Local author advises St. John’s young writers

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 13, 2009



RESERVE – Aspiring writers working their way through the St. John Parish school system received some valuable advice and encouragement from a local author of children’s books as part of a project celebrating the achievements of African-American Louisiana writers.

New Orleans native Denise McConduit, author of a string of children’s books that follow the adventures of her son D.J. while profiling the unique culture of New Orleans, spoke to a group of about 60 students from schools on the East Bank who participated in a series of art, creative writing and critical essay writing contests sponsored by Tulane University’s African & African Diaspora Studies Program. McConduit explained her journey as writer, which started at age 12, and provided tips on how to excel in the field.

“Writers write,” said McConduit to the students assembled in the gym of Leon Godchaux School in Reserve. “The more you write, the better you write. You should also save what you write so you can go back and improve on it later.”

McConduit told the students that good writers never stop at one draft and said it is always best to look things over several times to make sure it is the best it can be. She also said most of the best topics are close to home, which is where she found her success in writing.

Nghana Lewis, director of the Tulane Program, said she worked with Superintendent Courtney Millet to bring the program to St. John in July of last year as a way to promote literacy education in the schools.

“Participation in the contests was originally supposed to be optional, but some schools participated in full,” said Lewis. “The response was overwhelming.”

Lewis said the contests were broken down into three divisions by grade level. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade created original artwork based on McConduit’s second book “D.J. and the Jazz Fest.” Sixth grade through eighth grade read excerpts from Ernest Hill’s novel, “Satisfied With Nothin’,” and created original essays, poems and stories inspired by the reading. Ninth through 12th graders read “Mutual Murder,” a one-act play by Tom Dent, and wrote critical essays based on his work.

“Our program is seeking out funding to collect, edit and bind the submissions so that they can be donated to the St. John Parish Public Library to be viewed by the public,” Lewis said.

McConduit, who had a moment to look over some of the art submissions, was amazed by the level of work put in by the younger students.

“I was really pleased with the art,” McConduit said. “They really did a good job of capturing the spirit of “D.J. and the Jazz Fest.”