Writing festival fills minds, stomachs

Published 11:03 am Tuesday, March 15, 2011

By JASON MAYFIELD / Guest Columnist

The food at the University of Montevallo’s cafeteria is outstanding. While I can personally recommend nothing more than the Cinnamon Toast Crunch drizzled in cold skim milk, the students I took to a recent writing festival awarded five-star status to all the university served: from the pizza to the chicken to the salad (OK, they left the salad alone), and all the ice cream in between (and there was lots of ice cream in between — at times, the county group of 180 budding writers was 20-plus deep at the university’s soft serve machine).

Perhaps more surprising than the delight the students took in the food was the enthusiasm they showed for the reason they showed up in the first place. The students were selected from across the county based upon their interest in writing, and after Montevallo High School’s “Poetry Posse” kicked off the day’s festivities with a rousing performance, the students carried the enthusiasm throughout the rest of the day.

This year, the students heard from author Irene Latham, acclaimed author of the book “Leaving Gee’s Bend.” After Ms. Latham spoke of the hard work and a suitcase full of story proofs it took to get published, the students received an opportunity to write in small groups by school. My students retreated across campus to the third floor of the English building for writing time. I had only to pass out the journals and the pencils and the students were furiously writing in their “voice” — which in this assignment included every voice from an elderly woman at a rock concert to a dieter obsessing over cheesecake to the first-hand account of a football at a big game.

Even with the lure of an all-you-can-eat buffet in the university cafeteria, I had to call time on my students. Trust me, it was hard to put together the words, “OK, that’s time; everybody quit writing.” Time returned to haunt us in the afternoon when Ms. Latham offered to read aloud what the students wrote. Once she found herself buried in a pile of student submissions, it was apparent that we could’ve been at Montevallo the rest of the day reading their work.

So this food critic will return you to your regularly scheduled reading with the advice that perhaps the quickest way to the hearts of middle-school writers is through their stomachs.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.