Bonnye Matthews | Volunteers Needed for Special Young Writers Conference in Palmer

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URGENT—Volunteers Needed for Exceptionally Special Young Writers Conference
in Palmer, April 28th at Sherrod School

For decades the Young Writers Conference in Palmer has been an annual event that schoolchildren and presenters across the Mat-Su Valley have anticipated with delight. Students hoping to attend must work to be accepted. They have to produce a book: front cover, back cover, and either a story, poem, or other writing with or without illustrations. Sharon Russell, once a national teacher of the year, originated the event more than 20 years ago. This year there was a fluke. Normally 24 presenters volunteer. So far only seven presenters have stepped up. I’m one of them, and I almost let this amazing opportunity pass me by.

I am working on Arctic Dinosaurs of Alaska: Stories for Children and it’s the hardest thing I ever wrote. It’s not a Disney story but rather examines how dinosaurs might have behaved realistically, singly and in a group over four seasons, and that means no dialog. Dialog is so handy for storytelling. I have had to find other ways. It helps to illustrate, so I had to learn to draw. Imagine drawing a nanuqsaur, Alaska’s tyrannosaur, in feathers and making it look fierce. I’m half way through. So much research! Although I’ve been a Conference presenter for years now, the call for presenters by-passed my interest sensors. I was struggling with my dino book. I have readers and critique groups. I asked Patrick Druckenmiller, the dinosaur expert at UAF Museum of the North, to oversee the science. He agreed.

Suddenly, I realized I could meet one of my greatest formative evaluation needs by presenting critique group sessions at the Conference. The Conference is always a two-way benefit. Presenters gain as much as the attendees. This time students could participate in a critique group, and I could gain needed feedback on the story and illustrations from numbers of the actual target audiences. I almost slept through it! Good grief! Of course, any student who leaves me a name on their critique sheet gets his or her name in the Acknowledgements and I’ll provide Sherrod Elementary with a copy of the published book, so they can see their names in the book.

The Conference schedules three sessions of the same presentation. The presenter is located in a classroom and the students move from session to session, so each one goes to three different sessions. Before the sessions and at the end, presenters can sell their books, displayed on tables in the gym. I was amazed to discover that several Conference students are avid readers of my prehistoric fiction novel series.

Volunteer presenters are free to choose what they present as long as it suits the elementary age. I once did a presentation to encourage the children to take advantage of any writing course that comes up, since a writer never knows how something learned at one time can help at another. I showed them a DVD and explained how to do them inexpensively, providing handouts. I used to teach. I have never seen students dead silent watching anything until I showed that video. No one moved for 15 minutes or so. Strange experience! The video contained information on Alaska from before the dinosaur age to 30,000 BC when Cook Inlet wasn’t an inlet. It shows how the inlet came to be. After the video they exploded with questions about how to create videos.

The Young Writers Conference for 2018 needs fifteen more presenters. Let’s make a miracle happen. Please consider volunteering this year. Think what you can share. You’ll be part of a miracle and receive value for the experience. And, 250 students will be delighted.

For more information, please contact Sharon Russell at 761-4140 or email

Alaskan author Bonnye Matthews wrote the Winds of Change novel series on the peopling of the Americas before the last ice age glaciation, and now she devotes her time to the series on Archaeological Sites in the Americas before the end of the last ice age glaciation. Matthews began to write after five years of intense research. Her study on people in the Americas before 11,700 years ago remains ongoing, providing ample inspiration for her stories. Each novel is an award winner. Matthews’ passion for her subject is evident in her writing books, creating DVDs and coloring books, and speaking events.  

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