Monday, July 15, 2013

UVa summer Young Writers Camp ... exploring the 3200-acre Sweet Briar College campus

After spending three weeks last summer immersed in the French language and culture when Washington & Lee University hosted the Governor's School French Academy, SWAC Niece is enjoying a three-week Young Writers Summer Camp this summer sponsored by the University of Virginia but held on the campus of nearby Sweet Briar College. This rising high school senior is a writer in all forms of the word, and has been since she was a little girl.

Sweet Briar's campus consists of 3,200 rolling acres spread out over the Virginia countryside with room to roam for active young people. From the meandering front wooded drive to the historic brick buildings that are listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic District, it offers nooks and crannies to explore or put pen to paper -- or fingers to keyboard -- to describe the scenery, recall experiences, or record memories.

Part of the African American heritage of Sweet Briar.


This imposing yellow structure is Sweet Briar House. Sweet Briar College was founded in 1901, the legacy of Indiana Fletcher Williams, who left her entire estate to found an institution in memory of her only daughter, Daisy, who died at the age of 16 in 1884. At the time of Mrs. Williams' death in 1900, her estate consisted of more than a million dollars, and over 8,000 acres of land, including the Sweet Briar Plantation.

Sweet Briar House has been home to the presidents of the College since its founding in 1901. The former estate residence has been on the Virginia Landmarks Register since the 1970s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The original house was built in the late 18th century by Joseph Crews. Originally known as Locust Ridge, the structure was a two-story, six-room farmhouse of red brick. In 1830 Elijah Fletcher bought the house and 1,000 acres for $7,000 from Penn family relatives of his wife, Maria Antoinette Crawford. Fletcher, a schoolteacher from Vermont who had come to nearby New Glasgow (now Clifton) to teach at an academy there, rose to prominence in the local community and in Lynchburg following his marriage in 1813.

Called "Sweetbrier" for the abundance of wild roses on the property, it became the summer home for the Fletchers and their four children, Indiana, Elizabeth, Sidney, and Lucien. In 1841 the family made it their permanent residence, and in 1851-1852 the original T-shaped farmhouse was enlarged with the addition of the tower wings, showing the daughters' attraction to Italianate architecture they had seen during a grand tour of Europe.

The house was furnished with pieces bought in New York and Philadelphia. In 1858, upon Elijah's death, his daughter Indiana inherited Sweetbrier, renaming it "Sweet Briar." In 1865 Indiana married a New York clergyman, James Henry Williams, and though the couple traveled back and forth between New York and Sweet Briar, they considered this to be their home.

Sweet Briar College's first president, Mary K. Benedict, used Sweet Briar House as her residence. For the first years of the College it also housed faculty members, the post office, and the infirmary. The first floor also served as the administration building for the College until 1926. A 1927 fire damaged the central part of the house and led to the rebuilding and modernization of the central part and east wing of the house.
Sweet Briar House is surrounded by gardens restored by The Garden Club of Virginia, and is filled with many of the furnishings original to the Fletcher and Williams families.

The campus includes hiking trails, an equestrian center, boat house with two lakes, and an abundance of outdoor activities taking advantage of the surrounding national forests and ski areas.


The Young Writers Workshop of the University of Virginia, established in 1982 as the nation’s flagship program for young writers, enters its third decade of bringing together a community of young people from across the country and beyond with a common purpose: to create a supportive, non-competitive environment where teenage writers can live and work together as artists. The faculty of authors and residential staff bring professional experience to the development of new talent.  In partnership with Sweet Briar College and its idyllic setting, the Young Writers Workshop has achieved a long-desired goal to welcome its participants to a retreat space where writers can commune with each other, immerse themselves in creative activity, and fuel their imaginations through an innovative arts program.

Participants learn the dynamic principles of play, invention, response, revision, performance, and publication as well as strategies to invent, develop, and revise material using the writer’s most essential tools—language, imagination, craft, sight, and insight. They conference with instructors and peer writers. They examine contemporary artists’ work. They become more discerning readers. Five workshops are offered.

Fiction: From the real to the surreal, fiction writers learn how evocative fiction works: the power of provocative story hooks, resonant settings, and plot lines that weave together the lives of complex characters. This workshop also focuses on developing a repertoire of voices, styles, and narrative techniques to intrigue readers and leave them wanting more.

Screen and playwriting: F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "Writers aren’t exactly people … they’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person." Script writers learn the skills needed to unleash their cast of characters onto screen or stage. Dramatic writing is the perfect genre for those whose inspiration exceeds the limits of the page! 

Creative nonfiction: Creative nonfiction writers deploy the devices of great fiction—riveting description, charged dialogue, strong narrative structure—for telling true stories. They take these literary skills into field assignments to practice the real moves of the nonfiction writer, through humor, memoir, editorial, review, and many others bringing truth to the page with the force of fiction.

Poetry: Poets make the ordinary extraordinary. They experiment with craft and form. They embody whole worlds of experience in just one line or image, distill where they have been and what they know, and give shape to personal truth in luminous detail. This workshop helps young poets discover the ways to tempt the muse to the page and forge what follows into a full blaze.

Song writing: SWAC Niece may enjoy this since she's an accomplished guitar player. Artists in this workshop write songs that give rise to unequivocal statement. They concentrate on lyrics, music, or both. Through improvisation, they enter the kinship of poetry through jazz-poetry fusion. They perform live, go solo, or collaborate with other singer-songwriters. Either way, they create in that unparalleled space where sound and words explode.

Those who wished to attend had to compete for a slot by writing an autobiographical sketch including details reasons for wanting to attend the Workshop and capturing the applicant’s interests and influences as a writer, as well as a recommendation.

Applicants also had to submit one one-page writing sample in their first choice of genres, one one-page sample in their second choice of genres, a selective writing portfolio (3-5 page document) in their first choice of genres, and a 2-3 page writing sample in their second choice of genres.

It's a tremendous opportunity with the chance to work side-by-side with young writers from around the world as well as across the nation. 

What inspiration will be found on this sprawling campus? We will know at the end of this session.




The equestrian center.






The boat house.





From the beginning, Sweet Briar recognized that students who will become "useful members of society" must, as liberally educated women, be well equipped to move into professional life, a goal that continues into the 21st century.

In Staunton, City Councilwoman Andrea Oakes carries on that tradition of being a "useful member of society" as she serves on Staunton City Council and for various organizations while working a full-time job.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
July 11, 2013

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