Virtual Young Authors Conference

Presented by Success Beyond the Classroom in partnership with South Central Service Cooperative

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See what a local educator has to say about SBC’s Virtual Young Authors Conference:
“Geoff Herbach’s and Marie Olofsdotter’s videos were exceptional and so appropriate for these young–yet often experienced writers.

This year (2020-2021), the Young Authors Conference is going online! From October to May, Virtual YAC will feature unique content each month, including:

  • A mix of 3 live/recorded sessions led by professional writers. Live sessions will be recorded and posted. Sessions will run approximately 30-45 minutes including writing activity;
  • Q&A with local writers that is topic-specific (for example, developing characters, sports writing, dialogue, the writing life);
  • Weekly blog featuring videos created by members of the Minnesota writing community sharing their creative writing passions, tips and tricks, and highlighting new and bestselling YA and children titles;
  • Teacher/Parent Resource – Virtual Book Club with Desdamona, YAC’s open mic emcee, Spoken Word Artist and performer; and
  • Space for SBC to feature the work of our young writers (online writing gallery curated by SBC).

Monthly Book Club Resource with Desdamona

You know her as the open mic emcee at YAC, Spoken Word Artist and performer, Desdamona! Each month, Des will select a MG or YA title and create a recorded video for teachers. Desdamona will model what a virtual book club meeting could look like. Videos will feature questions related to theme and characters, as well as writing prompts and conversation starters.

October: Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott
Blended by Sharon Draper
December: The Unsung Hero of Birdsong USA by Brenda Woods
More to the Story by Hena Khan
February: My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
March: The Collectors by Jacqueline West
April: West of the Moon by Margi Preus
May: The Broken Blade by William Durbin

View the Featured Authors for Each Month Below:


Samantha HoangLong

Telling Stories That Matter to Your Community

Live session: May 5 at 1pm
Live Q&A:
May 19 at 1pm

Journalists have an important job to share people’s stories and perspectives on life. Those stories are how we learn about what’s happening around us. It helps our community stay connected. We’ll talk about how to be a powerful storyteller by finding the great everyday stories in your own community.

Samantha HoangLong is a multimedia community journalist dedicated to amplifying under-told stories. Her work has appeared at various digital, TV and radio news outlets in the Twin Cities. She recently graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and is an alumni of 360 Journalism.

May Lee-Yang

May Lee-Yang

Creativity Toolkit

Live session: May 12 at 10am

Join us in finishing SBC’s Virtual Young Authors Conference the same way we started — with May Lee-Yang! In this workshop, we’ll provide some tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block and keep you writing over the summer. 

May Lee-Yang writes poems, stories, and plays. Her plays have been produced at Theater Mu, Intermedia Arts, and other places. One of her poems was recently published onto sidewalks in St. Paul. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota.


Chavonn Williams Shen

Write Right Now

Conquer the blank page through this series of poetry prompts! We’ll tackle different ways to get over writer’s block as well as ways to keep writing once we find our flow. So bring your best poet self and get ready to write right now!

Chavonn Williams Shen was a first runner-up for The Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction Contest and a Best of the Net Award finalist. She was also a Pushcart Prize nominee, a winner of the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series and a fellow with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. When she’s not teaching with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, she can be found in her house obsessing over her plants.

Karlyn Coleman

Karlyn Coleman

Sound Tracks and Stories

We will use the soundtracks from a variety of movies to inspire and create. We will talk about setting, pacing, rising action, and resolution. Music will guide us and much writing will be done.

Karlyn Coleman is an award-winning writer, teacher, and creative collaborator based in Minneapolis. She is the author of Where Are All the Minnesotans? Under her pen name, K.R. Coleman, she has written nine young adult novels for Lerner’s Darby Creek Series. Her short stories have won awards and appear in Sycamore Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, Water~Stone Review, Paper Darts, Revolver, and Crab Orchard Review. Her honors include a Sustainable Arts Grant, a Minnesota Emerging Writers Grant, and a Loft Literary Center Mentor Series award. She serves on the Loft Literary Center Board of Directors and loves working at Wild Rumpus Books where she hosts PJ Story Time and Wild Things Book Club.

anika fajardo

Anika Fajardo

Turning Your Life into Fiction

Live session: April 20 at 10am

Do you ever wonder where authors get their ideas from? Many writers begin with their own lives and the fascinating–or even boring–things that happen to them. We’ll explore ways to turn your life experiences into fiction by playing with memory, imagination, and language.

