The 12th session of BTL: Peace and the Writing Experience, the first BTL virtual session (due to the COVID-19 Global Pandemic), was an overwhelming success. 50 participants (42 young writers and 8 “chaperone” educators) from 19 countries and the U.S. came together for creative and cultural work that many reported to have changed their lives.
Creative writing workshops and global literature seminars were led by the four core instructors: Rumena Buzarovska, IWP Fall Resident ’18, North Macedonia; Vladimir Poleganov, IWP Fall Resident ’16, Bulgaria; Shandana Minhas, IWP Fall Resident ’13, Pakistan; and Mary Hickman, U.S. BTL faculty ’15, ’16, & ’17. Sean Zhuraw, Delaney Nolan, Gabriela Claymore, and Gyasi Hall provided support to students, faculty, and staff communicating in the digital format.
The 2020 session of BTL: Identity and Belonging, its second full session, also took place virtually. The core instructors were Poupeh Missaghi and José Olivarez and the program included writing workshops, literature seminars, and special events, which were implemented via multiple online platforms, and which were designed to maximize community-building and intercultural exchange. The session provided opportunities for large, small-group, and paired-off dialogue; time for introspection; and at every turn, BTL staff and the trusted instructors were providing guidance, care, and creative enrichment.
An overview of BTL’s transition to a virtual format: Writing workshops and literature seminars lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes, and each day began with a “Daily Meeting,” similar to the face-to face format. In this first fifteen minutes of each day, participants took turns sharing details about where they lived and their local cultures, and projects and activities they were involved in. Regional variations in pizza, pets, and descriptions of cherished time recently spent outdoors after months being inside due to the pandemic were popular topics that connected participants across distances. In total, participants spent approximately 4 hours a day engaged with the BTL activities. Writing was shared via private BTL groups in Write the World, an online global creative writing platform for teens.
In addition to the main faculty, the following guest instructors were engaged to lead special seminars:
- Razi Jafri and Joumana Altallal – Visual and Poetic Documentary Workshop
- Kiki Petrosino – White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia Author Reading and Q&A
- Marwa Helal – What are you going to do with all that IDENTITY Workshop
- Lauren Haldeman – Making Poetry Films: A Digital Storytelling Workshop
- Caroline Meek, ICRU Fellow ‘18 & ‘19, with BTL Alumni – Beyond BTL
- Razi Jafri and Justin Feltman – Hamtramck USA filmmakers Q&A
In total, participants attended one virtual pivot town hall meeting, one orientation, one introduction, six youth writing workshops, five chaperone writing workshops, four literature seminars, five special seminars, one conversation table, one film screening, one open mic event, one faculty reading webinar, and one graduation event. Each participant contributed one piece of writing produced during the session to the camp anthology and received the collection of work as a PDF, rather than the hard copy usually distributed, and The Writing University website featured a video gallery of participants’ digital storytelling projects: https://www.writinguniversity.org/blog/iwp-between-the-lines-2020-participants-create-a-showcase-of-digital-poetry-films
Thoughts about the virtual program from BTL ’20 participants:
“BTL has given me a lot! It has given me the tag of an "Alumni." It has given me confidence, courage, power, friends, faculty, cultural ideas, enchantment, and tears of happiness! It's so hard to say goodbye to this program! I'm [i]n tears right now, so... Would love to be a part of it once more (only if it was possible). I owe a lot to you. I LOVE YOU, BTL! YOU HAVE MY HEART!!”
“I would say, I have accomplished more than what I had expected. My goals were to just show my face and smile and write. I was an extremely introverted person, always shy, especially on virtual platforms. Now I see myself speaking up, putting my opinions and explaining those – it's just amazing! Thanks to BTL for allowing me to step out of my comfort zones and helping me to realize my potentials!”
“My relationship with writing has improved vastly since beginning BTL. I was so scared to share my work or put my story ideas out there in case they didn't work IRL the way they worked in my head, but now I wouldn't hesitate to share my roughest drafts with my BTL community… Now, I really feel confident and proud calling myself a writer.”
“My most favorite thing is getting to know the instructors! They all come from different and various backgrounds with all sorts of histories, and it's heart-warming getting to meet someone who you want to be in the future...”
“[I]t was also the first time I was able to participate in discussions of race/cultural backgrounds and margin/center ideas. It was a really respectful and open environment, so all of the discussions felt safe.”
“[I]t was one of the first times I heard people talk about Eid, not from a religious light (although I haven't really heard that either) but before that I hadn't really heard people casually talking about Muslim holidays as much.”
“BTL is the best thing that's ever happened to me I would forever recommend it.”
2020 Session dateS & Anthologies:
Between the Lines: Identity and Belonging: June 20 – July 4, 2020
Read the session Anthology here >
Between the Lines: Peace and the Writing Experience: July 11 – July 25, 2020
Read the session Anthology here >