Review: Literary Festival Hosts Speakers For Workshop Event

March 1, 2022

This year’s LitFest brought a slate of speakers to the school to present their writing know-how on Friday, Feb. 25.

During each student’s English class period, speakers covered various literary subjects, from music to journalism to poetry. Each session brought something unique to the table. Below, see how Bagpipe staffers weighed in on the techniques they felt were most effective and the impact of each speaker’s advice.

Sue Batterton Presents Poetry In New Light

Speaker incorporates advertising and poetry

Waking up in a cold sweat with drool oozing on my English textbook was my last core memory with poetry. 

Poetry was never a unit I felt interested in. I found it so hard to engage with the textbooks that outline archetypes, similes, metaphors, imagery and so on. It felt like a list. As someone who’s a visual learner, the 500 page textbook filled with poems from the 18th century did not fulfill me to say the least.

That being said, you could imagine how I was feeling going into this presentation. 

However, Sue Batterton and her presentation on Poetry’s Involvement in Advertising revitalized poetry in approximately 45 minutes. It captivated my attention the entire time.

Batterton is impressive to say the least. She’s written for clients like Chick-Fil-A, Ulta, Ram and Chrysler. 

It became evident that she was well-educated and she became aware of what kind of audience she was speaking to very quickly. 

 The presentation’s main idea explored poetry outside of the outdated English textbooks and how it is specifically found in advertisements. The presentation focused on how advertisers use poetry to create and elevate the brand’s character and image for consumers.

I learned that most advertisements incorporate poetry whether you’re aware of it or not. We watched different types of commercials, including ones from Nike and Honda.

Nike used powerful and strong words accompanied by images of people exercising in black and white to intensify their image of being a strong and tough brand.

It made me think about how brands use psychological manipulation to sway their audience into purchasing their products. 

Batterton’s choice of using Nike and Honda as examples proves she knew how to speak to an audience of teenagers. Batterton specifically chose Nike because she knew her audience buys clothing from the brand and chose a car company to highlight because her audience is at the age when they are beginning to drive. 

While the presentation served its purpose of introducing poetry in a non-traditional way for most students, I think it still lacked something for students or teachers who are already infatuated with poetry at a higher level. 

Another minor problem for me personally was that the presentation was online. Personally, I am a visual learner and cannot learn over a computer screen so if I had the opportunity, I would want to see this presentation in person.

I also think that if the presentation was in-person it could have been much more interactive and effective for the audience as it being online made it seem superficial.

However, Batterton made a presentation with what she had and was able to make it go as smoothly as possible for both her and the audience. Batterton was an overall excellent presenter who was precise in her words and made them easily digestible for everyone in the room regardless of grade level.

I think all of my peers should watch this presentation in order to understand more about the goods and services they purchase, how brands use people’s minds to their advantage and why we as consumers make certain decisions. 

Between her creative use of visuals and word choice, Batterton’s presentation left me with a deeper connection to poetry. 

Shilip Somaya Gowda Encourages Students To Think Creatively

Author brings heart to workshop

With captivating activities and inspiring discussion, author Shilip Somaya Gowda was successful in collaborating with students and getting them to surpass their writing limits during her presentation.

Gowda has written three books that have sold over two million copies worldwide and holds an MBA from Stanford University as well as an Economics degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

At the beginning of her presentation, Gowda started off with an exercise. 

She asked students what they first think of when they think of a beach on a summer day. Students gave answers like hot, sunny, waves and vacation. Gowda then asked the students questions like ‘what colors?’ and ‘what’s in the sky?’ to help students think of more ideas that could go on a white board. 

After coming up with enough phrases to fill the board, Gowda then instructed students to take out a piece of paper and a writing utensil to write a poem or paragraph about a beach on a summer day without using the words listed on the board.

I was intrigued by this because it made me think about ways to capture a beach on a summer day in a way I had ever practiced before. 

Students were given ten minutes to write and at the end of the ten minutes, they shared their written pieces with the class. 

I noticed how encouraging Gowda was and how obvious it was that she wanted students to be able to better understand how they can improve. This made me smile. 

After students shared their written pieces, Gowda shared hers and commented about how everyone will have a different angle. 

When this was over, Gowda introduced a second exercise. 

She instructed students to close their eyes and think about a strong emotion they have felt within the past week. Gowda mentioned that it could be the circumstances when that emotion was present, how it felt, the person they were communicating with when they felt that emotion and how it felt in their body. 

