If you’ve been a friend of 826michigan for a while, you may be familiar with the name “Hanel Baveja”. Her writing has been published several times AND she’s participated TWICE in our annual festival of student-written one-act plays, Five Bowls of Oatmeal. In 2010, Hanel brought us inside the world of an attic of forgotten books in “They Have Secrets”; 2011 saw the world premiere of “Dirty Laundry”, a gritty and artistic exploration of class differences and political corruption.
Suffice to say, if you’re not already familiar with the name “Hanel Baveja”, we’re sure you will be. Please enjoy Hanel’s thoughts on life as a young writer — we certainly did!
A Place To Write: What Two Weeks in Iowa Taught Me
When I tell people that I willingly spent two weeks of my summer in Iowa, their reaction tends to be a facial time-lapse of shock, sympathy, and dismay. It’s true — I returned at the end of June from two weeks at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. Another fact: Iowa City is a literary haven. Not only is it home to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but it is also one of three cities on Earth designated a UNESCO “City of Literature.” I think I may have spent more money on used books and coffee than I did on my plane ticket.
At first, it was both enchanting and slightly disarming to walk into a coffee shop and instantly realize that everybody was either reading a novel, or writing in a notebook. Those who did have laptops open were editing stories — no one was surfing social media sites or plugged into their smart phone.
My session at the studio was full of everything a young writer could ask for: workshops, incredible teachers, readings, and soaking in an environment where writing is a major priority instead of a forgotten hobby or a passive interest.
It was here, in the middle of Iowa City, under a glossy sky, that I found myself thinking about 826: about the small but cozy room behind the velvet curtains of the robot shop; of the wonderful staff; of the hours I’ve spent working at the wooden tables or laughing in the basement with an incredible group of writers over pens and packets of short stories.
It is easy to forget that places like 826 do not exist everywhere. A daily activity of the Studio was workshop — which we signed up for before camp started and consisted of our teacher and seven or eight students — for two hours every afternoon. On the first day, my teacher was explaining the concept to us, and I found out that I was one of two people in my class familiar with the process. I am a member of Story Problems (the young adult workshop at 826), so I had some idea how the workshop would go: the author first reading his or her piece before sitting silently while the other workshop members discussed and critiqued the work.
Throughout camp, I realized that many the friends I made did not have a group of people or a place that consistently motivated them to keep writing, editing, and sharing. There are so many places that do not have support systems like 826 and the opportunities they provide. Since returning, I’ve realized that one of the most important things for any writer, especially young writers, is to be in environments – whether it’s for two weeks straight, or an hour every week – that prioritize writing. I know that I’m not able to recreate my two weeks at the studio: everyone I’ve met together in one place at one time, the pie shakes and word-nerd filled coffee shops, but there is a small comfort in knowing that in Ann Arbor, I have the support of 826michigan and all of their wonderful programs.
Quite simply, 826michigan has, and will continue to be, a place to write, a place to call home for those hours when I’m immersed in my Moleskine or working through a collection of short stories, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Hanel Baveja will be a junior this fall at Huron High School. She enjoys playing tennis and writing. Her (current) favorite authors include Edward Albee and J.M. Coetzee.