LAFAYETTE — High school students in Lafayette Parish will have a chance to polish their voices as storytellers in a new program created by the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the center announced Thursday.
The Ernest J. Gaines Young Writer Apprentice Program will be open to any public, parochial, alternative program or home-schooled student in ninth through 12th grades in Lafayette Parish and students will have the chance to learn from professional writers and present their final work to Gaines.
“Our objective is not to pick the 10 best stories, but the voices that seem to be authentic,” Gaines center board member Darrell Bourque said during a news conference at the Lafayette Parish School Board office. “We’re looking for the voice of a genuine storyteller.”
The five-session program will be held on Saturdays starting in mid-February at the Gaines Center. Students will learn from professional writers from the university’s creative writing faculty; Professors Emertius Marcia Gaudet and Bourque; and writers from the center’s board, Jean O’Rourke and Jim Lambert.
The goal of the program is multi-fold: to connect young writers to Gaines’ work and the university while also “validating their voice” in the community, Bourque said.
“To a large extent, lots of young people don’t believe in their voice and they don’t know they have a voice,” Bourque said. “This is a place where they understand their voice is important. If we can strengthen a voice in any part of the community, it makes us stronger as a community.”
The center also views the program as a stepping stone to the ongoing development of the young writers’ talent, Bourque said.
Students who complete the program will receive a certificate as an Ernest J. Gaines Young Writer Apprentice, which they may use for college applications and other professional development, Bourque said.
Students will explore the fiction genre as part of the program and learn through exercises using traditional storytelling, memoir and tall tales, which will start the program.
“You learn to tell a really good story by being a really good liar,” Bourque said.
Lafayette Parish school system officials welcomed the program.
“A highly specialized experience like this, with the kind of writers they’ll be working with can be transformational,” said Randy Bernard, an English language arts academic specialist for the school district.
The program is open to all high school students, said Kelly Gonzalez, an English language arts academic specialist in the district.
“As a classroom teacher, I have seen writing change lives of students. I’d like to see a variety of students take advantage of this program,” Gonzalez said.
Other parishes have expressed interest in the program, Bourque said, but Gaines said the center’s board opted to test it out in one parish before an expansion.
About 12 to 15 young writers will be selected by a panel of professional writers chosen by the center’s board and the students will be notified by Jan. 21.
There is no fee for the program, a standing mandate from Gaines, Bourque said.
“It’s his way of paying the university back,” Bourque said.