Student Finds Voice at Prestigious Juniper Writing Institute
"The pen is mightier than the sword."
Though a common proverb in the writers' world, following this mantra is much more difficult to do when attempting without a pen, or, more appropriately, without a voice.
English and gender studies major Abby Feden thought she had a strong writer's voice when she left for the Juniper Summer Writing Institute last summer. However, the young writer was pleasantly surprised when, upon arrival to the program, she uncovered a voice that was much stronger.
The Juniper Summer Writing Institute is a one-week program based at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and targeted toward aspiring writers. The workshop assists writers in developing and solidifying their writing style and acquaints them with modern authors who offer insight on the art of writing.
The Juniper program is an opportunistic chance for individuals like Feden to expose themselves to new ideas and ways of thinking, but the junior from Papillion may not have even known of the chance had she not received guidance from her English professor.
Professor Brad Tice teaches creative writing at Nebraska Wesleyan and offers an extravagance of writing exercises and workshops. It is with the aid of these workshops that Feden developed an initial writer's voice.
"Through the exercises in his classes and in the stories that have come as a result of creative research, I have developed a voice in my pieces that I can look back upon and recognize, and am proud of," she said.
Feden made great progress in solidifying a writer's voice. Taking notice, Tice introduced his student to the Juniper Institute and encouraged her to apply. Together they developed a proposal seeking financial support through the Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Fund.
Entitled "'There’s Something in the Ether': The Influence of Atmosphere in Modern Gothic Literature," the project Feden and Tice put together studied the impact of a setting and the story’s audience, specifically their readiness to accept spiritual beings—a commonality in Gothic literature.
“When I write,” Feden said, “I always return to dark themes and grim plot lines, because I think that such an atmosphere provides a space in which an author can experiment with emotion, reconstruct our interpretations of reality, and test the boundaries of humanity.”
For her project, the young writer was tasked with analyzing several Gothic novels for their atmospheric influence and generating at 20-page original written work in the Gothic genre. This is where Feden’s opportunity with the Juniper Summer Writing Institute became most fortuitous.
“At the Juniper Institute, I was able to create completely new pieces that went along with my project, and with my own personal writing goals.”
During the program, Feden selected a mentor with whom she periodically met to receive feedback on her writing and influence on her developing writing style. Additionally, participants attended craft sessions facilitated by writing professionals to learn about writing styles and interests, as well as panels with acclaimed modern authors.
Feden admitted she was a little star struck while working with writer Noy Holland.
“Having the opportunity to work with Noy Holland, learn from her, and hear her read is an experience I will never forget.”
Of course, the workshop is not solely intended to acquaint aspiring writers such as Feden with famous authors. The NWU student also completed what she had set out to do: creating works for her collaborative project, exploring various writing styles, solidifying her writer’s voice. She also took advantage of experiences outside her comfort zone.
“On the last few nights, an open mic is offered, and I was brave enough by the end of the week to read some new work—my first reading ever,” said Feden.
“The Juniper experience is unparalleled, one that, in the course of one week, allowed me to see incredible progress in my own creative endeavors,” she added.
Thanks to the Juniper program, the English and gender studies major has been given the confidence and voice to transform her aspirations of becoming a professional writer into reality. While reaping the benefits from her experiences, Feden encourages university students to scour for their own self-improving opportunities, for they are never far away.
"Opportunities like Juniper are opportunities that are career altering, life changing," she reflected. "In order to discover these experiences, you only have to ask."