As a former high school English teacher and cross-country coach, I love the chance to connect with kids and young adults. It’s the best part of my current job as an author. Since my first book came out 10.5 years ago, I’ve had a lot of experiences with readers across the country and at my own desk, through travel and emails and shared experiences.
There was the juvenile girls’ detention center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where girls asked me tough and beautiful questions about my own life and about my book Matched, which they had read and discussed as a group. Later that day, I learned from the librarian who had invited me to Kalamazoo that the librarians in the area take turns going over to the detention center at night. While the kids are going to sleep, the librarians read them books over the PA system. For some kids, it’s the first time they’ve been read to sleep. For all of them, it’s a time they can escape into the story. I wept in the front seat of his car and he smiled and handed me a tissue.
There was the day one of my former students wrote me to tell me he’d read my book. “Good job, Mrs. Condie,” he said, and he sent me a picture of his new wife and baby.
There was the assembly in Oxford, Mississippi, where kids called out questions so fast I could barely keep up. They slipped me notes afterwards telling me what they thought of my book, and they had some very good suggestions.
In all of these moments, and many others, I realized that what was happening was not about me at all. Ever. It was about words and what kids bring to them. It was about youth and reading and writing and having the chance to tell their own stories.
I started thinking about what I could do in my own community, in Utah. About how I could attempt to bring authors to kids who don’t often see them and authors to places they don’t often visit. My first idea was a Writermobile to drive around and take authors to do school visits or writing workshops in rural areas, but the logistics and costs proved prohibitive. I thought about a writing camp I’d keynoted in Minneapolis, and how wonderful it had been, and thought perhaps we should try something like it in Southern Utah. We could draw in kids from rural areas through scholarship and by using contacts in the school districts. I contacted friends who were writers, teachers, leaders.
And that’s how the WriteOut Foundation was born. It’s a non-profit foundation aiming to create writing camps for rural kids. We’re starting in Cedar City, Utah, with a three day camp that will take kids to a national park, to a Shakespeare play, and which places them in a small classroom setting to workshop with nationally recognized authors. We’re using scholarships for 20% of attendees to make sure we reach those with the greatest financial need. There are also 80 spots open for paying attendees, and we can’t wait until we are at capacity. We are charging only enough to cover the costs of the camp.
I’ve been floored by the generosity of people at SUU (Alisa Peterson, Wendy Temple, and Tasha Seegmiller, among others) in stepping up when our original (and wonderful) liaison left the university. The WriteOut board (Ann Dee Ellis, Krista Bulloch, Brian Jackson, Denise Lund, and Scott Condie) has invested hours and hours without pay. Authors Brandon Mull, Brendan Reichs, Margaret Stohl, and Ann Dee Ellis came on board when it was just an idea and have been extremely generous with their time, with donating books, with staying in local homes to cut down on expenses, and much more.
And the best part of all—we’ve had the most amazing stories shared with us already through the scholarship applications. Students have told us about their battles. Their courage. Their creativity. How much attending this camp would mean to them.
WriteOut Camp is going to be a gathering where it’s safe for kids to talk about and write their stories. If you feel inclined to join us—whether you’re a young writer who wants to attend, a teacher who would like to volunteer, an author who’d like to donate books, or an adult who is willing to donate—we’d LOVE to have you.
Ally Condie is the author of the MATCHED Trilogy, a #1 New York Times and international bestseller. MATCHED was chosen as one of YALSA’s 2011 Teens’ Top Ten and named as one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2010. The sequels, CROSSED and REACHED, were also critically acclaimed and received starred reviews, and all three books are available in 30+ languages. Her middle grade debut, SUMMERLOST, is a finalist for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery.
She is the founder of the non-profit WriteOut Foundation, which runs writeoutcamp.org–a writing camp for teens that allows students to work with published authors, experience the outdoors, and enjoy other activities (plays, costume balls, rock climbing, and more).