When J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were in college at Oxford in the 1930s, they belonged to a writing group called the Inklings. A group of local teens have borrowed the name for their own writing and critique group, which meets at the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock.
“There are so many good young writers around here,” said Phoenicia resident Jack Warren, who started the group with his friend Dante Kanter of Woodstock. “We wanted to utilize each other’s talents, give us a reason to keep writing and a way to start writing better.”
The two had belonged to a more informal teen writing group in 2012-14. “We shared stuff we’d written,” explained Warren. “It wasn’t a critiquing but a writing support group, to foster each other’s writing passions. Then half of us went to college and the rest of us didn’t.”
After awhile, the boys began to miss the group and decided to start over. They approached Jackie Kellachan of the Golden Notebook, where Warren has worked part-time for several years. She agreed to sponsor the group, and they put out a call for members, who were invited to submit a few pages of sample work. “It was just to make sure they were interested, rather than us actually judging them on their writing,” said Warren. “We got all different ages and writing types. We took everyone who wanted in. Even if someone’s writing is less developed, they should still belong in the group — but they were all darn good.”
The twelve group members have been meeting since November, divided into two groups of six. Each group meets once every two weeks, with Kanter and Warren attending all the meetings.
Kanter, 16, has attended the University of Iowa’s Young Writers Studio and the New England Young Writers’ Conference at Bread Loaf in Vermont. He is the son of Woodstock artists Heather Hutchison and Mark Thomas Kanter. Warren, who just turned 18, has been published in Onteora High School’s literary magazine, Esopus Supose, and the youth-written Woodstock magazine Good Life Journal. Both have written for the Woodstock Day School’s journal, the Battering Ram, for which Kanter is the managing editor, and they have contributed to special sections for the Ulster Publishing newspapers.
To structure the meetings of the Inklings, Kanter drew on his experience in writing workshops, while Warren quizzed his parents, writers Holly George-Warren and Robert Burke Warren, on their participation in writers’ groups. Usually two or three Inklings bring in a piece each week to read aloud to the group. If no one has anything to offer, they do writing exercises, help each other set goals, and talk about writing.
Those who have read their work aloud receive a focused critique from the group. “We critique in three parts,” said Kanter. “We tell them the things we like, the things we might change, and general observations. We ask the author questions, but otherwise the author is not allowed to speak during the critique.”
“It’s been great,” said Warren. “I brought in a couple of short stories, and all the feedback was really constructive. It’s also satisfying to hear someone else and be able to contribute and say what you think about it in a constructive way. We’re getting to know our friends as writers as well as people.”
“It’s good to have a space where we’re able to talk about writing,” added Kanter. “It keeps me thinking about writing, being steeped in that environment. And I’m inspired to see others work — people who are maybe working harder than me.”
“We have some 12- and 13-year-olds who bring in stellar work, week after week,” agreed Warren. “We have so much work to do!”
Warren would like to write as a career, either in film or in prose, or possibly as a journalist. He’ll be majoring in creative writing and film this fall at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Kanter isn’t sure what he wants to do professionally, but he remarked, “The ideal would be to write for a magazine, in my spare time work on the great American novel, and in the twilight of my years, release that novel to great acclaim.”
Warren laughed. “Even if we don’t write the great American novel, at least one of the twelve might, and then we can take partial credit: ‘I knew them way back when!’”
Who knows? It worked for Tolkien and Lewis.
There are two slots currently available for new members at each of the two bi-weekly Inklings meetings. To inquire about membership, contact Jackie Kellachan at email@example.com.