‘Wake the Artifacts’ Writers Camp @ZSR, 2016

By Tanya Zanish-Belcher

Table covered with a variety of artifacts for consideration by the student writers.
Table covered with a variety of artifacts for consideration by the student writers.

This past year, Z. Smith Reynolds (ZSR) Library at Wake Forest University (WFU) wanted to provide a special opportunity to engage students interested in writing outside of the classroom and offer them the opportunity to become published authors. The inspiration for Writers Camp @ ZSR came after a group of ZSR librarians heard Jane McGonigal present “Find the Future: The Game” during the American Library Association’s 2014 Annual Conference.

During the Summer of 2015, The Writers Camp @ ZSR committee was formed and the Writing Center was brought in to help plan, market, and lead the event scheduled for Friday, January 29th, 2016. Members included ZSR’s Instruction and Outreach, the Wake Forest Writing Center, Personal and Career Development, the WFU Press, and Special Collections & Archives. The group decided the starting point for each student’s writing odyssey would be an artifact from the University Archives.

A stuffed version of the Demon Deacon raises a finger at students.
The Demon Deacon raises a finger at students.

The event commenced at 3 pm with a reception in the Special Collections Research Room. With some help from the Demon Deacon himself, the writers made a personal connection to their assigned artifacts which would inspire their works. Taken from throughout Wake Forest history, the variety of artifacts from the University Archives were sure to cultivate genres of written work from poetry to short stories, and more.  Author and professor, Jenny Puckett, provided a brief lesson on “going down the rabbit hole”, the phrase she used to describe the oftentimes never-ending adventure into finding the history and context of an artifact. Returning to the Library at 7:00 pm, the group of talented Wake Forest University students who had applied and were selected to participate, arrived ready to spend the entire night in the Library (which was closed to the campus as part of its regular hours). They were ready to challenge their creative abilities and participate in a writing event unlike any other.

At 7:30 pm the students returned to the library atrium to kick-off the evening. After a few encouraging words from the Director of the Writing Center, the writers scurried off into the depths of ZSR, from the darkest basement corner to the serene 6th floor catwalk overlooking the atrium. A midnight pizza delivery provided a nice break for several writers, and many student writers appreciated the endless pots of coffee and late night snacks that were set up in the atrium (known as ‘Writers Camp Command Central’ during the event). An incredible group of tutors from the Writing Center offered assistance and advice into the wee hours of the morning.

Twelve hours and eight pots of coffee later, thirty-three works were submitted and after editing, were published in ebook and print formats, with several special editions designated for Special Collections.

This unique event was a lot of work—obtaining grant support from the university, marketing, reviewing applications, selecting artifacts, staying up all night, editing the student work—but it was definitely worth it. Our students are now published authors, and participated in a one-of-a-kind event. Special thanks are due to our Outreach Librarian Hu Womack for overseeing all the details!


Tanya Zanish-Belcher currently serves as Director, Special Collections and University Archivist for Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She received her B.A. (1983) in History from Ohio Wesleyan University and an M.A. (1990) in Historical and Archival Administration from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. She is Past President of the Midwest Archives Conference and a past member of  the Council for the Society of American Archivists (2012-2015). She was named an SAA Fellow in 2011, in 2016 was elected SAA Vice President/President Elect, and will serve as SAA’s 73rd President in 2017-2018.

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