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Q&A with Ray Brunt, PWN’s Newest Instructor

by Ray Brunt & Elizabeth Januzzi

Project Write Now is excited to announce a new addition to our pool of instructors. Ray Brunt has been around Project Write Now for a while now, participating in events such as our Visiting Writers Series and Voices & Verse. Ray received his MFA in Fiction from Sierra Nevada College in 2017. This fall, he is teaching Emerging Writers on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Our Writers Institute community manager, Elizabeth Januzzi, sat down with Ray to get to know him better.

Liz: Hi Ray! How was your summer?

Ray: Great! I caught up on some reading I’ve wanted to do. I guess that’s the benefit of so much rain, right? I also took a class at The Writers Studio in New York. I think it’s good to see what various writers programs are up to. I look forward to sharing ideas I’ve picked up with students in the EW class.

Liz: Would you share with us some of what you’ve read this summer?

Ray: Sure. I’ve gone back to catch up on some memoirs I’ve wanted to read or revisit such as Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and also her more recent, M Train. I always try to read from short story collections, as well. I just re-read J.D. Salinger’s Nine Short Stories, and also read an amazing collection by Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You.

Liz: You are teaching a class this fall at Project Write Now and you are also on our board. Why Project Write Now?

Ray: I’ve been interested in what Project Write Now has been up to for some time. After attending many different events and discussing the organization with the founders, I felt this was a group that was committed to doing great things for the community. My love of writing and my previous board and business experience just seemed to be a perfect fit.

Liz: What can your students expect from your teaching style?

Ray: First and foremost, I want this class to be fun. If you’re not enjoying class, if you’re not looking forward to coming, then something is wrong. I want to make it interesting for everyone at all levels and provide encouragement and ways for everyone to advance what it is they are trying to do. There will be some writing exercises, reading assignments, workshopping, as well as brief lectures and discussions about what makes for great storytelling.

Liz: You are working on a series of linked short stories. How is your project coming?

Ray: It’s a work in progress. I’ve got about a dozen stories teed up, but I still have more editing to do and decisions to make. I’m hoping to get one or more of the stories published in the next year or so.

Liz: Tell us something about yourself that your students would be surprised to learn.

Ray: I won an award in high school for the best short story by a high school student in New Jersey and was too embarrassed to go to the awards ceremony.

Liz: Oh no! We are glad you’ve gotten over your shyness to help lead fellow writers on their writing journeys. See you around the Studio!

Find out more about Ray’s class, Emerging Writers.

Ray Brunt is a writing instructor and board member for Project Write Now. Elizabeth Januzzi is the Writers Institute community manager for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Mimi Cross

 

As summer camps are in session, we’re highlighting our last (but certainly not least!) fabulous instructor. The tenth and final is Mimi Cross, who teaches Songwriting Studio.

1. What music artist most inspires you and your writing?

This questions is nearly impossible for me to answer. When I’m working on a novel, I make at least one playlist that might have as many as 80 songs on it. If I had to narrow it down to a handful of artists, I would say Pete Yorn, The xx, U2, Carter Burwell, Nico Muhly, Lo-Fang, The Killers/Brandon Flowers, James Blake … ok maybe this is impossible!

I listened to this playlist while writing my most recent manuscript. From there you can also find other playlists I’ve posted.

2. What was your favorite book as a child?

As a child my favorite book was The Velveteen Rabbit. I was fascinated by the many-layered idea that love makes things “real,” and I can still imagine the feel of the bunny’s plush fur.

3. What are you most looking forward to about this year’s summer camp?

I’m really excited about this summer’s Songwriting Studio! I’m most looking forward to meeting the participants. The teens who sign up for this camp will be setting the tone. I’ll set the pace, introduce skills, etc., but my main job will be to support the participants in expressing themselves through music and lyrics both individually and as a group. They’ll lead the way. I’ll try to keep up! I really can’t wait.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Mimi Cross is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Jason Kady

As summer camps are in session, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The ninth is Jason Kady, who teaches Sports Writing and just won Teacher of the Year at Von E. Mauger Middle School in Middlesex, NJ.

