14:14 PM

Students Have the Write Stuff

Students (and teachers) participate in Young Authors Conference

Two days. Eight authors. Nine school districts. Nearly 250 students.

It all adds up to a great opportunity for aspiring student authors to write their future at Sourcewell’s Young Authors Conference – Nov. 16 and 17, 2023.

Due to growing demand, the event was offered on two separate days at Central Lakes College – Staples campus.

Participating schools included Brainerd, Crosslake, Henning, Pequot Lakes, Pierz, Pine River-Backus, Royalton, Staples-Motley, and Wadena-Deer Creek.

According to event planner and Student Academics Coordinator Phillip Olsen, students had the opportunity to spend three sessions with authors and illustrators, then enjoyed a lunchtime concert led by songwriter and artist Ken Lonnquist. Students also received a book written by keynote speaker Art Coulson.

But students weren’t the only ones given the gift of learning at the conference. For the first time in the history of the event, teachers were included in an author-led breakout session designed specifically for them.

Olsen said his planning team felt, thatby adding a teacher component to the day, the conference could become a starting point for positive momentum moving forward.

“When we looked at the conference through that lens, it became clear that giving teachers an opportunity to work with an author was a tremendous, synergistic way to increase the impact of the conference in the region,” Olsen notes. “It was so rewarding to see them dig in as enthusiastically as their students.”

The theme for this year’s conference was “Put the POW! in Empowerment.”


Meet the keynote

Art Coulson 

Art is a writer of Cherokee, English, and Dutch descent and comes from a family of storytellers (in all three traditions). Some of his earliest memories are of listening to stories and reading books on his grandmother’s lap. He has been a writer his whole life and published his first two books when he was in elementary school.

A Navy brat, Art was born in Honolulu, where he lived for his first seven months. Art and his family moved often, sometimes more than once a year. He attended 14 different schools on three continents before he graduated high school.

Art’s first children’s book, The Creator’s Game, a story about a young lacrosse player, was published in 2013. Since then, he has published a number of other books, graphic novels, plays, and short stories. His most recent book, Chasing Bigfoot, was published in 2022.


Meet the presenters

Rebecca K.S. Ansari  |  Everyone’s the Hero of Their Own Story: Making Great Villians

After 12 years as an emergency room doctor, Rebecca shelved her scrubs to write magical mysteries for kids. When she isn’t writing, she’s biking, skiing, or escaping ‘up north’ with her family, two huge dogs, and a good book.

Aimèe M. Bissonette  |  Flash Writing: Generating Powerful Story Starters like a Superhero

Aimèe is a retired lawyer who now writes primarily for kids. Her books are often influenced by nature, history, and strong women. She taught for more than 20 years as adjunct professor and loves classroom energy and exchanging ideas.

John Coy  |  Let’s Talk: How Dialogue Can Improve Your Writing

John is the author of young adult novels, chapter books, and nonfiction and fiction picture books. He has received numerous awards for his work and loves working with students to share some of the techniques he’s learned. John lives by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

Kathy Groth  |  Tell Your POWerful Story!

Kathy is a retired teacher who has found her second career as an author. Her strength as a teacher was promoting writing in her students and has a goal to excite young people to find their voice and realize they each have a story tell.

Ken Lonnquist |  Say it in a Song

Ken brings laughter and song to audiences of all ages, exploring themes of nature, human nature, and current events. He has toured North America and his songs have played on NPR, Air America, documentaries, and more.

Thor Nystrom  |  You Can Be a Sportswriter (or any other kind of writer you want to be), Too

Brainerd’s own Thor Nystrom is a college football and NFL draft analyst for FantasyPros and BettingPros. He previously spent 12 years at NBC Sports. He also has a Vikings-centric show on SkorNorth. His work has won multiple national awards, including from Rolling Stone magazine and FSWA.

Jason Walz  |  Let’s Make a Comic

Jason’s experience teaching in special education for more than 20 years has shaped the stories he tells. He is currently working on a young adult graphic novel for Penguin Books about depression and loss (with lots of monsters thrown in for good measure).