Once students thought of their emotion of choice, Gowda requested that the students write a manual for the human form of that emotion if they were to stay over at their house starting with ‘dear chosen emotion.’ She told them to think about how they would feel, what that emotion should and should not do and how they play their role in the student’s life.

After another ten minutes of writing, Gowda shared an anecdote about when she wrote her book “The Golden Son.” 

Originally, her book was told in the third person, but after receiving feedback, she decided to rewrite the whole book in first person so the reader could better feel the characters emotions while getting in touch with their own feelings as well. 

Gowda then asked her students to share their examples, which consisted of a variety of emotions.

Her example was about the emotion excitement and I laughed when she said that “you inevitably bring your little sister along, disappointment.”

At the end of her presentation, she asked if they had any questions and a few students asked about her career and how she started becoming a writer.

Overall, this workshop was very enjoyable and Gowda succeeded in engaging students in her exercises and guiding them to becoming great writers.

Sonia Gensler Adds New Meaning To Horror Films

Novelist delves into psychology of horror genre

I’ve always been a huge fan of horror films, so when I saw there would be a Lit Fest workshop focusing on exactly that I was ecstatic. 

The presentation was led by Sonia Gensler, an award-winning horror novelist and teacher of 10 years. She has written books such as “Ghostlight”, “The Dark Between” and “The Revenant”.

Before starting she made it a point to mention how visual learning would be frequent throughout the presentation. She went on to explain that when someone is watching a movie and it hurts you, then it is a truly good movie. It was already obvious Gensler was passionate about the subject. 

Gensler kept the students interested in what she was talking about because she asked questions that students would be willing to answer. On her Powerpoint, she showed flashes from different movie scenes. Students would then call out which movie they thought it was from. 

She quickly shifted to talking about the history of horror films through the discussion of fairy tales. I found this to be interesting as I had never thought about horror films through that lens. 

She explained she perceives horror films as having dark and scary narratives in order to show children the boundaries they have in their homes and when to know if they are in danger. She expanded on this by describing Hansel and Gretel and how the children were put in danger by their parents. 

Along with the history, she discussed the physical benefits of horror with a slides presentation on how it can activate the fight or flight mode and how watching horror films for 90 minutes can burn up to 113 calories. She also told the class that horror films can strangely alleviate depression. This concept was particularly intriguing to me. 

Gensler then talked about psychology and elaborated on the historical parts of horror films. She put them together to talk about how horror can and should be used to help understand things in life like war or racism.

Close to the end of her presentation, Gensler spoke about how horror movies can help viewers face their fears of certain things and create coping skills with emotions. 

Her last topic of the class was catharsis, the idea that a film can spark a poignant emotion.

For the last ten minutes of the class she asked students what their favorite horror movies or television shows are. If she had not seen the movie she asked for a summary to determine if she should watch the film. 

One student asked what her favorite horror film is. She responded that her favorite horror film made her step away from it. She doesn’t typically do that so that was a marker that it was exceptional. 

Time flew by when listening to Gensler speak about her passion and the magnetic way she interacted with the class was pure perfection. It was obvious students were satisfied with their choice of Lit Fest presentation this year.

David Schecter Engages Students With Crash Course In Reporting

WFAA reporter introduces students to journalistic writing

When I walked into the classroom, a confident speaker and a lively audience quickly caught my interest. 

It was David Schecter, a reporter for WFAA, leading an entertaining workshop class during LitFest which succeeded in explaining the basics of reporting to students. 

Schecter began by explaining how to structure a story as a reporter and asked the class for some ideas for a story thesis. 

The students asked questions and were engaged. He was that kind of speaker that the audience’s eyes would follow where he went. When he walked to the left, their eyes would go to the left, and when he walked to the right, their eyes walked to the right. You could tell the students were interested and they weren’t just staring at their desks, waiting for the class to be over.

Students also voluntarily spoke out without having Schecter awkwardly pull out answers from the students. They suggested current events in the community, in the school and in the world, like the situation in Ukraine. 

The class eventually chose “Ice on parking garage creates inconvenience at Highland Park” as their thesis to work with. Schecter took the opportunity to point out that the thesis should cover all the points of the story, and if it does not, it is okay to change it. 