1. What is your favorite sport to play and to watch?

I love to watch and play both basketball and baseball. At an early age, my father introduced me to baseball and shared his love for the sport. As I grew and gained a passion for it, I developed into a very good player. There is nothing like strategizing through a baseball game, the crack of the bat, or the pleasure of a called “Strike 3.” I also discovered basketball at an early age, largely teaching myself how to play, and eventually developed into a very good player. I honed my skills at the playgrounds throughout Central Jersey and several of New York’s boroughs as well as on my high school basketball team. The thrill of a dunk, winning jump shot, or defensive break down all draw me to the sport. I continue to play to this day, although not quite as competitively! My passion runs deep for both sports, and I couldn’t imagine life without either one!

2. If money/time/etc. was no object, where would you most want to travel?

I would love to travel to Europe, where I have never been. In particular, London, Paris, and Rome. The rich history weaved throughout Europe is something that attracts me to each city, and the continent as a whole. I am also a huge fan of Southern California and Chicago (where I have family), so I love to travel there whenever I can.

3. What is the best part of teaching at Project Write Now?

The best part of teaching at Project Write Now is the allowance of creativity and discovery. The constraints of curriculum are lifted, and students are able to go wherever their creativity takes them. Writing can be very much like sports, where quick thinking and creativity often result in spectacular things!

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Jason Kady is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Jim McConville

As summer camps are in session, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The eighth is Jim McConville, who teaches Fantastic Voyage.

1. What led you to teach at PWN?

I came to PWN after attending a few teacher workshops and writing conferences at your location in Red Bank. (I’m an English teacher in Shrewsbury.) I spoke with Colleen and Jen and said that I would love to get more involved and teach a class at PWN if there was ever an opening, and a few months later they came to me with this awesome idea.

2. What is it about fantastic, alternate worlds that makes them so fun to write and read about?

Something about a different sense of possibilities, maybe. There is something so freeing about suspending belief and just going in the direction that an author or your imagination leads you. From the moment I read The Hobbit in middle school, I knew that I had always wanted to live in The Shire, where everything is green and seemingly uncomplicated. Day-to-day can be quite dull and bleak and limited at times. It’s lovely to venture somewhere else.

3. What book world would you want to live in?

In the previous question, I said that I would love to live in The Shire, so I’ll pick a different one for this question. This isn’t as much of a fantasy world, but I have always loved the way that John Steinbeck describes the Salinas Valley in California. The setting becomes a character in all of his novels that I have read, and I just love the sense of community that he describes. There’s something incredibly romantic about that type of land–rivers and valleys and green as far as the eye can see. Whether it’s the Shire or the Salinas Valley or somewhere else, it would have to be somewhere not overly developed with plenty of space to walk and think and soak in all the beautiful earth.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Jim McConville is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Jennifer Shields

As summer camps have begun, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The seventh is Jennifer Shields, who co-teaches Girls Write Now.

1. What is your favorite underappreciated novel? How can writing help benefit your well being?

Your question reminded me of a book that speaks to girls and their quest for identity during the thorny adolescent years, written by the wild and willowy haired Margaret Atwood, called Cat’s Eye. Some of you may be familiar with her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which has become a television series. Atwood is masterful in her characterization of young adolescent girls struggling with friendship hierarchy–who is in, who is out. The girls are at times ruthless to the point of leaving one girl for dead, almost freezing to death in the bottom of an ice-laden ravine. The novel weaves past and present narratives of the protagonist, Elaine Risley, exploring the lasting impact tumultuous friendships can have on the formation of the adult self.

2. Why is it important to teach girls to find their voices through writing?

It is important because it enables them to reflect in a deeper and more grounded way. Verbal expression is not always accessible to a young person in the moment; it takes years of practice. But with writing, we can teach them to revisit situations that may have been painful or challenging or joyous and write about them through different lenses–taking on the perspective of the other, writing about a situation and changing the outcome, looking back 10 years from now. But the importance, the true growth from the writing, is in the sharing. Speaking one’s true voice is an exercise young girls can carry with them throughout life.

