Inspired by Tauranga Writers’ stated mission of supporting emerging writers, members Piper Mejia and Lee Murray founded the Young NZ Writers (youngnzwriters) programme in 2011 with a view to providing writing and publishing opportunities for young people outside of the New Zealand school curriculum. To achieve these goals, the programme has focused on implementing annual writing competitions and anthologies, an after-school writing programme, an annual full-day student workshop, and ongoing student mentorship.
Each year, they convene and facilitate two free-to-enter national writing competitions for New Zealand intermediate and secondary school students, where every child receives feedback on their writing. They then produce two corresponding print and digital (intermediate and secondary) anthologies of the most promising work and run well-publicised book launches to celebrate the students’ achievements.
As a high school English teacher, Piper Mejia, and professional writer, Lee Murray, instigated a series of annual writing workshops, beginning with a pilot workshop of 40 students, which Piper ran herself. Buoyed by the success of that pilot, they have since run four national workshops of around 100 students each, in Tauranga, Wellington, and Taupō (the latter two alongside New Zealand’s national science fiction and fantasy conventions). A further one-day workshop was held in Tauranga in 2017 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tauranga Writers. The Young NZ Writers workshops usually involve authors as presenter-facilitators. They cover the gamut of writing skills, including: world-building, theme, character, plot, voice, style, poetry, short story, and, more recently, screenwriting, podcasting/storytelling, and graphic novels.
In 2018, YNZW launched their first annual YNZW Youth Laureate Award, where once again, the response was as overwhelming as the quality of the writing.
With the number of participants and events growing each year, reaching up to 1000 students from over 100 schools from a cross-section of student from around New Zealand, in 2018 Piper and Lee invited author, Jean Gilbert, to spearhead the future direction of YNZW. A long-time supporter of YNZW, Jean has edited of numerous YNZWs anthologies, as well as facilitator at every ‘Day Out’ of the years and as such brings with her renewed enthusiasm and new ideas.
Since founding the group in 2011, Piper and Lee have found they could not do what they do without the support of schools, and a growing number of other organisations including: Bookrapt, Tauranga Writers, the science fiction and fantasy community SFFANZ, and the writers’ collective SpecFicNZ, Creative Community Schemes and most importantly our recent partnership with the Wright Foundation (2018) which has allowed us to enable more young writers to share their voice.
Jean Gilbert is a four-time award-winning author, who moved from Virginia, U.S. to New Zealand in 2005, and has since called the Waikato Valley (the Shire) her home. Jean’s latest work, co-authored with William Dresden, is a modern YA fantasy called Light In My Dark, a tale of love, betrayal, and self-discovery. Jean’s science fiction novels: Shifters, Ardus, and The Vault from The Vault Agency Series are published by Rogue House Publishing. You can find her short story Blonde Obsession in Baby Teeth: Bite Size Tales of Terror published by Paper Road Press, and SJV short story finalist Pride in Contact Light Anthology. Jean works in close association with Alessi Films, writing screenplays for promotional advertising and television. Jean is also involved in mentoring young writers through nationwide writing competitions in coordination with Young NZ Writers called Write Off Line for Secondary students and Beyond… for Intermediate students.
Lee Murray is an award-winning writer and editor of speculative fiction (Australian Shadows, Sir Julius Vogel), and an assessor-mentor for the NZSA, AHWA, SpecFicNZ and Whitireia Polytechnic. She provides further mentorship and support of student writers who contact youngnzwriters after the close of the workshops. Conducted predominantly via skype and email, this ongoing encouragement and critique has already helped to nurture several students into writing careers.
Piper Mejia is an advocate for New Zealand writers and literature and is a co-founder of Young NZ Writers - a non-profit dedicated to providing opportunities for young NZ writers. Her short fiction has appeared in a range of publications including Babyteeth, Conclave, Spec-Fic Short Cuts, Short Cuts Track 1, Te Korero Ahi Ka and Tricksters Treats 3. A collection of her short stories, The Better Sister, will be published by Breach in July 2020. As a child, Piper stayed up late laughing at horror films. As an adult, she spends a lot of time being disappointed by plot holes and yet somehow, she has never lost her love for Science Fiction and Horror; two genres that continue to ask the question “What if …” You can find her on New Zealand Society of Authors, Specific NZ and Tauranga Writers.