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Youth writers group provides community and inspiration

AMENIA/PINE PLAINS — The warm-up writing session at Mid-Hudson Youth Writers group began with the prompt, “Why is your novel taking so long to write?”, to which one member replied, “because people keep bringing me snacks. This is in my imagined, ideal world, that is.”

Founded and run by Abbey Gallagher, teen and adult program coordinator at Reed Memorial Library in Carmel, Mid-Hudson Youth Writers is an after-hours, voluntary writing group comprised of middle- and high-schoolers mostly local to the Pine Plains area. During meetings, participants receive writing prompts, workshop their writing, talk about books, and generally explore the craft of creative writing.

As for what kind of writing is encouraged in the group, Gallagher, speaking before the Friday, Jan. 27, meeting, had this to say: “I always tell them, you can write to this prompt I’m providing you, or you can write whatever you want! The weirder, the better.”

Gallagher started the group in fall of 2019 as a way to remain connected to the local community after changing jobs. Then after around six in-person meetings, COVID-19 came to town, and the group shifted online for over two years. Once that happened, and much to Gallagher’s surprise, students joined in from all over the country.

“All of a sudden the group grew… We gained kids from Texas, California, New York — and we still have a regular student from Canada.”

“But you could just tell, there was such a change in energy in the kids [as a result of the pandemic]. Not that any of them were going to talk about it, but you could tell they were absolutely terrified. Just inside the uncertainty and the limbo of what was going on in the world.”

At that point, Gallagher’s job had moved online, so they made the decision to provide three additional opportunities a week for members of the writing group to show up to a Zoom room, free write, talk and find community during an uncertain time.

Now that the group is back in-person at the Pine Plains Free Library, the benefit of Gallagher’s commitment and support during a prolonged period of difficulty were on full display.

As the group gathered around the library table, talking, sharing stories and doodling on doodle-safe surfaces, a palpable atmosphere of support, community and familiarity filled the space. One moment, the students would be joking about space whales and a love of science fiction, and the next, providing clear, detailed and growth-oriented advice on how to overcome writer’s block or write a realistic character.

And while it was evident that this environment stemmed from Gallagher and the thoughtfulness with which they approach leading a workshop, Gallagher drew attention to the students themselves and the active role the students play in encouraging newer participants.

“Everyone is welcome. And what I think is really special about our group is that anytime we’ve gotten a new member, our current members are so welcoming, and so kind and so generous. … They also just love to write, so on my end I’m like, ‘Okay, I will deliver!’”

And indeed, some of those current members have been participating in Gallagher’s writing workshop from its very beginning three years ago. Over that time, Gallagher has had the rare opportunity to watch up-close the growth those students have experienced.

“I’ve watched them grow up through high school now! To just have the time, this long, with so many of them, that you get really see them blossom is so special. It feels like one good thing from the universe, that we all found each other.”

Mid-Hudson Youth Writers is open to upper middle-school students and high-schoolers, both in-person and remotely. The group meets at the Pine Plains Free Library on Fridays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Contact Abbey Gallagher at agallagher502@gmail.com for more information.

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