3. How can writing benefit your well being?

Writing can be the great equalizer, especially when the written word is shared and discussed in a safe, supportive environment–away from instagram, away from snapchat, away from the pings and concomitant trigger of anxious rush. Girls Write Now is like a sleepover party for the real self. The real self gets to hang out, stay up late, and share stories of fear and wonder, hopes and dreams, darkness and light, uncensored and maybe even told for the first time. But that story is so like yours, and yours, and yours … and mine.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Jennifer Shields is a Writing Instructor & Counselor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Sami Strauss

As summer camps are in session, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The sixth is Sami Strauss, who teaches Animal Tales.

1. What do you most love about writing?

What I love about writing is that it consistently leaves me in awe. I’m in awe of my students at what they accomplish, no matter the age, no matter the student. I am honestly in awe of myself when I actually finish a writing task that felt so enormous I thought I would never complete it. Mostly, I am in awe of my favorite authors of novels because their work is so incredible to me it feels almost magical that it can be done!

2. What’s different about teaching at Project Write Now?

Teaching at Project Write Now is always surprising. I am put in a room with a mix of students who come from different schools, different towns, or even different grades within the same school. Everyone starts off feeling a little shy or uncomfortable, but by the end of the camp they are fast friends, congratulating each other on triumphs, empathizing with struggles, and sharing so much of who they are. That is the beauty of Project Write Now and writing–it can bring anyone together!

3. What is your favorite animal, and why?

My favorite animal is a penguin, and there is an interesting story why. When I was in 1st grade, I “chose” a giraffe as my favorite animal because everyone had one, and I needed to get on board. My family and I went to the Bronx Zoo one weekend, and since giraffes were apparently my jam, I needed to get a figurine from the gift shop. Much to my dismay, the gift shop was sold out of giraffes. They did, however, have a cute little penguin. Not wanting to go home empty handed, I decided on the penguin as my souvenir. In my seven-year-old mind, this meant that penguins had to be my new favorite animal, and they were from that day forward. (I now have a collection of over 50 penguins!)

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Sami Strauss is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Colleen Doogan

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The fifth is Colleen Doogan, who teaches All You Can Write and Spinning Stories.

1. What’s your favorite writing exercise?

I love making lists—lists of anything. Lists of things I like, things I love, things that drive me crazy mad, moments in my day, things I am grateful for, sayings, wacky words, highlights from a vacation, best times and worst times as a parent, childhood memories—you name it, I make a list out of it. I make lists because almost always something on my list jumps out at me and makes me write more. When I spend time writing off of one bullet point on a list, I am amazed to see what comes out.

2. What are you most looking forward to about this year’s summer camps?

I am looking forward to helping kids find the joy in writing! I want to make writing fun every minute we are together. There will be choice of pens and markers, types of paper, where to sit (even on the floor), what to write about, who to talk to about your writing, how to make it better, and much more. Life is more fun when we have choices and so is writing! I can’t wait to see what kids can produce when they are given choice in their writing life.

3. What period of your life do you find you write most about? (Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc.)

I definitely write about the present most because it’s so hard. Being a parent is the hardest job I have ever had and I find that writing about the ups and downs helps me navigate the sometimes very rough waters just a bit better. I wish I wrote more about my past. I have been through a lot of loss over the past few years, and I desperately want to write about it. I guess raising three small kids while losing parents at the same time has kept me pretty busy and unable to quite get the words down on paper. Someday I will, and when I do it’s going to feel amazing. For now I will continue to write about this crazy roller coaster ride I am on as a mom and hopefully look back and laugh at it all someday.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Colleen Doogan is the Education Director & Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Christa Teter

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The fourth is Christa Teter, who teaches Your Voice Matters.

1. What is your favorite underappreciated novel?

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan is underappreciated by American students, I think, because it’s hard for them to relate. But if they can get past the fact that it’s an obscure concept to them, then they can see that Koly isn’t really much different than them in the way she feels–her maturity, fears, and hopes.

