~ By Yamille Moss, communications student assistant | Photo: Isabella De La Torre, by Jefferson Beavers
When Isabella De La Torre attended the 2018 Young Writers’ Conference as a 10th grader at Clovis West High School, the experience convinced her to enroll at Fresno State.
For high school students like De La Torre, the English Department’s biggest annual event marks a series of firsts: the first time stepping onto a college campus, the first time attending a writing conference and for some, the first time seeing their writing published.
This kind of opportunity to explore and develop their creativity — and to see Master of Fine Arts graduate students practicing their craft while in the community — can be incredibly impactful, as it was for De La Torre in deciding to pursue higher education.
“Although I initially entered Fresno State as a science major, I made the change to English because that is what I am truly passionate about,” she said. “I realized that being an English major provided plenty of opportunities to be creative. I also got to meet some MFA students at my workshop, and I got interested.”
Founded in 1980, the Young Writers’ Conference brings together hundreds of area high school students and their teachers to celebrate creative writing. This year’s 43rd annual conference is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, at the Satellite Student Union. The morning starts with an awards ceremony and keynote address by alumni author Ethan Chatagnier, followed by afternoon writing workshops for registered participants.
One of the highlights of the day is the awards ceremony, where participants receive their prizes after finding out if their works were selected for publication in the annual conference journal, Spectrum.
As one of 25 students in the English 166 Literary Editing and Publishing course, which is taught by the conference’s coordinator, Prof. Tanya Nichols, De La Torre served as part of this year’s editorial board for Spectrum. The students are undergraduate English majors, with most pursuing their bachelor’s degrees in creative writing.
Nichols said students like De La Torre, who is now a junior at the university, are evidence of the success of a creative writing conference designed specifically for high school students.
“They become Fresno State students,” Nichols said. “They are leading creative writing workshops, being good literary citizens, and showing the next generation of writers what is possible.”
De La Torre said being a member of the editorial board has been an amazing experience. She and her peers have gained valuable experience in publishing and editing that only some get to have.
“I especially loved reading all the pieces from the high school students,” she said. “They were all very creative!”
Caroline Ferdinandsen, who was De La Torre’s teacher in 10th grade at Clovis West High School, remembered her former student as “a lovely young lady of character and a bright talent as a writer and thinker.” De La Torre published one of her earliest poems in Clovis West’s literary and fine arts magazine, Torch.
“Isabella was one of those lovely souls who felt that words matter,” Ferdinandsen said. “Even as a tenth grader, she was perceptive about the power of great writing.”
Ferdinandsen, a published novelist who also teaches community workshops to young writers, said 10th grade is seen by some as “a stopover between silliness and seriousness.” But, she has found that students like De La Torre start to really find their voice around age 16.
“I especially appreciate what Fresno State’s Young Writers’ Conference offers our Valley’s young voices,” she said.
Finding an initial writing spark from a high school mentor like Ferdinandsen can inspire a young writer to attend the conference. From there, the inspiration gets bigger once on campus for students like De La Torre.
“Mrs. Ferdinandsen was my honors English teacher,” De La Torre said. “Not only was she a great teacher, she was a great mentor to me and always encouraged me whenever I wrote for her class. She is also a published author, so I was very inspired when I attended her book signing. I still have the signed book today.”
One of De La Torre’s peers on this year’s editorial board is Martin Mijares, a junior at Fresno State. He previously attended the Young Writers’ Conference as a Dos Palos High School student, winning awards and getting published in Spectrum in both 2018 as a 10th grader and in 2020 as a 12th grader.
Mijares expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve on this year’s editorial board. He said he was previously unaware of what the publication process was like. He felt it was “terrifying and a lot of pressure” to make final selections from the hundreds of submissions.
Both Mijares and De La Torre are excited to co-lead workshops this year alongside Fresno State’s MFA students.
For De La Torre, her conference experiences not only helped her find her voice and her school, but also taught her about the realities of the publishing process and led to the discovery of a new passion for copyediting. She hopes to hold future positions in the publishing industry.
“This conference feels like the best one yet,” De La Torre said. “We have a great keynote speaker, and a lot of schools from across the Valley are coming. The entries were mind-blowing, and I can’t wait to see the students get their awards.”
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