Monday, April 9, 2012

Highlights Founders Workshops: A Novel Experience

A few weeks ago I had the fabulous experience of serving as a Teaching Assistant, along with Karyn Henley (see previous post), at a Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop. Our talented faculty were authors Kathi Appelt, Alan Gratz, Jeanette Ingold, and editor Martha Mihalick. Sixteen students brought completed novels to the workshop, with time to revise based on the individual feedback they received from faculty mentors and the group input as we workshopped the first twenty pages.

I was deeply impressed by the experience, and wanted to share some of it with you – including an interview (below) with author Helen Hemphill, who has taken the awesome responsibility of organizing and staffing the faculty portion of Foundation events (you can find a schedule of upcoming events here.)

Our workshop group in mid-March
The workshop itself ran as smooth as silk. There was plenty of time between one-on-one consults and group workshops for participants to work in their cabins or to walk in the gorgeous countryside or to socialize. The TA’s were given time to be available for consults and evenings were for the most part free.

The facility is lovely. Each participant is provided with a comfortable rustic but fully equipped cabin with its own bath (a main house was undergoing renovations but will provide extra rooms soon.) A brand new conference center - the "Barn" - houses the kitchen and dining areas, plus extra space for lectures and workshop; there are lots of lovely nooks for hiding out and working, reading, or meditating. The atmosphere lends itself to spiritual renewal. And the food...the Highlights folks have gone to great lengths to prepare gourmet meals (and they will individualize for those with allergies or dietary needs), from the wine and hors d’oeuvres before dinner to the nourishing breakfasts to the always-available snacks and coffee.

I heard rave reviews about the experience from participants, most of whom were unpublished and early in their writing careers. I saw many make huge leaps of craft and commitment during our five days together.

I’m turning the floor over to Helen who graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

Please tell us generally about the Highlights Founders Workshops – what your plans are for 2012 and beyond.

The porch of the cabin I shared with Karyn...lovely!
The Founders Workshops have been taking place since May 2000 at the former home of the Founders of Highlights for Children in northeastern Pennsylvania.  The location is a beautiful farm complete with cozy cabins and a new conference center called The Barn that opened last fall.  This facility has allowed the Highlights Foundation to expand our workshop offerings for writers and illustrators in 2012 with over three-dozen workshops during the year.  Our programming is broad based with workshops for writers and illustrators at all levels of experience and expertise.  Our hope is to continue to refine and expand our workshop offerings so that we may serve our mission to raise the level of the offering of writing and illustrating for children.

You have a great mix of classes for beginners and pros, for fiction and non-fiction, and for various genres. Will the template be the same for each year?

We are working on our programming for 2013 and have some interesting new ideas in store for both writers and illustrators!  The Barn gives us much more flexibility in our plans, but our aim is to offer tracks in both fiction and nonfiction each year so that writers of all levels may hone their skills. Of course, we will have specialized programming for illustrators as well! I’m excited about one of our possible offerings in 2013--a literature-based weekend where teachers, critics, editors, librarians, and writers gather to discuss the elements of what makes a good book.  I’m sure this weekend will offer up some great discussion!

A sweet spot to sit outside the Barn, cabins in the background.
I was so impressed with the thoughtful organization that went into planning the workshop schedule. Does each workshop demand an individual approach?

The Highlights Foundation is known for its exceptional level of hospitality and its dedication to good teaching.  While we like to make it look easy, it takes a great deal of planning and detail to make a workshop run well.  We do take an individual approach to each program to make sure the experience will be one of outstanding value to our attendees.  We talk a lot about the details and try to anticipate the needs and expectations of the writers and illustrators we serve.

The grounds are gorgeous. Kent (Brown, executive director of the Highlights Foundation) mentioned plans in the works. Can you tell us what is coming for the future?

We’re not quite ready to make a formal announcement, but there is more construction happening at the farm!  Currently, the original farmhouse is being totally renovated for use as a smaller meeting space.  But we also have some bigger plans in the works.  Your readers will just have to check out our web site, or better yet, come to a workshop to see for themselves! A Founders Workshop is the perfect place to focus on creative work, learn something new, and have a great time. A complete list of 2012 Founders Workshops is on our website at or you can call Jo Lloyd for information at 570-253-1192. 

Thanks so much Helen!


HHemphill said...

Thanks, Janet, for giving the Workshop and the Barn some buzz. It's been really fun seeing all the great work coming out of the Workshop! Our schedule is wait listed for July, but we still have openings in October. That's a great time to be at Boyds Mills! H.

Blazer67 said...

Thanks for sharing! Attending a Highlights Founders Workshop is one of 'dreams'. I keep hearing how absolutely phenomenal they are.

Janet Fox said...

Kirk - it's so worth it! I hope you get there one day.