Julia Edwards believes a child doesn’t need to be able to write (or read) to be a great storyteller. We tend to agree as memories of our junior Hometown Pasadena associate replay through our heads—many an evening was spent watching act after act of endless (until bedtime) improvisational plays with a cast of characters channeled through a 6-year-old girl, complete with dance and musical numbers.
Pasadena StoryLab is a creative writing center geared towards unleashing young storytellers. Edwards was kind enough to answer some questions…
HP: Have you been writing since you were a young girl? If yes, can you verbalize what drew you to writing. If not, when did writing become an interest?
JE: I remember writing—always. My parents saved some hilarious (horribly spelled) stories written in my shaky hand. I also used to borrow my parents’ typewriter and clack out umpteen chapter titles to epics I never finished. I wrote plays, performed them in our house, and made my family pay money to see them. Since the beginning, I have had the desire to create worlds and share them. Ironically, I have never journaled. I need an audience; because for me, writing is a conversation.
HP: The flyer mentions that you are a playwright and teacher. What plays have you written, is there any particular genre to which you are drawn, have your plays been produced, and are you working on something currently? Where have you taught and for what age?
JE: Most of my plays are for big people—as in adults not giants. My plays have been workshopped or produced at The Public (NYC), South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa), and Chalk Repertory (LA), among others. The production of my play FAMILY PLANNING was done site-specifically in residential houses in the LA-area and won the LA Ovation Award for Best Production in a Small Theatre. My play for teen audiences, LOCKDOWN, was written for the children’s acting program at South Coast Repertory where it premiered and has since been performed at high schools around the country.
My writing always begins with an intense feeling. I am currently writing a play for elementary age kids called SCAREVILLE that bears witness to the way fear can paralyze us. My plays usually have a dash of magical whimsy as well. This play is populated by a 6-foot black widow, a discontented zombie, and a guru named Dr. Fear who does soft shoe to a number called “Amygdala” and has a debilitating fear of his own mother. In the climax of SCAREVILLE, the characters are liberated by their overwhelming fear and anxiety when they learn about how these sensations are actually manufactured in our brains and bodies.
I always appreciate a blend of drama and comedy. I think we learn the most when we are also able to laugh at ourselves. And I am also fond of ending my plays with questions, not answers. I don’t like to tie everything up with a neat bow. I want to activate the audience. They can go home and argue about what happens the next day in the characters’ lives. That’s the conversation I’m interested in.
As for teaching, my father was a mathematics professor and I guess that’s why I’ve always been drawn to teaching. When I was a kid I would invite my friends over to play school and even give them homework! I have taught kids over the years from nursery school through undergrad. I did a brief stint post-undergrad teaching at the Texas School for the Deaf. Otherwise, I have taught and tutored writing at UC-San Diego, Orange Coast College, 826LA, Kaiser Permenante’s MPOWR Summer Arts Program, among other institutions. I am currently teaching writing workshops at Cottage Co-op Nursery School and an enrichment class at Sequoyah School. Also at Sequoyah, I started publication of Talon Tales, a literary journal which in its third year represents every student at the school in its 260 pages. I am a big proponent in publishing children’s writing. It doesn’t need to be a fancy book, of course, but “published” works of any variety build confidence and excitement for these young writers and helps them grow their very own literary community.
HP: It’s interesting that your workshops are geared toward children ages 4 to 7. Very young. Would you explain why you’ve chosen to teach such young kids, many of whom are still in the process of learning their ABCs at that age. What draws you, interests you, excites you about your approach? What are your goals?
JE: I taught English 101 essay writing classes with undergrads who had trouble writing coherent sentences. I worked with middle school and high school students who were embarrassed to write because their spelling or writing skills couldn’t keep up with their thoughts. During these experiences, I kept thinking: wouldn’t it be great to start working with these kids at the beginning of their journey as writers, not when they’ve given up in frustration.
Every age has its wonders in terms of teaching but I am particularly drawn to the very young because everything is opening up to them in such a kinetic way. After doing an alphabet scavenger hunt one day at Cottage Co-op Nursery School, one parent reported that her son wrote his name in the sand for the very first time. It feels like an honor to witness such monumental transitions in these kids’ lives.
I believe these early years are the best time to lay a solid foundation for a child’s future as a lifelong writer—even for those kids who claim they don’t want to BE a writer when they grow up. The fact is you can’t avoid writing in our always-wired world. Whether you are writing emails to friends or a report at your job, the more comfortable you are with words, the better you can express your ideas and relay your unique voice. On the first day of my Writers Workshop at Cottage Co-op, only a few hands went up when I asked, “Who is a writer?” Now when I ask, almost every hand pops up. There are lots of tricks to the trade that make writing easier but I believe that the most essential step in becoming an accomplished writer is believing that you are a writer.
I started Pasadena StoryLab this year with the goal of empowering children, young and old, to believe they are writers. My goal with each class is to spread an infectious excitement about writing as well as lay that important foundation of how to live and work as a writer. One day, I hope to have a brick and mortar creative writing center where we can offer writing classes to all ages, do workshops in schools, and promote family literacy.
Julia Edwards is a playwright, teacher, and parent. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University and a Masters of Fine Art from U.C. San Diego. While she enjoys experimenting with punctuation in her spare time, her most favorite thing to do is write crazy stuff with kids.
Pasadena StoryLab, Creative Writing Center
Six-week classes, April 19th-May 31st
Society of Young Storytellers – Intro to Storytelling
Children 4-5 years of age share oral stories, “draw and label wild adventures, and lay the groundwork for a developmentally appropriate Writers’ Workshop.” “We will play with stories.” The session concludes with the students “sharing their creations in an author celebration.”
Saturdays, 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Class size limited to 5-10 students
Adventure Time – Adventure Story Workshop
For children 6-7 years of age, each class begins with a mini-lesson about the craft of writing and continues into a developmentally appropriate Writers’ Workshop during which students will create an extended work. Session concludes with students sharing their stories in an author celebration.
Saturdays, 1-2:30 p.m.
Class size limited to 5-10 students
Location for both workshops: Edwards’ home near Eaton Canyon in Altadena, two doors down from bridge entrance of the Eaton Canyon hike, “perfect for a jaunt in nature before or after class.” Parents are welcome to drop off students or relax in Edwards’ yard during class.
For more info, please email Julia Edwards at email@example.com.