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Northwest Passages: Young Oregon Writers

Pete Springer/OPB

How do you grow a writer?

When 16-year-old Billy Pham was younger, he didn’t think he was a very good writer. He began to recognize his talent, however, when Carlos Reyes, a poet with the Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program, set him on the path to being published.

Reyes told Billy and his classmates at Benson High School not to write about themselves, but what was around them. So Billy looked out the window, and wondered: Why is the sky blue? The poem that emerged, “Silenced Fantasies,” is a tribute to a friend who was killed a few years ago.

Why is the sky so open and blue?
Free from the pull of gravity

Who is the person that replays an
Unseen movie over and over every night as I sleep?

What is that voice that I hear in my ear
When I dream of the past?

Why must sorrow haunt me
On the sixteenth of November every year?

TriMet chose “Silenced Fantasies” to display inside buses as part of its Poetry in Motion project this year. The poem was also published in the 2010 Writers in the Schools anthology.

Now Billy calls himself a “freestyle poet” who says no thanks to Shakespeare (I’ll get him to explain why on the show!).

Another young Oregon writer we’ll hear from is Hannah Harris, a 14-year-old who says her little brother sometimes helps her pick the right word.

He has a great vocabulary. It’s bigger than mine at his age, probably because he reads books I tell him about. I have all these words floating around in my head jumbling jumbling. They’re all screaming for my attention. Sometimes he can help me sort through and pick the right one.

Hannah tied for first place this year in the creative writing contest put on by Lane County’s Young Writers Association. She’s also read her work on the radio before!

Fifteen-year old-Rebekah Burcham says she almost quit writing when she realized it would take a big commitment to do it full time. She says learning to take criticism is one of the best things about a writing blog she started with several friends to support each other. Rebekah moved to Pendleton from Philadelphia a few years ago. She says at first she hated “everything, the dust, the belt buckles, the dry heat.” But her poem “The West” captures the moment she fell in love with the land. It was published last year by TeenInk.

If you write, how did you start? What nurtured or pushed you along your way? If you wrote when you were younger, but don’t now, why did you stop? Who are the young Northwest writers you’re keeping an eye on?

This is part of Northwest Passages, our ongoing series of conversations with regional authors.

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