A photo of a group of kids from a Sage Hill Youth Writing Workshop in Saskatoon.

Writing program a safe space for youth to explore and create

By: Ana Cristina Camacho March, 2024

As a child, Warsha Mushtaq discovered a love for words and writing poetry. However, her involvement in a Sage Hill Youth Writing Workshop, instructed by writer Danica Lorer, is where she discovered her voice.  

Mushtaq, the former Youth Poet Laureate, says, “To this day, I remember what she [Lorer] did for me and how encouraging she was. That guidance and mentorship, you couldn’t really get anywhere else. The amount of growth that happens in that space is just so phenomenal.”

Mushtaq, attended her first Sage Hill workshop the year she was finishing middle school. Like many of the young writers that attend the program, she became a repeat participant, coming back for the next three summers.  

Tara Dawn Solheim, executive director, Sage Hill Writing, says that the organization’s youth programs offer young creative minds in the province tools and support to hone their skills. The workshops are led by published Saskatchewan writers, giving participants access to personalized professional mentorship, free of cost.  

“Students who are interested in creative writing might not find support in their school, but they can find support through us and through the community that they build with the other students,” says Solheim. 

“For youth, getting to contribute to the cultural vibrancy of their community and using their voices is a really important thing.”  

Solheim says that every year, when she goes in to welcome the participants on the first day of the youth workshops, she sees a lot of shy faces. Five days later, when she listens to them read their work in front of their friends and families, she can see “how much they’ve grown, the bonds that they’ve made, and how much the writing has improved.”  

Mushtaq adds, that the supportive environment created by the writing instructors is one of the reasons why the young participants feel empowered to learn and be creative in the Sage Hill workshops.  

“In every group I had, everyone was so willing to share their ideas and share their passion for writing,” she says. “I think that in a regular classroom setting, sometimes we don't really connect. But this summer program was just a very safe space. There was no judgment, so we were all really willing to take risks with our work.” 

One of her favourite memories at the Sage Hill workshops was the reading events at the end of the program. She explains how she worked on a piece about Islamophobia for one of her readings and how getting to write about her identity in a safe environment changed her. “It made me a much more confident person. It felt cathartic for me to have that presentation and to have all the writers around me support me as I presented that poem. I think that after that poem, I grew.”  

Now a history student at the University of Saskatchewan, Mushtaq has many goals for her writing because of her Sage Hill experience, such as being part of writing festivals, publishing more poems, publishing a book. “I came into that program as a very shy writer. I came in kind of unsure. But by the end, I had realized that art is very diverse, and it is not just for one type of person. If I genuinely want to keep doing this, I don’t have to feel like it’s impossible.”  

Sage Hill’s programs are supported by operating funding from the Professional Arts Organization Program (PAOP) through SK Arts supported by funding from Sask Lotteries through the partnership between SK Arts and SaskCulture.