 He then explained how you should expand on the original idea by talking about the conditions of the story, such as who was affected. In the class’s example, the ice impacted LitFest speakers and volunteers. He made sure to prevent students from making the mistake of going too broad, however, by instructing us to narrow the story so that it’s focused.

He emphasized that people should next write supporting paragraphs that relate to the thesis. As a helpful time-saving tip that came from personal experience, Schecter said for any type of writing, you should think through your paragraphs and plan where you want to go with the story.

Schecter also showed the class a few of his videos on the YouTube channel Verify Road Trip, where WFAA uploads to garner a larger audience. These videos show him actually on the road and reporting. It was cool to see videos of what reporting looks like in real life because “reporter” can be a vague term and some might not know what it actually entails. He also made being a reporter seem entertaining, which makes listening to him more exciting.

Schecter gave ideas of possible theses and supporting paragraphs for the videos, which I think elevated his presentation because it gave us a way to apply the skills he just taught us to more scenarios, other than the one the class just came up with. The videos also added a touch of his personality because he made them himself.

Schecter made the classroom a comfortable environment and his passion and energy lit up the room. The confidence and articulation in his tone made it more enjoyable for his audience.

He wasn’t timid when presenting to the class. He was just being himself, and it did not feel rehearsed like many presentations I’ve heard in the past.

After listening to Schecter’s workshop for a class period, I was not just reminded how to properly structure and organize writing, but was also entertained by him and his reporting videos. I’d love to see him return for next year’s LitFest workshops.

Kurt Voelker Reveals Secrets For Hollywood Hits

Screenwriter breaks down essence of successful scripts

Despite its virtual format, screenwriter Kurt Voelker gave a fantastic presentation to students on how to write a successful screenplay for LitFest.

Voelker started off the presentation talking about himself and his profession. As he spoke about the accomplishments of his career, his passionate persona intrigued me and the audience. He got his start when he was hired at CBS Films as an assistant. Here his passion for film grew, and now he is a professional screenwriter and producer who has worked with many famous companies including Paramount, MTV and even Disney. 

He continued by explaining the importance of taking writing classes if you were interested in a career as a writer. He also recommended writing internships, so students could receive real world experience. He stressed these two things to show students that practice is really the key to improving your writing skills. 

With his real-world experience, Voelker is painfully aware of the cost and labor that goes into making a movie, so when he is writing a script he knows it needs to be good. 

To give concrete and likely familiar examples of what makes good writing to students, he broke down scenes from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” In the scene where Harry Potter is first invited to the wizarding school Hogwarts, he praised the writer’s use of comedy and drama to keep it interesting.

As he broke down Harry Potter, he went around the class asking questions and keeping students laughing and engaged. He frequently made an effort to get students involved in what he was teaching and why he was teaching it. 

He made a point to describe why some scenes in movies are more difficult to write than others. For example, fighting scenes are easy because there is little dialogue, while on the other hand writing everyday conversations are the most difficult because it is hard making the dialogue flow in a natural way.

Another notable moment was when he explained reversals. For example, Harry Potter first encountered the character Hagrid as a 10-foot-tall man busting down his door, but when Hagrid stepped into the room he was very sweet and immediately apologized. He explained that these types of reversals can also be used as comic relief and the more a movie is filled with reversals the better. 

Voelker’s light attitude and funny personality made this presentation enjoyable to watch for all of the students sitting in. We were intrigued in what we were learning and were focused on the teacher instead of the friends and distractions that surrounded them. 

In past years that I have attended LitFest, I constantly tried to find something to distract me while the presenter talked. But with Voelker, I not only learned something new, but I enjoyed doing it. Voelker’s workshop was  the most entertaining and interesting one I have been in. It would be a mistake to not invite him back to the future year’s LitFest. 

Benji Harris Encourages New Generation Of Songwriters

Alumnus with music experience teaches attitudes, skills for industry success

Alumnus of the high school and professional musician Benji Harris made his presentation on songwriting one to remember by using live music performance and creative advice. 

Though Harris was not available to be in person, he still gave a great presentation over Google Meet.He made himself relatable by explaining to students how he went through the same school system. 

In fact, he went to a LitFest presentation when he was in school and that’s what helped him determine what he wanted to do in life. He calls it his “light bulb to success.”

 His story of the path to success from being a teenager with a passion to playing at arena concerts was inspiring. It made any audience member feel like they could do the same if they were dedicated.

After introducing himself, Harris played one of his songs, a country love song made all the better by his voice of gold.

