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The High School Writers Conference is back — virtually! Join us April 16 for a modified, online version of the conference. 

This conference is for you. 

If you’re a high school student who loves writing poetry, arguing politics, or composing epic threads on Twitter, this annual conference is for you. If you’ve dreamed about journalism, law, nursing, or working for your city, and want to know how people in those professions use writing every day, this conference is also for you. 

Our keynote speaker, Lorene Cary, presents an opening talk that will inspire you in your writing. Then choose from sessions on poetry and performance, legal storytelling, science communication, news reporting, and more. 

The first Rutgers-Camden High School Writers Conference was held April 13, 2018. This program is presented by the Writers House and the Office of Civic Engagement, Rutgers University-Camden. 

2021 Speakers and Facilitators 

Keynote Speaker: Lorene Cary 

Lorene Cary teaching

Lorene Cary’s new play, My General Tubman, imagines the iconic freedom fighter showing up in a contemporary Philadelphia prison, looking for men to fight with her—and finding one who wants more. Her recent memoir, Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century, published by W.W. Norton Books, published to stunning reviews is also available as an audiobook recording, and comes out in paperback in June 2020. As a resident in American Lyric Theater’s Composer & Librettist Development Program, Cary wrote a libretto that takes off from Ladysitting. Composer Liliya Ugay set a lyrical score and produced her own recording. The one-act opera is titled The Gospel According to Nana. Cary and Ugay have begun work on an opera called Robeson in Concert. Cary’s non-fiction includes her best-selling memoir Black Ice and a collection of stories for young readers titled Free! Great Escapes from Slavery on the Underground Railroad. Novels include The Price of a Child, chosen as the first One Book One Philadelphia offering; Pride; and If Sons, Then Heirs. Cary has written scripts for videos at The President’s House exhibit on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, which tells the stories of nine enslaved Africans in the household of President Washington. For 20 years Cary has taught fiction and non-fiction at the University of Pennsylvania, in the Departments of English and Africana Studies; she’s twice received the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, most recently in 2017. She invites her students to publish on SafeKidsStories.com, which she created to focus on children’s safety and wholeness. That project spawned #VotethatJawn, a project that worked with passionate youth and educators to help double youth registration in Philadelphia in 2018. In 1998 Cary founded Art Sanctuary to enrich urban Philadelphia with the excellence of black arts. To create an intentional transition, she stepped down as director in 2012. She served as president of the Union Benevolent Association; and, from 2011-2013, and as a member of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, where, as chair of the Safety Committee, she worked to eliminate zero-tolerance punishments for children. Other honors include: The Philadelphia Award, and honorary doctorates from Swarthmore, Muhlenberg, Colby, and Keene State Colleges, and Arcadia and Gwynedd Mercy Universities. 


Upon registering, student participants will receive login information for all workshops. Students may choose which workshops they’d like to attend at any time. 

Legal Storytelling

What do lawyers need to know about storytelling? Quite a lot! A legal situation is a story because it involves characters, a conflict, and the hope for a resolution—exactly the building blocks of a story. To represent their clients, lawyers communicate to others about the clients’ legal situations. Most of that communication happens in writing (even when a case goes to trial there’s still a lot of writing before that point). So, lawyers need to know how to write in a narrative way.

In this workshop, students will learn a few of the legal reasoning fundamentals that lawyers use to advocate on behalf of clients. In addition to reviewing the basic elements of storytelling, some of the key phrases we will use are ethos, logos, pathos, “bottom line up front,” “cognitive priming,” “rules of law, illustrations of law, and application of law.”

About the facilitator: Ruth Anne Robbins is a Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School. She has taught legal writing courses for two decades, and her scholarship is widely recognized in the field. She is the co-author of a textbook, Your Client’s Story: Persuasive Legal Writing (now in its second edition), the co-editor in chief of a peer-reviewed academic journal, a founder of the Applied Legal Storytelling international conference series, and a past president of the Legal Writing Institute. She has received campus and area awards for her teaching, including the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award (2018).

Get the Story: Reporting and Writing Feature Stories

Sam Starnes, editor of Rutgers–Camden Magazine, will lead this session on reporting and writing nonfiction feature articles for magazines, newspapers, and online—specifically focusing on using scenes to make stories come alive. Also featuring Jason Nark (RU ’00), features writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Sam StarnesAbout the facilitators: Sam Starnes is the editor of Rutgers–Camden Magazine. He has many years of experience as a journalist, novelist, and teacher and has had journalism appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and various other newspapers and magazines. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in English from Rutgers University–Newark, and an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from Goucher College.

