The first year Topeka West High School senior Danielle Carter attended the school's author-in-residence writer's workshop she didn't have a ton of confidence in her writing.
But being accepted into the workshop gave a confidence boost and the program ended up helping her improve her writing skills, which was one of her goals going in.
Now, Carter is about to participate in the workshop for her fourth and final year.
Topeka West's author-in-residence workshop, which takes place Nov. 17 and 18, has welcomed its students for the past 36 years to spend a day and a half working with a writer who can offer their expertise and knowledge into the world of writing.
The workshop's goal, started by former Topeka West librarian Michael Printz, is to give Topeka West students a chance to grow their writing skills, learn what real life as a writer is like and to find a community of writers they can connect with at school.
"I want writers to know that there are other people here," Jessica Karns, Topeka West's library and media specialist, said. "It's a big school and I don't know if you all know each other. Band people get together every day and choir people get together, but writers need to get together, too, and this is a chance to have good food and good conversation and smart people in a comfortable place, and that's critical."
This year's featured author will be Kevin Rabas, Emporia State University's department chair of English, Modern Language and Journalism. Rabas also served as Poet Laureate of Kansas from 2017-2019.
Karns said there will be 25 students participating in this year's workshop.
Rabas said during the workshop, he will talk to students about how to add a musical element to poetry and will have them do exercises on blues and blues poetry.
"I will also talk about my combination of jazz and poetry, and play some jazz while I'm reading my own poems," Rabas said. "We will talk about the mix of different art, so combining visual art and poetry, combing music and poetry, combining poetry and a number of things."
Combining music and poetry is not new, Rabas said. In fact, the combination of the two can be found as far back as ancient Greek poets who played lyres while reciting poems.
Rabas said bringing music back to poetry is "kind of natural."
Carter said she is excited to get better at poetry since it is her weak spot.
"My first year when we did have a poet, he also taught us that we don't need to just rhyme because that was always my problem," Carter said.
For Elaina Wright, a junior at Topeka West and a third-year workshop participant, she enjoys poetry and is ready to learn from Rabas.
In past years, Carter said a typical workshop included listening or reading a poet, dissecting it and finding out what it's about and any hidden messages it may hold.
"We also will try to write our own, and try to make our own little spinoffs off our own poems and we will go around the room and talk about each other's poems and read them," Carter said. "We've also had character studies to where we will write about a character, make a back story and then we will walk around the room pretending to be that character, and meet other characters. We also do like how to write properly, word stress and kind of like tempo and how you want to make the characters feel within a story, or how to you want to portray it without even using words but also using the five senses as well. We've also talked about how to make a reader feel almost exactly like a character by using key words."
Wright, who likes to write poems and short stories, said even though she doesn't write as much anymore, she still enjoys going to the workshop to learn new skills.
Wright said over the years the workshop has taught her ways to come up with new strategies and story ideas.
The workshop also offers students an outlet for writing since Topeka West doesn't have a defined club for writing, according to Wright and Carter.
Akoya Peters, a junior at Topeka West, has been writing since the seventh grade.
"It's always been a good escape," Peters said.
The workshop has been helpful to Peters in allowing her to expand her word choice when writing and has taught her to be more open when writing, she said.
"I used to write pretty stuff all the time, but now I'm more honest with what I write," Peters said. "I'm not really scared if it's too deep."
Rabas' advice to students who are in the workshop or thinking about pursuing writing is to find poems that you enjoy, and to read and study them.
"Find a group of like-minded people if you can, people who appreciate reading and writing, and hang out with them," Rabas said. "Spend some time writing each day if you can, whether that's in a diary or journal, or whether that's some poems or part of a story, but make it a part of your practice to read and write each day and to enjoy that process. It shouldn't be drudgery, it should be fun."
Rabas said he hopes the students at the workshop leave inspired to start working on new stories or poems.
"These young people are the future, and so it is my great joy and pleasure to help inspire them and to give them some skills they can develop and become the strongest writers they can be," Rabas said.