To help any young student follow their dreams, Harris gave us plenty of tips and tricks that helped him to get to where he is now. He encouraged us to not be disappointed when our first few songs aren’t the best, because “bad songs” actually help songwriters make better music in the future.

But he didn’t just stop at the general advice. He provided an exercise that would help us develop the skill he mentioned. It was a writing trick where you write by hand on a sheet of paper, with no breaks, for 2 minutes. Then, you turn the paper over so you can’t look at it later. He told us to repeat that every day for a week. After the seventh day, you can read them and see your progress that way. 

This trick actually helped Harris overtime become a better songwriter, perfectly illustrating his point that there are no mistakes when it comes to songwriting. Everything is a teachable moment that will help you reach greatness. 

Along with his advice encouraging beginners to stay persistent, Harris also provided guidance on the techniques that make successful songwriting. He broke down the components of a good song which he said were made of four different parts. 

The first part is the introduction to a song, the building block. Because you have to hook your listener in that short amount of time, the first 3-5 seconds can determine how well the song performs with a broad audience. 

The second component is the verses. They usually consist of 4-8 lines. The verses set up the plot or the message of the song.

Next is the prechorus. It builds anticipation for the chorus, often with a chord change.

The fourth part is the chorus, and this is the highlight of the song. It might have a sentence or a word that the listener can remember the song by. 

After knowing how each part of the song comes together to make a complete whole, writing a catchy song seemed to be in reach. Impressively, he even demonstrated each section with his guitar, making up a song on the spot. 

Harris’ presentation provided the blueprint to what makes a hit song a hit, which means that students who wish to become artists, songwriters and musicians would ultimately benefit from listening to it. He should be invited back each year so that more students can gain his knowledge and enjoy his story.

Ashley Schumacher Inspires Young Writers

Published author explores how to find ideas to fuel writing

North Dallas resident and published young adult fiction author, Ashley Schumacher, held a presentation called “From a Brain Trickle to a Brainstorm,” centered around gaining inspiration for artistic works.

 In her captivating presentation, this inspiration came from a variety of areas including famous books and movies, as well as real life and personal experiences.

To kick it off, her presentation started off with a casual volume check, which I feel established an easygoing environment and a connection with the audience. No one likes to sit through an hour of someone droning on just reading off slides, so this was an encouraging early sign.

Instead of the presentation feeling stiff or overly scripted, Schumacher would talk to the audience like they were in a conversation. She would also reference her own life experiences and stories in the ideas she was sharing. This was helpful as it gave concrete examples as to how the audience could practically apply the tips she was providing.

Even though Schumacher was there to share her tips from an author’s standpoint, she fit in some advice for different types of students, such as students who may not desire a future in writing. These included tips for college essays and applications as well as general school writing assignments.

Similarly, she adapted her presentation to fit the interests of the audience by including multiple TikTok videos to keep it engaging, and referencing apps and language that my generation would relate to, which I appreciated because it made me feel like she was paying attention to the group she was speaking to.

Towards the end of her presentation, Schumacher handed out an optional worksheet to break down the process of looking for inspiration, as well as passing out “eraser buddies,” fun, animal shaped erasers that could accompany students during the writing process. She made the experience even more enriching by playing whimsical music from “The Chronicles of Narnia” during the worksheet time and a little after.

Wrapping up her presentation, Schumacher talked about her own books, “Amelia Unabridged” and “Full Flight,” and where she grasped inspiration for her own works, which helped us see the main point of her presentation in action.

Finally, she finished with a Q&A session where she answered questions, and then asked the questions back to the audience which was an engaging activity that creatively flipped its traditional format. This kept her presentation interactive while still reaching the goal of being informative and helpful.

As someone who has thought about pursuing a creative career, her tips were insightful, especially coming from a published figure in the field.

Moreover, her information holds value because she has experienced the hardships of writer’s block. Professionals in certain job fields sometimes warn audiences that their profession is not for the weak hearted, so the fact she was open and encouraging about the struggles was comforting. It was like she was a physical representation of the ability to overcome the creative challenges.

Schumacher should return next year, as I enjoyed not only her presentation and the information she was sharing, but the way she shared it. She was personable and a comfortable presenter who was overall very encouraging to the audience to pursue not only writing but any form of creative expression, even if it’s just on a personal level.

