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Julia Elliott Named Shared Worlds' 2016 Amazon Writer-In-Residence

Julia-Elliott-Version-2-(003)Critically-acclaimed author and South Carolina native Julia Elliott has been named the Amazon Writer-in-Residence for Shared Worlds, the premier science-fiction and fantasy teen writing camp in North America. Amazon has awarded Shared Worlds an $18,000 grant for the 2016 camp, for the purpose of establishing an Amazon writer-in-residence and providing need- and talent-based scholarships for students from all over the world. Shared Worlds is based at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.

Elliott's brilliant writing has appeared in Tin House, The Georgia Review, Conjunctions, The New York Times, Granta online, Electric Literature, and other publications. She has won a Rona Jaffe Writer's Award, and her stories have been anthologized in Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Best American Fantasy, and Best American Short Stories. Her debut story collection, The Wilds, was chosen by Kirkus, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and Electric Literature as one of the Best Books of 2014 and was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. Her first novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, arrived in October 2015.

FutchElliott says she's honored to be named the writer-in-residence and looking forward to teaching at Shared Worlds. "I'm particularly stoked about interacting with young writers at crucial stages of creative development. While I hope to help them shape and refine their world-building skills, I suspect that their enthusiasm and creativity will reinvigorate my own imagination, which has grown more sluggish over the years. I'm also excited about many of the program's features, including the awesome lineup of fellow writers."

Those writers include the award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, New York Times bestseller Tobias Buckell, and critically acclaimed novelists Leah Thomas, Terra Elan McVoy and Nathan Ballingrud. Hugo Award-winner Ann VanderMeer provides editorial resources and camp co-founder Jeff VanderMeer returns to talk about his bestselling and award-winning Southern Reach trilogy, including inside information on the movie versions from Paramount. Adding to the excitement, superstars Lev Grossman and Daniel Abraham will talk to the students via Skype about their writing and their respective SyFy television shows, The Magicians and The Expanse.

Elliott understands the importance of such programs to teenage creativity and ingenuity. "Although my nuclear family nourished my youthful oddities, I was the oft-teased weirdo in the South Carolina low-country town where I grew up. South Carolina can be hard on nonconforming teens…Arts programs that not only encourage creative development but also help teens form cultural identities that connect them to larger arts communities can give young people the skills and confidence to flourish." (For her, the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts provided that spark.)

"We hope our efforts help enrich the cultural life of the community as well," says Tim Schmitz, the director of summer programs at Wofford. "We love that our students pack the bookstore and auditorium for the writer readings and presentations—and that they display such a love of reading in general. Our literary partnership with Amazon helps us to expand our scope and be of even more use to the students."

As a native of the Carolinas, Elliott calls it "crucial" for creative people "to support progressive cultural hubs in North and South Carolina, particularly bookstores like Hub City in Spartanburg and Malaprops in Ashville, both of which have provided havens for marginalized groups and creative people in their respective regions."

For the many teens who have come from around the country to Shared Worlds the camp is a haven as well as a source of inspiration and practical encouragement. In the first week, the teens work in groups of 10 to 12 to build their own fantasy or science-fiction worlds. They have the help of classroom instructors from Wofford faculty as well as innovative lectures on biology, government, cartography, and many other topics. In the second week, with the help of the guest writers, the students write stories based in their worlds.

"We find that this approach really stimulates the imagination and gives the students a setting that's personal but not too personal," says camp founder Jeremy L.C. Jones. "They want to write stories in their worlds, and don't freeze up from their internal editor as they might otherwise do. It's also just fun. It's imaginative play of a very high order. It helps them not just in writing or gaming but in any career they might go into later on in life."

As for Elliott, her career has been very different from what she imagined when she won the Archibald Rutledge Scholarship for poetry in twelfth grade. "I assumed I'd be a world-famous writer by the time I hit the legal drinking age."

Instead, Elliott worked for almost two decades to get her first two books published. "Though publishing in journals and anthologies over the years gave me the validation I needed to keep going," she says, "I've scribbled in relative obscurity for half my life. Having two books come out over the past two years has been thrilling [though] I also find myself longing for the days when I wrote in a giddy bubble without obsessing over publishing, publicity, sales stats, and such. Though it's harder to reach that enchanted state of pure immersion when I'm writing (the happiest of mental states for me), I'm thankful that I can still manage it—and thankful to participate in programs like Shared Worlds."

Elliott will teach at Shared Worlds for a week, during which time she will do a bookstore reading, critique student manuscripts, and give a presentation entitled "Genre and Genre-bending." Her work and an extended interview will be spotlighted on the Shared Worlds site and in the 2016 Shared Worlds book of student writing.

Amazon grants have also been given to such worthy organizations as Lambda Literary, AWP, and One Story.

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