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Structure and technique take center stage in creative writing courses

Penelope Griffioen ’23 is one of Elizabeth Wagenshutz’s standout writers at University Liggett School. Among other accomplishments, Griffioen has had her work included in every issue of The Lambrequin since she began her studies at ULS as a ninth grader. As part of her creative writing course work, she submitted two pieces to DePaul University’s inaugural Blue Book: Best American High School Writing 2022. “Only Hens” was selected for publication in the prestigious anthology, and a second piece, “Highway,” was a finalist for publication.

Griffioen, who draws inspiration for her work from nature, will soon have the opportunity to further enhance her connection to the natural world at the Isle Royale Teen Artist Exploration, a summer program that allows aspiring artists to hone their skills while experiencing the Northern Michigan wilderness.

Wherever Griffioen’s writing takes her in the future, she is grateful for her time spent in the creative writing program at ULS. She credits Wagenschutz, an Upper School English teacher, with helping her become a stronger writer and encouraging her to find opportunities to share her work.

At ULS, creative writing courses focus on the structure and techniques of writing — not the topic.

“That’s left up to the student, and the things they come up with are just amazing and absolutely phenomenal,” Wagenschutz said, “I adore getting glimpses into their brains and helping them find their own voices to put those thoughts, ideas, and experiences on paper in a crafted and artistic way.”

Creative writing is currently a semester-long course for 11th and 12th graders. However, the vastness of the literary world meant that there has often been much more curriculum than one semester could explore. Next year, the course will be separated into two different semesters: one focused on prose and one focused on poetry. The expansion of the course gives students even more opportunity to explore and discover the structures, techniques, and topics they’re passionate about.

This is Wagenschutz’s eighth year as the creative writing teacher at ULS and she has been the faculty moderator for ULS’ art and literary magazine, The Lambrequin, since 2015. Student writing from within the creative writing program supplies content for The Lambrequin.

“In addition to creating a body of work for the literary magazine to pick from, students in creative writing must actively submit specific pieces for themed issues as well as submit three or more pieces for outside publications,” Wagenschutz explained.