It’s a simple concept that’s often overlooked: everyone is a writer. Whether through his or her career, personal journals, or even through their social media updates, everyone has a story to tell, and that makes them a writer. Greenville woman Adrienne Burris knows this full well and is passionate about helping kids realize their potentials as writers. She has an M.A. in writing, and fresh out of college she started hosting writing workshops for Greenville area kids as a hobby. Burris began her career as a behavior analyst at schools when she noticed that school systems were more focused on students’ results and test scores than on harnessing their creativity. As demand for her writing workshops grew and after some inspiration from author Dave Eggers’s TED Talk “Once Upon a School,” she created a program called “Ugly Words Writing Lab” in 2012. which would later transform into Greenville Wordsmiths.
Greenville Wordsmiths currently serves over 1,000 students in the Greenville area and is staffed largely by volunteers. The idea of the program is to get kids (aged 7 to 14) excited about writing and to publish their own books.
As anybody who has ever puts words on a page will know, it only takes a little creative spark to turn an idea into a fascinating, enthralling story. Burris and her team find engaging, creative, and sometimes unusual prompts both through their in-school “Staycation” program and through Saturday Writing Clubs to help kids through the process of turning an idea into a book. Teachers at schools served by Greenville Wordsmiths largely report an improved attitude towards writing after their students take place in the workshops.
Kai Fritz is a nine year old from Greenville who attends Stone Academy. Kai was influenced by his mother to give writing a try after he told her at the beginning of the third grade that he hated writing. Kai is now a two-time participant of Greenville Wordsmith’s Writing Club and has published a series of 4 books called “Joe the Pig.” According to Burris, “Kai is really the epitome of what our program is about. We want to take in kids who don’t see themselves as writers—kids who feel left behind, or think writing is too hard, or boring, or just think their ideas are no-good.” Kai explains that the confidence the Writing Club gave him to play with language and take creative risks allowed him to feel passionate about writing. Kai beams when he talks about his work: “I found out I was more creative than I thought. I never thought I would come up with a series about a pig!”
Here is an except from “The Haunted Zoo” by Kai Fritz
One day in the middle of winter, there was a zoo. A haunted zoo. It looked old, and the wooden sign was broken. The cashier’s skeleton was in the ticket booth, just sitting there for 100 years. There were scary sounds in the zoo when Joe the Pig walked in. He went to get his friend, Chicken. He heard a groan in the distance. Joe was a little scared. He saw a big shadow. Was it a lion? He walked toward the beast; he could see footprints; he could see the beast – it was a lion. He could see monkeys. He found a skeleton hat and coat; he got in the skeleton, made the hat a pillow, and went to sleep.
Every program offered by Greenville Wordsmiths is a little different. For younger students, the program provides a story-making workshop where the kids have to race against the clock to write a funny story to impress the evil Master Wordsmith. This mischievous character doesn’t think kids can write anything worthwhile, so the students race to write a hilarious story and defeat him with their clever tales. By the end of these theatrical sessions, students are rewarded with an illustrated and printed paperback copy of their story to take home.
Older students participate in Choose-Your-Own-Adventure workshops where, over the course of a day, they write an entire Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, which are professionally printed and sent back to the classrooms and school libraries. The Saturday Writing Clubs move at a slower pace as kids aged 8-13 create a hardback book over the course of 5 months. Burris and her crew lead the students through ever part of the process of making a book, including designing what the book looks like. Each student is given complete creative control over his or her own book.
Adrienne Burris has some big plans coming up for Greenville Wordsmiths. She is in the process of renovating a 1993 Bluebird School Bus into a mobile creative writing lab that can be driven to community centers or festivals that do not have classroom facilities. The bus is on schedule to be finished by the summer. In the meantime, Burris will continue to fulfill her vision of helping as many children as possible to become published authors.