New Hampshire Poet Laureate Hopes to Inspire Tomorrow’s Writers
The North Country Young Writers’ Festival debuts this month
Alexandria Peary calls being the New Hampshire poet laureate “the honor of my lifetime.” But it’s more than just an honor and a title — it’s a chance to effect real change in an area of the state that is too often underserved.
The inaugural North Country Young Writers’ Festival, a two-day event happening virtually May 14-15, 2021 will bring together award-winning professional writers, passionate graduate and undergraduate student leaders, accomplished student poets and bright young writers from across the state for a virtual writing festival. It’s all free for New Hampshire residents.
In collaboration with White Mountains Community College and a variety of partners, Peary has spent months organizing writing workshops, games and activities and engaging opportunities for youth poet laureates and special guests — including published authors and a screenwriter. Originally envisioned to take place in person, Peary was forced to make it virtual due to COVID-19 safety precautions.
Peary is an international leader and expert in mindfulness and creative writing. She has hosted a number of impactful events and workshops on these subjects. A prolific author, Peary has written seven books, including poetry, creative writing and scholarly writing guides. As poet laureate, she led several initiatives, including developing a writing program for young New Hampshire opiate survivors, a series of mindful-writing workshops and, of course, the upcoming conference intended to inspire and teach young writers.
Peary’s goal was to reach 7th-12th graders in the North Country, specifically in Coös County and surrounding regions. Before the pandemic put a halt to in-person events, the festival would have taken place at the White Mountains Community College. Though the intent is to focus on students in the North Country, teens from all parts of the state are welcome to register.
Everything about the event was designed with youth in mind, with input from students of all ages. From the event’s logo, designed by Jocelyn Paradis, a high school student from Gorham, to the various creative writing workshops hosted by college and graduate student interns, young minds and writers are the inspiration and backbone of the festival.
Peary drew on her own childhood growing up in rural Maine to create opportunities for the rural communities in New Hampshire.
“I’m just trying to make a difference,” she says. “[My parents] gave me the best they could; they really did a great job. However, there wasn’t much in terms of writing opportunities, and I was just lucky for whatever anybody handed me. I just grabbed it and I’m so lucky that I did, but I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a matter of luck for other people, that they could actually have more opportunities.”
Peary has built a network of talented, creative and passionate individuals to assist both in her initiatives as poet laureate and with the festival.
The event begins Friday with opening remarks, readings from the New Hampshire youth poet laureates, and a livestream performance by Loading Dock. Saturday is a full day of events.
In addition to the workshops, there will be activities such as writing games with prizes, a marathon poem written over the course of the festival and the “Submit-a-thon” — a marathon creative writing submission event, with the goal of sending the finished piece for publication consideration. This is a high-energy and engaging part of the festival. “It really is a marathon,” says Makenna Allen, a festival intern. “By the end of it, your fingers and wrists are sore, and you actually feel like you’ve run a marathon.”
Students like Allen are the heart of the writers’ festival. The White Mountains Community College student has been working on festival preparations, including marketing and advertising. A longtime writer, she says she knew she’d found her passion in eighth grade when she turned in a 33-page short story for a seven-to-10-page assignment.
University of New Hampshire student and festival intern Via D’Agostino will lead one of the 75-minute workshops at the festival. The second-year master of fine arts in fiction provided two topics for students to choose from — “fairy tale retellings” or “writing from a nonhuman perspective.” Students voted for the first, which D’Agostino finds very exciting. She plans to have participants rewrite popular fairy tales while addressing an issue they find important — such as climate change or racial diversity.
D’Agostino hopes to connect with both the students who are most passionate about writing as well as those who are unsure. “I really want to be able to help them see themselves as writers. Even if you’re not going to be a writer as a career, you can still find joy in writing and in reading. And I want to be able to help kids see that in themselves if they don’t see it already,” she says.
In addition to the help provided by the students, Peary says the festival would not have been possible without the generosity and collaboration White Mountains Community College.
John Achorn, the chair of the liberal arts program, serves as a festival advisor.
“I fully believe in the humanities,” says Achorn. “I’m a real advocate of creative thinking and creativity, writing poetry, writing short stories — just being able to explore your inner self, the inner workings of your mind, and trying to create stories and poems that somehow touch other people,” Achorn adds. “I’m excited about [the festival] because it may be the thing we need to really stimulate interest in the humanities and the creative arts.”
The festival will conclude with the first meeting of the North Country student literary magazine editorial board and an “open mic” session where participants can share their favorite or proudest work — from the festival or before.
Above all, Peary hopes the event is a valuable and productive experience for all student writers. “I’m interested in promoting writers,” she says. “I have this passion that I just really want to help people achieve what they want, out of their own writing lives.”
Speakers include New York Times bestselling young adult author Brigid Kemmerer and Gregory Norris, a prolific Hollywood novelist and screenwriter from the North Country.
The Poets’ Touchstone reading will feature Granite State writers reading their poems published by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Participants can meet the journal’s editors and ask questions.
At the Poetry Out Loud Panel, seven competitors — including three state champions — will give advice and discuss their experiences presenting both to the New Hampshire audience and at the national competition in Washington, DC.
Seven workshops are offered, focusing on writing styles including poetry, screenplays, short stories and flash nonfiction. Students voted on the topics for each. Workshops will be led by a local undergraduate or graduate student.
Visit wmcc.edu/north-country-young-writers-festival for the full schedule and to register.