and teachers for this type of program, a hunger for it," Kallet said.
The institute will be held in the Humanities Building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.