Written by Great Books on Tuesday, November 12, 2019
“Great Books taught me greater life lessons than I could have ever expected in a week. Being on a beautiful campus and taking the enriching literature classes there gave me a taste of what’s waiting after high school.” – Evelyn from PA
Evelyn from Pennsylvania shares her first experience at Great Books this past summer, attending our Writer’s Workshop. The high school junior attended this program for burgeoning writers to hone their literary craft with students from around the world .
1. What campus did you attend?
I went to the Amherst campus, which I found to be such a beautiful setting, and honestly the perfect place for writing.
2. What was your favorite part of Great Books?
If I had to pick something, it would be staying up late writing poems. This was when I would pour everything into a piece, look at it the next day, and say, “Hey, I did that!” It was really nice to feel proud of myself and to have something physical to point to for the work that I did.
"I also learned when you are in an environment that brings you joy, doing things you actually care about, it’s energizing."
3. What life lessons did you take away from attending Great Books Summer Program?
Great Books taught me greater life lessons than I could have ever expected in a week. Being on a beautiful campus and taking the enriching literature classes there gave me a taste of what’s waiting after high school…. After Great Books, I feel like I can actually see it, like I deserve it, and that I have the tools to achieve it. That’s more than I could have ever asked for.
I also learned when you are in an environment that brings you joy, doing things you actually care about, it’s energizing. For a while, I thought that I had lost my ability to put experiences and emotions into words... During my week at Amherst, I felt the wheels turning once again. For one of the first times in a long time, I felt inspired. I produced work that reflected me and that I could be proud of.
4. What skills did you learn at Great Books?
I learned how to use time to my advantage. Usually I think of being productive as doing work for school, after which I’m so brain dead I can only take a nap or watch TV. At Great Books, I was using my time to read and write, or have conversations with new people, which was productive in a much more profound way. It wasn’t busy work. I was working on myself.
I learned how to wake up early, and that it’s actually good for me! The truth is, I have a strange phobia of getting up early. However, having to set my alarm at 7:20 (early for me) and actually do something with my day felt really good. At the end of the day, I felt accomplished and ready for the next. After camp, I’m still waking up earlier!
5. What surprised you about Great Books?
When I first heard about a workshop on writing, I was terrified to get my work torn apart by my peers. However, this ended up being one of the best experiences for me. I was so surprised by the amount of praise that it had me blushing… Everyone was incredibly kind and constructive to whomever was sharing. Also, the food was surprisingly good.
"At Great Books, I was using my time to read and write, or have conversations with new people, which was productive in a much more profound way."
6. What elective did you take part in and what did you take away from it?
I took the Southern Gothic literature elective. Going into it, I was vaguely familiar with the genre, but I didn’t know enough to actually define it. It’s strange, absurd, and hard to define. The stories create the feeling of something creeping down your spine, they leave a bad taste in your mouth, and even though you know something isn’t quite right, they still manage to hit you with the twists and turns. I think that’s such an impressive thing to be able to do to a reader. I realized that it’s a niche I’m quite fascinated by, and I walked away with a greater appreciation for the genre.
7. What advice would you give to perspective Great Books students looking at the Writer's Workshop program?
Go in without expectations and, as cliche as it sounds, keep an open mind. I often write narratives for experiences before they’ve actually happened. Maybe that’s because I’m a writer, but it tends to cloud the actual experience. I had no idea what to expect. And I’m glad I didn’t apply a negative or positive lense to Great Books before getting there because it allowed me to decide what I thought; not what the people around me thought, not what I decided would happen based on past experience or universal karma.
Give yourself time. Once I was in this new environment, the worries started to swarm: What if I don’t make any friends? What if I’m the worst writer? But the truth is that it takes time to get adjusted to anything new or different. After a few days, it felt like I’d been there forever.
One of the most important steps for me, was accepting my writing and my writing process. Seeing how other people wrote and how quickly they wrote it got in my head, so I had to be okay with the fact that it might take my brain a little longer to process, work, and create something I can find meaning in. Once I acknowledged this, I was able to get a lot more done because I was past that block and I was writing honestly. It was like giving myself permission to grow.
"One of the most important steps for me, was accepting my writing and my writing process... Once I acknowledged this, I was able to get a lot more done because I was past that block and I was writing honestly. It was like giving myself permission to grow."
8. What are some of your favorite Great Books’ memories?
I have so many great memories from Great Books. I loved connecting with people, whether it was a night activity or a trip to town. We all hung out in one of our rooms, chatting and laughing before lights out. It was one of the first times that we, as a group of kids tossed together, sat down and really connected.
I also enjoyed visiting Emily Dickinson’s grave with my poetry class. On the walk there, it was nice to just talk and get to know each other even more. Then, at the actual site, we were able to see how the world remembers and respects Emily Dickinson as both a writer and a person.
9. What is your favorite book, and why?
One of my very favorite books is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read it for the first time when my sixth grade English teacher gave it to me, and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s a story of sadness and hope as a teenager, one that never fails to make me cry while simultaneously bringing me comfort. It’s one of those books that has the ability to make you feel seen and heard. It holds a very special place in my heart.
10. Is there anything else you want to share?
I want to thank everyone who was a part of Great Books this year for making the experience so special. While I can’t promise that everyone will get out of this program exactly what I did, if you’re considering it, I urge you to give Great Books a try, and give yourself a try.