Anika Fajardo was born in Colombia and raised in Minnesota. She is the author of WHAT IF A FISH and MAGICAL REALISM FOR NON-BELIEVERS: A MEMOIR OF FINDING FAMILY. Her next novel for young readers, MEET ME HALFWAY, will be published in 2022. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.


Myron Medcalf

The Power of Your Voice

Live session: April 13 at 10am
Live Q&A:
April 29 at 10am

Learn how to communicate a perspective by using strong words and concrete ideas to support your opinions in writing. In today’s world, everybody has a platform and a way to communicate their perspectives. But how can you do more than just “say something”?

Myron Medcalf is currently a senior college basketball reporter and nationally syndicated radio host with ESPN. He also writes a semimonthly column for the Star Tribune. He’s a Minnesota State University, Mankato, graduate who has lived in the state for 20 years.

Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill

Low-Impact Storytelling

Live session: March 11 at 10am
Live Q&A: March 25 at 10am

This workshop focuses on the moment when a story catches us and does not let us go – the opening sentence. Each student should have a favorite novel with them when they begin. We will discuss the opening lines of books that we love and analyze what makes them “tick”. We will be asking ourselves what we love in stories as readers, and learn to write the way that real writers write – which is to say, selfishly. Then the students will generate opening lines of books that don’t yet exist, but that they themselves would like to read someday. And we will observe in real time how those opening lines crack the world of a story open, and provide a path for the writer, and the reader, to walk right in.

Kelly Barnhill is an author, teacher and mom. She is a former teacher, former bartender, former waitress, former activist, former park ranger, former secretary, former janitor and former church-guitar-player. The sum of these experiences have prepared her for exactly nothing – save for the telling of stories, which she has been doing quite happily for some time now. She received a Newbery Medal, a world Fantasy Award, a Charlotte Huck Honor and a McKnight Arts Fellowship and is a New York Times best seller. She is the author of the novels THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, THE WITCH’S BOY, IRON HEARTED VIOLET, and THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK, as well as the novella, “The Unlicensed Magician”. She has also written a bunch of grownup-ish short stories of various descriptions (Literary, Speculative, Odd and Otherwise) that have appeared in a variety of venues, as well as essays, poetry, and a small collection of very strange nonfiction books for elementary students.


Heidi Grosch

Fractured Fairy Tales

Using fairy tales as our recipe and our own imaginations as the ingredients, we will cook up some fantastical stories of our own by changing the character and setting.

Heidi Haavan Grosch loves to play with words, and has been doing so her entire life. She has been a children’s storyteller, drama and music teacher, and now works with teachers in Norway.

diego vazquez1

Diego Vázquez Jr.

Respond to Short Poems with Word Power

Live session: March 16 at 10am

Be prepared to listen and respond. I will read a small poem. Then, you will take a breath, and using your favorite writing tools respond to the poem that you heard. Use your heart, your imagination, your words and create a poem. Share what you wrote. And we do it again and again.

Diego Vázquez Jr is a poet, novelist, storyteller. He has never met an illegal human. He writes poems to flowers, birds, rocks, rivers & salmon, and people too! His novels include Growing Through the Ugly and Border Town with the Foreign Sky.


Jonathan Bing

Amazing Picture Books and How to Write Them

Live session: February 25 at 1pm

What’s the magic inside those picture books we love so much? (And how do we tap that magic in our own writing?) In this session, you will explore what makes a favorite so special, and learn how we can use it in our own writing—whatever kind of writing we do.

Jonathan Bing is an award-winning author and storyteller who leads workshops on creativity and writing. In addition to writing books, he also works as a consultant where he has named things for Apple and Coke, and been nationally recognized for his ads. Also, he grew up in Japan!

