Creative Writing Camp’s student mentors are muses to city kids

Around 80 Indianapolis kids will put pen to page at Butler University this week when they participate in the Creative Writing Camp.

Taught by professors, professionals and students, the 3-12 graders will spend three days in creative sessions, one day writing about art at the nearby Indianapolis Museum of Art, and one day preparing for the camp’s culmination, a chance to read their work in front of family and friends.

The camp “attracts a special kind of student,” Hilene Flanzbaum, Butler English professor and director of creative writing, said.

“These are kids who decide that they want to spend a week writing, not playing ball,” Flanzbaum said. “A great part of the camp is hooking up these special kids with one another.”

Participants at last year's writing camp. (Photo courtesy of Farhad Anwarzai)

Each year, Butler students sharpen their pencils and get involved with the Creative Writing Camp too.

Recent Butler graduate Farhad Anwarzai is among the 16 college-aged student “mentors” this year who will teach kids specialty workshops, such as character development or haiku.

“We’re practicing what we do best, which is writing,” Anwarzai, who has mentored the camp for four consecutive years, said.

What can you learn from kids half your age? A lot, Anwarzai says.

“These are some of the smartest kids I’ve ever met,” he said. “They end up teaching me more than I’ll ever teach them, like trusting yourself. You have to trust yourself as a teacher. Kids will ask you anything, and you have to stand on your own two feet.”

The kids like reading their work almost as much as keeping the student mentors on their toes, Anwarzai said.

“They just grab on to the microphone,” he said. “These are the kids who don’t necessarily talk about their craft. They do it in silence. Then they come here and find a bunch of kids who like to do the same thing.”

The camp’s director, Geoffrey Sharpless, a literature and writing teacher at Park Tudor, runs the camp with help from Butler professors and writing professionals citywide.

The camp started 14 years ago on a grant from the Lilly Foundation along with a few other programs designed to enrich the school’s relationship with Indianapolis.

Flanzbaum said the camp was so successful that when the grant period was over, the English department decided to take it under their wing.

“Over the years it’s just grown incrementally,” Flanzbaum said. “It’s great community outreach. We draw students from all across the city.”

This year’s camp is a two-week endeavor with around 80 kids participating this week and last.

The camp may have stretched its length to accommodate the influx of eager adolescent participants, but the mentor program has been intact since its conception.

“It’s an intellectual endeavor,” Flanzbaum said. “It’s a treat for our college students because they get to meet writers in the community.”

Anwarzai with 2010 campers at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. (Photo courtesy of Farhad Anwarzai)

The camp is a stepping stone for Anwarzai who said he one day wants to teach at the university level.

“These are the fundamentals,” Anwarzai said. “In my opinion, if you can teach kids, you can teach anyone.”

Flanzbaum said the camp also is a good recruiting tool for the university.

“The kids are impressed by Butler right away,” Flanzbaum said. “It reminds me of when we launched the MFA program at Butler and the community just went nuts.”

The writing camp’s success has triggered ideas for other programs that would connect Butler’s English department with Indianapolis youth, Anwarzai said.

He worked with Sharp and others from the English department to develop Butler Bridge, a chance for high school students to come to campus during the academic year for a weekend to hone their writing.

The program premieres Oct. 2. Its first session will prep pre-college students to write competitive college admissions essays, according to Butler’s website.