Voice on Paper

The Art of the Personal Essay

a workshop for young writers thinking about college

  • June 29-July 3, 2020
  • 10:00–12:00 pm each day


For many high school students, writing in first person has been a rarity, and then suddenly it becomes a necessity.

High school has taught you to write formal, academic essays in third person, an essential skill for success in college. But ironically, it’s an original piece of first person creative nonfiction that helps you get there in the first place.

The personal essay is the essential written component of nearly every successful college application, but the prospect of writing one can be daunting.

How do you translate your personality, character, and identity onto the page? How do you condense your personal history, heritage, background, or inspiration into 650 words or fewer? Is it possible to layer in or reveal information about yourself — talents, hobbies, skills — without sounding like you’re bragging? How do you make your words sound authentic or share your most profound realizations and experiences through an anecdote? How do you choose which anecdotes to tell or even what questions to answer? These are just a few of the quandaries this workshop will help you answer in your own unique way.

This class, comprised of four two-hour sessions, is designed to help young writers find inspiration and direction for their personal essays. With professional guidance and advice from experienced teachers and writers, students will receive group and one-on-one feedback. They will engage in exercises and activities that will help them gain inspiration, implement techniques they see working well in selected published essays, and gain confidence in their own writing and thinking.


  • The workshop is open to all high school students in Monroe County who are interested in exploring the personal-essay form in preparation for the college application process.
  • Space is limited. Priority will be given to rising seniors about to embark on the college admissions process, but other interested students (rising sophomores and juniors) are encouraged to apply as well, and will be accepted as space allows.
  • Participants in the Young Writers Studio (taking place the previous week) are also welcome to apply for this separate program.


  • There is no charge to participate in the workshop.


The application period will open in Spring of 2020. Applications require a short letter introducing yourself and explaining why you would like to participate in this workshop. Please let us know your thoughts, questions, or concerns about the writing process. Your candor will help us further cater the workshop to your needs. (Letters should be 250 – 500 words.)

Please note: If you are also applying for the Young Writers Studio, you may use the same application letter for this program.

Questions? Please email or call us at 305-293-9291.

About our Team

Kate Peters, Education CoordinatorKate Peters is KWLS Education Coordinator and lead teacher for the Young Writers Studio. She has a bachelor’s degree from Bard College and a master’s degree from the University of Richmond. She teaches English at Saint Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia.

Sarah Thomas has a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught nonfiction writing. Sarah has been a writing instructor for Leadership for a Diverse America and has taught college prep for the Princeton Review. She is currently editor of Key West Weekly.

“Voice on Paper: The Art of the Personal Essay” is sponsored in part by the Monroe County Public Library.