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The write stuff: Four Woodbury students chosen for student literary anthology

Kylie VanDeest, 10, of Woodbury had a short story published in an annual student anthology. The collection, titled “A Bird that Swims & Flies,” features the best work from a statewide Compas writer-in-residence program. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)


At 10 years old, Kylie VanDeest already is a published author.

The Valley Crossing Elementary fifth grader's short story "Mariah's Big Mistake" appears in the annual anthology of student writing from Compas, an arts education organization in St. Paul.

"I was really, really, really excited and really honored that they chose my story out of my whole class," said VanDeest, who wrote the story in the fourth grade at Bailey Elementary.

The collection, titled "A Bird that Swims & Flies," features the best work from a statewide Compas writer-in-residence program. VanDeest's work was chosen from more than 4,000 student pieces that were generated last year at various Minnesota schools.

The anthology also includes works by District 833 students Julia Kuckler, Rahnon Chowdhury and Madeleine Heu.

They created their work at Bailey last year during workshops with spoken word poet Frank Sentwali and short story writer Stephen Peters. Each writer could choose the two best student pieces for possible inclusion in the anthology.

Peters taught VanDeest and her class about the vital elements of storytelling, including structure, character, conflict and the inclusion of vivid sensory details.

"He came into our classroom and told us a theme to write with," VanDeest said.

Peters gave them a premise: begin their story with a boy or girl just getting off the bus from school.

It was up to the young writers to provide the rest of the story. VanDeest conceived the story of a girl named Mariah who runs away from home after she gets off the bus.

"I just kind of made it up as I went along," she said. "I based some characters on people I know. Mariah was kind of based off of me."

VanDeest and her classmates submitted their finished work to Compas.

Some of the young authors read their pieces at a publication party last Saturday at the Landmark Center in Saint Paul.

Compas was founded in 1974 to bring teaching writers into classrooms. They have since expanded their roster of artists to include visual artists, actors and musicians.

"We work with artists of all kinds — West African drumming to Japanese weaving," Creative Classroom Director Julie Strand said.

VanDeest said she might write more, although much of her time is taken up with dance classes. She studies tap, ballet, modern and lyrical dance.

"It was one of my first ones," she said of her story. "I write a little but I do like writing."

Strand, who edited the anthology, thinks that VanDeest just may be starting a new chapter in her life.

"She does a really great job on her story," Strand said. "It does say at the end ... 'To be continued.'"

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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