Margi Preus

Margi Preus

A Series of Fortunate and Unfortunate Events

Live session: February 18 at 1pm
Live Q&A:
February 24 at 1pm

Life and stories are almost always made up of a series of both fortunate and unfortunate events. What can we learn from our own ups and downs about story writing and vice versa? We’ll take a look at how fortune and misfortune create plot, and then collaborate to complete a story together.

Margi Preus is the author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of a Samurai and other books for young readers, including the Minnesota Book Award-winning West of the Moon and three new titles in 2020. She lives in Duluth where she likes to ski, hike, paddle a canoe and sit quietly with a book on her lap.

Wing Young Huie

Wing Young Huie

How Do Photographs Form Us? What Do You See?

Live session: February 10 at 10am

Wing will show how he has photographically interacted with thousands of strangers and ask participants to write and discuss their interpretations of his photos. Back-stories to the photos are then revealed to complicate, challenge, and illuminate perceptions.

Wing Young Huie has been photographing the complex realities of American society for 40 years. He has exhibited in museums and galleries around the world and in epic street installations. In 2018 he received the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, the first photographer ever to be recognized. Educators and community organizations have used Wing’s projects to encourage discussion, deepen understanding, and inspire writing about the ever-changing cultural landscape of urban life. His work has been documented in five published books.

John Coy

John Coy

Behind the Words – What’s Really Being Said?

Live session: January 20 at 1pm
Live Q&A:
January 28 at 1pm

What do we need to create an effective scene? We start with characters and setting and then what comes next? In this workshop, you’ll bring your scene to life. We’ll make the adventure bigger and more interesting and you’ll surprise yourself. Come ready to write and explore the power of your words.

John Coy is the author of YA novels, the 4 for 4 middle-grade series, and numerous picture books including Dads, If We Were Gone, and My Mighty Journey. He lives in Minneapolis by the Mississippi River on Dakota land and visits schools around the world.

Naomi Downing

Naomi Kinsman

Through a Magical Doorway

Live session: January 13 at 1pm

In this session, we’ll use real-world objects as magical doorways. Through a series of visualization and question and answer games, writers will dream up and develop an imagined world, filled with story possibilities and potential.

Author of the four book From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series, Naomi Kinsman also created Spilled Ink, A Writer’s Notebook, winner of the 2009 Moonbeam Gold Medal for Educational/Activity book. As Executive Director for Society of Young Inklings, Naomi developed a play-based methodology to inspire and teach young writers called Writerly Play. Naomi has a BA in Theatre Arts from Seattle Pacific University and an MFA in Writing for Children and YA from Hamline University.

David Oppegaard

Surprise, Surprise!

In this fun session, we will talk about the art of surprising your reader and creating satisfying endings to your story. We will also engage in several writing exercises together that help sharpen our writing and make it more surprising.

David Oppegaard is the author of the Young Adult novels, The Town Built on Sorrow and The Firebug of Balrog County, a finalist for a MN Book Award. He has also published three other novels. His work is a mixture of horror, sci-fi, and literary fiction.

Abby Cooper

Abby Cooper

Behind the Words – What’s Really Being Said?

Live session: December 7 at 1pm
Live Q&A:
December 17 at 1pm

Just like real people, characters in stories don’t always say what they really mean. In this session, we’ll explore fun and interesting ways to develop meaningful layers of emotion in our writing. After all, words have power on AND beneath the surface. Today we’ll dive into both.

Abby Cooper is the author of Minnesota Book Award Finalist STICKS & STONES, BUBBLES, and FRIEND OR FICTION. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, her poodle, and a whole bunch of books.

Myron Medcalf

Read Your Way to Better Writing

The pandemic has had an effect on our normal routines. But it’s also an important opportunity to recommit ourselves to reading, which is the true key to better writing. Writing comes from a love of reading. In this session, I’ll show you how your favorite authors can help you become a better writer.

Myron Medcalf is currently a senior college basketball reporter and nationally syndicated radio host with ESPN. He also writes a semimonthly column for the Star Tribune. He’s a Minnesota State University, Mankato, graduate who has lived in the state for 20 years.


Guy Stewart

MAGIC & WARP – Using the Power of Words to Create Worlds of Fantasy & Science Fiction

I’ve used words to create wildly different Fantasy & Science Fiction worlds in my own short stories. Using exercises to strengthen your imagination by choosing words that will stir up ALL of a reader’s senses, we’ll practice in a famous writer’s world then jump into our own worlds to power them up with strong words!