Jason Nark is a features writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. He joined the newspaper in 2008 and has covered everything from sports to elections to food. In recent years, Nark has roamed Pennsylvania, telling rural stories about dilapidated coal towns, rattlesnake hunters, and deer urine farmers. His features portfolio was twice deemed among the best in the nation by the Society for Features Journalism and he has won dozens of awards for his writing in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Nark was an English major at Rutgers–Camden and graduated in 2000. He started his career at the Courier Post in Cherry Hill, N.J. in 2001 and also writes for national magazines, including PoliticoOutside, and Adventure Journal. Nark has a master’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Pennsylvania and lives in New Jersey with his wife, three children, and their dog.

Speechwriting for Social Change

Being able to craft a message as a tool for social change is both an art and a science. In this workshop, participants will learn how they can address issues important to them using the power of storytelling and honing the craft of persuasive writing as a vehicle for challenging power structures. Participants will learn how to think about the strategic value of speeches in an advocacy context and get concrete tips and strategies for movement speechwriting.

Nick OspaAbout the facilitator: Nick has been the City Wide Chapter Organizer at Youth United for Change in Philadelphia since 2016. Nick has been involved in social justice education programming for his whole professional career. Nick’s undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies politicized his worldview through studying the impacts of imperialism and colonialism. Before joining the organizing staff of YUC, Nick was involved in a number of different social movement organizations across a variety of issues. Nick and his colleagues documented their lessons on organizational development and youth organizing in a self-published book entitled “Y’all Tryna Win or Nah?!” which can be downloaded for free at youthunitedforchange.org.

Science Communication

Are you interested in both science AND journalism? When scientists make discoveries, we need journalists who understand the complex science so that the world can understand it! Come out and learn a little about the field of science journalism!

Nate FriedAbout the facilitator: Dr. Nathan Fried is a neuroscientist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Rutgers University Camden studying chronic pain, sleep, and the opioid epidemic. Dr. Fried is also an avid science communicator who writes stories about recent scientific breakthroughs and presents talks about the brain across the Philadelphia area. Learn more about his work at www.NeuroFriedLab.com. 

Writing for Public History 

What can our belongings reveal about us? How do historians use things like shoes to tell stories about everyday people like you? In this workshop, we’ll learn about when historians use objects (such as in museums) to write history and why objects are often at the center of public debates about historical topics. You’ll also get a chance to write your own history of yourself using your shoes or another piece of clothing you have with you.

About the facilitator: Nicole Belolan is the Public Historian in at Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers-University Camden. There, she directs a continuing education program in historic preservation. As part of her duties, she also serves as the Co-Editor of The Public Historian and the Digital Media Editor, both for the National Council on Public History. She is a historian of disability in early America.

Creative Prayer 

When we think about writing and faith, what comes to mind? Working on sermons? Writing prayers? Speaking your heart? In this workshop, we will explore what goes into various forms of religious writing and work on crafting prayers and statements that ring true to us.

About the facilitator: Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt is the Program Coordinator for Beloved Arise and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She holds degrees in Creative Writing, Theatre Arts, and Divinity, and has over a decade of experience working with children and youth in a church setting. She has also written for the Progressive Youth Ministry blog and Believe Out Loud. 


Poetry is one of the oldest forms of artistic expression on earth. Like music, one good definition for poetry is the rhythmic and intentional juxtaposition of sounds and silences. This means that good poems can be read, heard, and performed; and they have been all throughout the history of art. From the Fertile Crescent to Shakespeare, to poets laureate to the Boogie Down, we will trace how poetry has evolved from oral tradition to literary tradition and back. You will have an opportunity to cull from your own experiences and tastes to put together a first draft—and in the tradition of the Nuyorican and Black Arts movements, perhaps even perform them on the spot.

About the facilitator: Rich Villar is a poet, educator, and curator originally from Paterson, New Jersey. He is the author of Comprending Forever (Willow Books, 2014) and his poems are anthologized most recently in What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump (Curbstone/Northwestern University Press, 2019), and The BreakBeat Poets, Volume 4: LatiNEXT (Haymarket Books, 2020). He is a 2020 New Jersey State Arts Council Fellow and the founder of La Cocina, an interactive event series and grassroots initiative fostering Latinx art, culture, and community.






12 noon





Lorene Cary

12:45, 1:45

Breakout room – chill time


1 pm

Session #1, option 1: Speechwriting for Social Change

Nick Ospa, Youth United for Change

1 pm

Session #1 option 2: Legal Storytelling

Ruth Anne Robbins, J.D. 

1 pm

Session #1, option 3: Writing for Public History

Dr. Nicole Belolan

2 pm

Session #2, option 1: Science Communication

Dr. Nathan Fried

2 pm

Session #2, option 2: Get the Story

Sam Starnes

3 pm

Session #3, option 1: Creative Prayer

Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt 

3 pm

Session #3, option 2: Poetry 

Rich Villar 

How to participate

Register here by April 8, 2021″

Please fill out this consent and agreement form by April 15, 2021

For teachers 

Want to bring an entire class? Want more information about this year’s program? Contact us at leah.falk@camden.rutgers.edu. 

Admission Information


Leah Falk