Writers’ House Students Perform With the DC Youth Poetry Slam Team at Annual Retreat

As football fans hustled into Byrd Stadium for Saturday’s game, three dozen Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House students boarded two buses headed for the Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro.

The Writers’ House annual retreat used to be a day trip, but turned into an overnight bonding experience this year when Johnna Schmidt, the program’s current director, said she could do something more to make the program a closer-knit community.

“We decided to try to do an overnight retreat at the beginning of the year, hoping that would lead students to having deeper relationships and forming friendships more quickly,” Schmidt said.

For first-year Writers’ House student, Emily Tuttle, a junior English major, the retreat was an opportunity to meet more of the writers, she said.

“You really have no idea how many people are in the Writers’ House until you actually see them all in one room,” Tuttle said. “I think this is going to be a really great opportunity to meet more people and make more connections.”

After a 45-minute drive, students arrived at the Fairhaven School, the retreat’s site for the past three years.

The 12-acre institution is housed in a natural environment, surrounded by woods along with a fossil-filled stream, according to the Fairhaven School’s website. The institution opened in 1998.

Six members of the Carillon Community’s Write Now, a living-learning program on campus, joined Writers’ House students for the retreat.

Mark McCaig, a University of Maryland alumnus and Fairhaven’s administrator, said the institution helps create an appropriate space for creativity.

“Writers seem always to benefit from quiet, natural spaces [like Fairhaven],” McCaig told The Writer’s Bloc in an email. “I support anything we writers can do to ameliorate or complement the necessary isolation of the writing process.”

“Fairhaven tries to provide a place where young people can be responsible for their own education and lives in a democratic setting,” McCaig said. “Democratic setting means each student and staff member has a vote at the weekly school meeting, and that’s how we administer the school. There’s no principal, there’s no headmaster, so we make all the real decisions of the school by voting, by discussing.”

Giving students responsibility over how to conduct their day and produce their work is a philosophy both the Writers’ House and the Fairhaven School subscribe to, Schmidt said.

“The philosophy of Fairhaven, being that students really do it themselves, has bled over. I’d say the philosophy at Fairhaven has been an important part of Writers’ House development,” Schmidt said.

DC Youth Poetry Slam Team Comes to Dinner

The retreat took a literary turn when members of the DC Youth Poetry Slam Team joined UMD students for a Chipotle-catered dinner.

The slam poetry team is a youth program at Split This Rock, a non-profit organization comprised of poets dedicated to social justice.

Jonathan B. Tucker, Split This Rock’s Youth Program coordinator and poetry team’s coach, said the organization helps young poets find their voice. Tucker is also an alumnus of the University of Maryland and co-founder of Terpoets.

This year’s DC Youth Poetry Slam Team includes 18-year-old Morgan Butler, of D.C.; 17-year-old Lauren May, of Southeast D.C.; 17-year-old Quintin Paschall, of Southeast D.C.; and 18-year old Tajai Williams of D.C.

This was the first year the poetry team performed at a Writers’ House retreat.

“Johnna brings Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House people to the Split This Rock poetry festival every year, so she asked us to come [to the retreat],” Tucker said. “She saw how great our workshops and performances are, and thought this community could benefit from seeing young writers doing such things.”

The DC Youth Slam Poetry Team concluded its visit with an open mic event.

Senior English and film studies double major Zack Burkett said the performance by slam poetry team Paschall, or “Zay,” left him feeling encouraged.

“The reason why I don’t really like to do public speaking or read my work aloud is because I stutter,” Burkett said. “The slam poets made me realize that you can find ways to express the things that you normally might want to avoid and turn them into something more.”

Jiménez-Porter Writers' House students pose for one last photo before boarding a bus back to College Park from the beautiful Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, Md., Sunday. (Charles Mitchell/Bloc Photographer)
Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House students pose for one last photo before boarding a bus back to College Park from the beautiful Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, Md., Sunday. (Charles Mitchell/Bloc Photographer)

The weekend retreat featured s’mores around a small campfire, building tents at the edge of the woods, stargazing and a viewing of “Tarzan” on a projection screen.

It wasn’t all fun and games for retreat members, though – sleeping conditions were a bit harsh for some students, such as those who slept on hardwood floors.

Schmidt said next year’s retreat may be at a location more comfortable for the students.

“I feel like [the retreat] accomplishes what our intention was,” Schmidt said. “People get to know each other quickly and one of the ways that happens is because nobody has a bed. It’s kind of this weird bonding experience. At the same time, I really struggle with the fact that nobody has a bed.”

writersblocheadshots06Nicole Choi is a senior English major and can be reached at nchoi76@gmail.com.

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