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Writers at Harriman 2018

Friends of Idaho State Parks (dba Writers at Harriman)

The 2018 Writers at Harriman camp took place from July 29 through August 4 at 11,000-acre Harriman State Park, just outside of Island Park, Idaho. Through workshops, conferencing, and hands-on activities, students engage in writing for personal growth and to understand the creative process. They have opportunities for peer review and public performance. Their work is published in the anthology Henry’s Fork Journal.

Our core teaching writers for the camp were Chris Dempsey, Malia Collins, Nicole LaFavour, and Megan Levad. Jessica Holmes taught storytelling. Kara and Daniel Hidalgo offered optional art classes, and Allen Dale was our camp naturalist. Camp proctors were Heidi Hughes, Tristan Arnold, and Hailey Akkerman. The camp director was Rick Just.

We had 36 students from Arco, Blackfoot, Boise, Caldwell, Coeur d’Alene, Eagle, Idaho Falls, Kooskia, Kuna, Lava Hot Springs, Lewiston, McCammon, Meridian, Nampa, Pocatello, Rexburg, Stites, and Teton. None of the students were from out of state this year. We had immigrant students from Viet Nam, Russia, and India. We had eight boys this year. Four of them were trans men, two returning this year after attending camp last year with female identities.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

What makes writing worth reading, and why should we do it?

(CR 1) The program maximizes opportunities for students to focus on imaginative writing in a community with other writers, peers, and professionals. It utilizes the natural setting of Harriman State Park to provide a relaxed, yet focused, atmosphere for camp activities, encouraging students to observe and experience new outdoor activities and Idaho’s natural resources and wildlife.

(CR 2) Our teaching writers begin where the students are. Student writing will:

  1. Show effective organization, including varied sentence structure.
  2. Exhibit good word choice and some experimenting with language and tone.
  3. Include a personal voice and evidence of taking risks with style and structure.

(CR 3) Each student completes at least one finished work to perform at the public reading and publish in the anthology.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:


“I learned how to correctly revise my writing and really look at it objectively.”—Lee K.

“I learned to make friends, to love unconditionally, to write better, and to really smile again.”—Felix L.

“I learned a lot about using writing as a way to translate thoughts and feelings. I learned to see the world in new ways”—Mackenzie C.

“I find myself growing with each try, and each fail, which I guess makes it so it is no longer a fail, because I learn from them.”—Montana M.

“I learned that being observant is a skill that I need to broaden. I loved being able to enjoy a week without a ton of distractions.”—Aryanna W.


“It’s ok to get personal when writing”—Ben Dyer

“I think my favorite thing was learning how to use my values direct my writing.”—Addy K.

“I learned that one word of dialogue can be an explanation.”—Leah M.

“I learned how to write with images rather than summary, and how stressed and unstressed syllables and vowel sounds affect writing and poetry.”—Isabelle E.

“I learned techniques to use in stories and poetry, but more importantly, how to improve my own style.”—Haddiya T.

“I learned how to write a story from beginning to end, and the best way to improve an already written piece.”—Ellie C.




All students completed a piece for performance on Friday evening and at least one piece that was published in Henrys Fork Journal.


Beyond what they learn about writing, for me it is always about the students finding their tribe. They are often a little shy and seldom a member of the cool cliques at school. At camp they meet others who think writing is a great way to express themselves.

This year we had four trans students. All of them had negative experiences at school or at home because of that. At Harriman, they were quickly accepted by their fellow campers and, of course, the staff. They wrote about their experiences and read those writings in public. You could see on their faces how liberating it was.

One of my favorite moments was when Montana M., a ranch girl in every way, got up during Story, Story Night to do a standup routine about the birth of a calf and how the momma cow climbed into the cab of the pickup after Montana because the cow thought her calf was being murdered. “That’s why we eat them,” she said.

Loi H., who was from Vietnam, didn’t think he could write in this new language. He was such an enthusiastic learner, chasing every bird and bat and butterfly, that he became a camp favorite. In his Story, Story Night performance he told us just how uncomfortable it was to serve as the translator in the doctor’s office when his mother found out she was pregnant. At the end of camp, he wanted to write more poetry, because now he knew he could.


We did a better job this year of integrating natural resources interpretation with the camp this year and plan to make it a part of every teaching writer’s curriculum next year, with entomologist and ornithologist Allen Dale serving as our camp naturalist. Many students got to see a moose and calf this year, and all of them were able to get surprisingly close to a pair of trumpeters and three cygnets.


For the first time we recorded their Story, Story Night session as well as their Friday night readings. The former will be used in a Story, Story Night podcast. We poste some audio performance and photos of the students to the website this year. I hope to encourage future students by letting them listen to and read the work of the 2018 campers.


We were able to utilize Salt Lake Express for several students this year. Transportation is always an issue because Harriman is so remote. We do try to organize carpooling, but the shuttle service is a nice alternative.


We’ve been trying to discourage swimming in the river the past couple of years, even though the water is shallow and slow moving. Park management isn’t wild about kids making noise in the river. People come from all over the world, spending as much as $1500 a day for the privilege of fishing there. So, we had a park ranger tell the kids about the leeches in the water. That worked better than any formal prohibition.