49 Writers Interview: Jenna Schnuer

East Coast travel writer Jenna Schnuer came to us with an offer we couldn’t refuse:  she wanted to give back to Alaskans by volunteering with our Raven Words Summer Youth Writing Workshops.  Thanks to her generosity, we’re able to offer “Your Alaska Online Travel ‘Zine” free of charge to young writers ages 12-15.  Applications are due July 6 and class size is limited, so forward this blog post to your favorite young writers, and direct the to our 49 Writers website for link to our easy online application.

What drew you to travel writing – and to Alaska?

Very late one night in early 2004, I was writing on deadline when I received an airline email urging me to use my frequent flier miles or they might disappear forever. I’d always wanted to visit Alaska–the idea of it had always appealed to me–so I booked a 10-day trip.

 I knew I would love the landscape and the animals and all the things first timers expect to fall for in Alaska but I made so many friends on that first trip and tried so many things that were new to my life—including catching a 21-inch rainbow trout—that I fell for it a million times harder than I’d expected. I remember feeling so very sad when it was time to go home. I’d never felt that way after visiting any other place.

Before the trip, people kept telling me oh, Alaska will change you. I grew up in the NYC area and lived in the city for a very long time. I do have a bit, ok, a lot of cynical east coaster about me and I brushed off the comments. But Alaska did change me. It also kicked off the travel writing part of my professional life. I’d made my living as a writer since 1992 and as a freelance writer since 1999 but, as of that trip, travel was part of my writing mix.

What inspired you to donate a week from your busy schedule to help Alaska’s kids develop their own online travel magazine?

I used to volunteer teach a weekly art class for kids in NYC. I loved seeing the kids find their voices through creativity. Because of my random travel schedule, I can’t commit to a weekly anything anymore–but I really missed working with kids. I thought of this idea a while back and, once I decided to spend the summer in Alaska, figured it was the perfect chance to give it a go.

What sort of fun and learning will be part of the workshop?

I think a lot of it will depend on the kids who sign up and what they’re interested in. I’m planning to make the program flexible enough that we can really tailor the topics we cover to the things the kids care about the most. No matter the topics—from food to sports to hiking to wildlife—we’ll cover the basics of reporting and writing news articles, taking photographs, maybe even shoot some videos, and, definitely, the how-tos of building an online magazine using one of the free online blog programs. I’m going to try and run it like it’s a real newsroom so we’ll have a morning staff meeting and then get to the getting to. If the kids want to continue on after the class is over (or launch other creative projects of their own), they’ll have the skills to do it.

One of the things that I’m looking forward to the most is giving kids a chance to take a new look at the place they live. All of the places they walk by each and every day? They’ll see them with fresh eyes. Their favorite places to skateboard or bike? Now they’re article ideas. Favorite hot-dog stand? Now it’s the subject of a food review. 

Your donated time allows 49 Writers to offer this workshop without charge to youth ages 12-15 who complete the workshop application.  Why is this important?

I don’t want money to hold any kids back from getting the chance to learn new skills, have some fun, exercise their creative chops, and, perhaps, explore a possible future career. The program will be at its best if all the seats are filled by kids who really want to be there.

What do you hope will be the outcome of the travel ‘zine project?

That the kids will find a way to express themselves, that it’ll kick off (or enhance) a love of writing and photography, that it’ll give them a chance to look at Anchorage and Alaska in a new way, and, hopefully, that the program will just be a whole lot of fun and make for a far more memorable summer than the kids expected to have when school let out.
The Raven Words Youth Writing Program is expanding with the goal of offering fun, exciting literary programs to Alaska’s youth, and donations are always welcome.  We appreciate your support!
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