“The Fellowship Transformed the Way I Saw Myself”: How Teen Writers Are Creating Community at Grub

For three weeks every summer, Grub's Teen Fellowship immerses high school students in the writer's life of creative craft and publishing, working with published authors and receiving a stipend for their commitment to the program and their work as artists. 2017 Fellow Justin Celebi reflects on the community he found in the program, and how the friends he made transformed the way he felt about himself as a writer.   

 

Celebi, third from right, with other writers in the 2017 fellowship cohort at the Boston Athenaeum.

 

Grubstreet’s YAWP Summer Fellowship was the greatest experience of my young writing career. Period. Among many other wonderful elements of the program, I’ll always remember it for the friends I made there, and for the confidence in my writing that it gave me. In a way, those two gifts from the Fellowship were linked.

 

Before I went into the Fellowship, I had a secret fear that I didn’t have the talent to be a professional writer. For that reason, I tended to be reluctant to share my writing with others, and I was especially unwilling to actually call myself a writer. Even when my friends and family read my works and praised them, I convinced myself that they were just too nice to tell me the truth. The Fellowship, however, transformed the way I saw myself.

 

Going into this program, I had no idea what to expect. Although I’d been to GrubStreet before, I had never done something as writing-intensive as the Fellowship, and it was the first time I ever applied to a writing program. When I walked into GrubStreet on the first day, I was feeling intimidated. I was going to be surrounded by other kids who were high performers at school, who were proven talents in writing, and because of this, a small, illogical corner of my mind wondered if I was about to be exposed as a fraudulent writer by other kids who were much more passionate and talented than I was.

 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The others in the Fellowship were exactly the sort of people I’d always hoped to meet: writers my age who were just as energetic and outgoing, bursting with creative expression, and driven to make our own voices heard.

 

Our group gelled so quickly that L’Oreal wanted to know our secrets. After just the second day of the Fellowship, we’d already gotten comfortable enough with each other to go out to a nearby movie theater together, where we watched Baby Driver. That was only the start of it all. For the next three weeks, we were a tight-knit circle who bounced ideas off each other with ease, gave and received critiques with equal grace, and could sympathize with each other over the problems that every writer faces—writer’s block, looming deadlines, exhaustion, and sometimes all three at once.

 

When we weren’t at GrubStreet, I was roaming all over Boston with my new friends. Among our many outings, we watched a Shakespearean hip-hop concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, ate ice cream on the bank of the Charles River, perused the goods of a thrift shop in Central Square, and frequented a tea shop in Chinatown. During our lunch breaks, we congregated under a table in a Grub classroom to play a twisted version of Truth Or Dare, where the only option was truth, and the flip of a coin had the power to shock and awe us. Other moments between us were filled with hilarious late-night text conversations, surprise birthday parties, lighthearted pranks, and lots of playful nicknames. On the subject of those nicknames, within four days of getting to know each other, we’d all given each other a cadre of James Bond-worthy names: Aegis, Curly, Honey, Goldie, Tragic (not because of any personal shortcomings, but rather due to his penchant for writing stories with tragic themes), Candy, WIP, Lando, Nick (In every group of nicknames, there’s always one without a nickname), and Bot. I was Bot.

 

The bonds that we built allowed me to understand that any praise from my friends was definitely real. I knew that they were brilliant writers. Their supremely skillful writing—whether it be poetry or short stories or novels—consistently left me in awe. At the same time, they were just as enthusiastic about my writing as I was about theirs. Since I had gotten to know these people so well, I could see that their praise for my work was genuine, and that they really did see me as an equal. When I shared my work, they were just as excited for me as they were for anybody else. That irrational fear of actually being a terrible writer was crushed under the feet of the nineteen other YAWP Fellows, and it was an eye-opening experience.

 

On the final night of the Fellowship, we had the monumental undertaking of reading our work aloud in a public event at the Boston Athenaeum, and to me, it felt like the moment when I would announce to the world that I was truly a writer. So when I stepped forward to the podium to read my poem and cast about for a burst of confidence, I only had to remember that my friends were behind me—literally. It was with that in mind that I took a deep breath and began to read my poem, for the first time comfortable calling myself a writer.

 

Justin Celebi is a senior at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School. He is the Community Outreach Director of Window Seat, the school’s literary magazine. He has been a longtime member of the GrubStreet community, having attended creative writing camps since eighth grade, and he was selected as a 2017 YAWP Summer Fellow. In the Fellowship, he studied under Jennifer De Leon, Adam Stumacher, Regie Gibson, and Sarah Daniele Rivera, and gave a public reading at the Boston Athenaeum. In his free time, he enjoys playing baseball and spending time with his two cats.

 

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