 

Ben Montgomery Makes Storytelling Compelling With Disney

Author and reporter teaches students storytelling techniques

As acclaimed author Ben Montgomery finished his presentation, I felt a sense of satisfaction and gratitude that I had had the opportunity to hear him speak.

Montgomery is known for his novel “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk”, a New York Times Bestseller, as well as his work as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. He was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting in 2010.  

As soon as Montgomery began speaking he grabbed my attention and that of the other students present. After sitting through two other years of Lit Fest, this particular presentation was a refreshing change and suddenly made me want to know more about nonfiction writing. 

When Montgomery was younger, he was not a fan of writing. He found it boring to write about things he had no interest in. He didn’t envision himself as a writer until he took courses on it in college. 

Soon, feature writing became his favorite thing to study. As he learned more and more about the craft, he became captivated by its engaging method of storytelling. This ultimately fueled his love for writing and pushed him to pursue careers in both journalism and creative writing. 

What really stuck out to me in his presentation is the way he compared his writing to the Disney princess movies of our generation. While watching Disney movies, he noticed how they all start out the same. 

The main character is not satisfied with their life and sings their wish song. The wish song outlines a strong desire he or she has. This prompts the character to go on an adventure and establishes the plot of the movie.  

Disney uses this concept in almost all of their movies to hook the audience and keep them interested in what’s going to happen to the character. That is exactly what storytelling is.

The purpose is to find a way to draw the reader in and hold their attention for the length of the story. Montgomery’s use of Disney songs to explain this tactic made it so simple to understand and all the more interesting. Though he could’ve just as easily chosen a complex analogy to explain this, Montgomery kept it basic and direct and found the perfect way to teach an important and useful concept to a room full of high schoolers. 

Additionally, Montgomery’s attention to detail when speaking to the audience about how to be a storyteller allowed for a more compelling presentation. He also made an effort to ask students questions to engage and better connect with them.  

Montgomery ended his presentation with asking students to figure out their inner tension. After listening to this presentation, I realized that writing does not just have to be something associated with school or as an assignment. Writing should have no limits and give a person complete freedom to express themselves in whichever they want to. It should serve as a creative outlet where you can be unapologetically yourself. 

Karl Wimer Sketches Out Interesting, Informative Cartoons

Editorial cartoonist familiarizes students with industry, process

Karl Wimer gave a well rounded presentation on his job as a cartoonist, revolving around the process, his materials and examples of other cartoons.

As I walked in, the environment was welcoming. Wimer was using both the whiteboard and smartboard and explaining the thought process behind his craft. What really interested me was how much he talked about his specific process, going so far to talk about his tools, and the differences between digital and physical drawings.

Next, he moved on to styles of cartoons. To fully understand the art of being an editorial cartoonist requires examples, and Wimer delivered. He did an excellent job showing political cartoons that represented various political ideologies done by several different cartoonists. Afterwards, he covered the demographics of the cartoonist world. Despite being a male-dominated field, he made sure to show examples of female and feminist cartoonists. 

 I found these editorial cartoons interesting, and appreciated the way their messages were communicated. Unfortunately, in total the time he spent showing examples was a little longer than I would’ve liked.

My favorite part of his LitFest presentation was how interactive it was. About halfway through the class, Wimer passed out pens, pencils and paper to the students. He showed all the students the basic shapes of the face: circles, triangles and squares. Next came the basic face shape. It was a circle with guidelines and a wedge for the chin slightly under. Wimer detailed his process thoroughly, showing different examples of these faces, how he achieved them, and making the faces either feminine or more masculine. He explained his process with easy to follow instructions. 

After that, he returned to the smart-board, where he explained the significance of cartoons and illustrators. Back in the 1700s and 1800s, when cartoons were introduced, they were used to aid those who were illiterate and could not read the newspaper. I enjoyed the incorporation of history into his presentation, because it provided a more fuller understanding of the craft and its start.

Next, Wimer promoted accountability in news. He believed that outlets publish whatever they want nowadays. In light of this, it seemed like good advice that Wimer encouraged learning about all sides of issues, and the idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

I found Wimer to be an encouraging person, inspiring students to go out and seek a career in the arts and illustration. He sent students off with a print of a playing card he had designed, and a fact sheet. On the fact sheet, he mentioned places to find inspiration for cartoons, and other excellent cartoonists and illustrators.

Despite me not being initially excited over this subject, Wimer left me with an interactive and informative performance, and I hope to see him again at another LitFest.

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