2. Do you usually write about personal situations or imaginary?

There is value in both, but I typically write about personal situations as they are genuine, honest, and therapeutic for me.

3. If you could meet any author who would it be?

Probably Jodi Picoult. Small Great Things is my favorite Picoult book as it is a reflection of our society and how the family we’re born into deeply affects our outlooks. I appreciate the research Picoult must do to write her stories, plus she seems to have a sense of cultural responsibility. I think her messages are about the plurality of our society and how we need to be more compassionate and understanding of each other. If we do that, then perhaps one day we will have peace.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.

Christa Teter is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Behind the Summer Camp Scenes

By Sophia W. G. & Lisa Hartsgrove

As the Project Write Now team came together to discuss our next blog post, we thought—what better way to showcase our summer camps than to hear from one of our students? So Lisa Hartsgrove, PWN Program Coordinator & Writing Instructor, sat down with Sophia W. G., 15, to find out why she took not one but THREE camps last year.

Lisa: How did you first hear about Project Write Now?

Sophia: I heard about PWN through an adult creative writing class that you (Lisa Hartsgrove) were running as part of your master’s program. I was instantly drawn to your contagious charisma and same shared passion of writing. One day, you mentioned PWN, and I enrolled immediately.

Lisa: Aww … what camps did you participate in last year?

Sophia: Last year I participated in The Interview Project, Ink It Up!, and Girls Write Now. In each camp, I discovered new things about myself. The Interview Project was a magnificent experience, especially since I have aspirations to become a journalist someday. I was taught valuable lessons on topics that are essential to know when interviewing people. Ink It Up! was also an enjoyable and unique camp. It was not entirely writing based—it was also artistic! I’ll be the first to admit I am no Van Gogh, but in this camp I discovered how my writing can be turned into a masterpiece just by using the right color gel pen. Girls Write Now was my personal favorite, though, because of the friendships ignited, the thought-provoking prompts we indulged in, and the deep conversations we had as a group. All in all, in every class or camp I register for at Project Write Now, I am always astounded at the blooming talent that comes out of teens my age. I am beyond grateful to take part in such an open, supportive, passionate, and educational environment.

Lisa: Wow, what a great answer! Thank you! Is there any one thing you remember the most from your camp experience?

Sophia: The beautiful diversity among people and their writing. Read more

Teacher Feature: Leah Mermelstein

 

As summer camps approach, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The third is Leah Mermelstein, who teaches Imagination Blast Off & Storybook Studio.

1. What are you most excited about going forward with teaching at Project Write Now?

I’m so excited to show kids how much fun writing can be. Writing is so much more than putting pencil to paper. Whenever I teach writing to kids, ultimately they are the decision makers. They get to choose their topics, genres, and audiences. They get to decide what types of paper to use and how to illustrate their words so their ideas come to life. I’m there to facilitate this journey and to support them in any way I can. My greatest hope is that they will leave my summer camp filled with new writing projects they want to continue working on.

2. What do you mostly like to write about?

I write mostly about teaching and my daughter. I blog at www.leahmermelstein.com. In my most recent blog, I talk about what I learned while watching my daughter graduate from PK 4 and participate in her ‘Gymnastics Olympics.’ I am also writing a book about the importance of writerly conversations. I can’t wait to put what I am learning while writing this book into action. During our week of camp, we will have lots of writerly conversations during which campers will be able to clarify ideas and hear multiple perspectives.

3. What book world would you want to live in?

I think I would choose to live in the book, “Charlotte’s Web.” I love to imagine a world where kindness and empathy are at the forefront. I love the bittersweet ending when Wilbur is caring for Charlotte’s baby spiders after she has passed on. It was Wilbur’s privilege and responsibility to do this as he understood the impact that Charlotte had on his own life. I parent and teach with these ideas in mind and hope that in some small way I am creating this kind of reality across the world.
 
Be sure to check out our camp list and register at www.projectwritenow.org/summer-camps.
 
Leah Mermelstein is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.