One wretched Wednesday this past winter, a handful of teenagers gathered in the Crafts Room of the Jones Public Library. They sat in loud disarray around a folding table. One young woman doodled ‘Tea & Ink’ across the top of a whiteboard in large gothic-style print. The space buzzed with laughter and rapid-fire anecdotes. Notebooks fluttered open to blank pages and laptops sang awake. Garret Pinder, the Young Adults Coordinator for the Jones, took the floor.
“I want you to write a haiku. The funniest haiku you can think of.”
After a mess of discussion, silence fell. Pens scratched and keyboards pattered. Once set, the atmosphere stayed.
After the exercise, Pinder explained that writing a haiku is not so different from writing a tweet or a facebook comment. The key is economy of language.
The Tea & Ink Teen Writers Group was formed this past November following NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month), when the group first formed around the common goal of each writing a complete story in just 31 days. This colossal task was met with determination and valor that extended beyond the month’s deadline. Many of the young writers met their individual goals, some in excess of 35,000 words (or approximately 60 pages of text).
“Writing a novel is really, really hard,” said Rebecca Lee, a participant who met her goal of 35,000 words. “I don’t write very often so it was good to have that motivation to be creative.”
“Generally people in our age-range don’t write unless they’re forced to for school-” Said Hazel Wildman-Lyon, another young participant.
“And I think that the same goes for reading, to some degree.” Lee added.
With Tea & Ink, participants are given prompts but encouraged to write off-topic, wherever they want to go.
Pinder has a background in technology training, which shows in all aspects of his work.
“I’m not seeing technology and reading converging in the traditional sense,” said Pinder in an interview on April 15th, “teens don’t come in here with eReaders and iPads, they’re using phones for connection.” He went on to explain the necessity of meeting young readers on their grounds.
“Reading is not just grabbing a book. Reading is absorbing. You read a facebook feed or a blog. That’s where we’re trying to meet kids.”
He pays attention to what’s trending on Twitter and updates the Jones Library social media sites accordingly. When “The Dress” debate hit, he took a photo of himself with two of Marie Lu’s current YA novels of corresponding colors and posted it to Twitter with the caption: “Blue and Black or White and Gold?” He sent it to Marie Lu, who shot it out to her fans. And from there, it went semi-viral. “I’m still getting messages from that. Staying current is important.”
Pinder believes in micro-fiction: that photo captions and hashtags count, and that social media is already a creative literary outlet. “A large part of this technology is personal. A confessional box. A soap box. A visual diary.” Hence the haiku challenge.
Only a few months old, the group is still taking shape. The group is small, struggling to maintain attendance in the face of fair weather and sports season. New voices are more than welcome.
However small, Tea & Ink has big ambitions. Plans to branch out include a Valley-wide book review site for teen readers, and an upcoming poetry display.
Look for fliers in the Jones Library or on the front page of the website http://www.joneslibrary.org/ for upcoming events.
And if you know a teen or are a teen looking for a creative outlet on Wednesdays from 3-4, Pinder says, there is a seat open and waiting. And if not, Rebecca Lee has shared some advice.
“If you have an idea, you should just go for it,” concluded Miss Lee, “Don’t second-guess yourself!”
Photo: "Tea and Ink" by Willow DeLyon. From left to right: Rebecca Lee and Hazel Wildman-Lyon.