Guy Stewart is a husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor. He keeps a writing blog called POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS where he tries to help writers by dissecting his own work and gives weekly ideas for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror stories.


Joe Horton

The Power of Surprise

Live session: November 19 @ 1pm

Learn how surprise plays a key role in the writing process and participate in a fun writing exercise that will turbocharge your ability to surprise yourself!

Joe Horton is an artist and rapper known for his work with experimental rap groups No Bird Sing. After receiving an MFA and publishing short stories, Horton turned his attention to visual storytelling with the exhibition of the short film ‘Vessel’ at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2019.

J.M. Lee

J.M. Lee

What is Fanfiction?

Live Q&A: November 16 @ 10am

If you’ve heard of fanfiction and want to know more, this is the session for you! J.M. Lee, writer for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, discusses what fanfiction is, and how it can help you practice important skills to become a better writer.

Born and raised in the great Minnesota north, J.M. spent his formative years searching for talking animals and believing he could control the weather. After pursuing nerdy interests in comparative film studies and screenwriting, he ended up with a degree in linguistics from the U of M.

Laura Purdie Salas

Any Word is a Poetic Word

We’ll explore the power of a single word by choosing a picture prompt, writing a paragraph, and then crafting a first draft of a poem. Our poem will explore both the meaning/idea of the word AND the word itself–its shape and form on the page. Let’s dive deep and get creative!

Former teacher and award-winning author Laura Purdie Salas believes reading and writing small picture books and poems can have a huge impact on your life. This author of Lion of the Sky, Snowman-Cold=Puddle, and many more books loves getting young writers excited about words!

Marie Olofsdotter

Marie Olofsdotter

Poetry: Weave Your Words Into Power

Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate writes, “Remember the dance language is, that life is.” To her, poems are ‘carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom.’ Creativity is a powerful force, using tools like metaphor and anaphora, we’ll weave our words into poems full of power.

Marie Olofsdotter is a Swedish artist who lives in Minneapolis where she writes poetry, creates picture books, paints and works in mixed media. Her accolades include a Minnesota Book Award, a Loft Mentor Series Award in Poetry and grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. Marie’s work as a teaching artist has inspired young and old alike to be creative for over 25 years.

May Lee-Yang

May Lee-Yang

Scavenging for Poems

Live Session: October 8 at 1pm
Live Q&A: October 28 @ 1pm

Words are so powerful that they can have several life cycles. In this workshop, we will learn and create erasure poetry, a process of scavenging for poems in pre-written words.

May Lee-Yang writes poems, stories, and plays. Her plays have been produced at Theater Mu, Intermedia Arts, and other places. One of her poems was recently published onto sidewalks in St. Paul. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota.

Geoff Herbach

Killer Concrete Details

In this fiction session, we will work to get rid of general language and build a wicked character and a great scene out of the assortment of odd, personal objects and particular emotions the character has and feels. This is the basis of painting a picture in your readers’ mind, a major part of great story writing.

Geoff Herbach is the author of a bunch of books, including Stupid Fast and Hooper. He has received the Cybil’s Award for best YA fiction, the Minnesota Book Award, and Outstanding Book by a Wisconsin author. He teaches creative writing and chairs the English Department at Minnesota State, Mankato.

2020-2021 Theme: Words Have Power

Words and stories hold tremendous power: they spark imagination, inspire confidence, help heal, honor family, show gratitude, demonstrate kindness, and share truth.

Watch Young Authors Conference author, Geoff Herbach, introduce Virtual YAC and share a great story related to our theme.

Red Balloon Bookshop & SBC

If you’ve been to the Young Authors Conference at Bethel University in the past, you already know about the AMAZING bookfair that Red Balloon Bookshop provides us every year. SBC has partnered with Red Balloon Bookshop for many years now and we couldn’t stand not having them be a part of this new, virtual year. When you shop at Red Balloon Bookshop online, enter the code “YAC2020” for a portion of your sale to go to Success Beyond the Classroom.

With the Young Authors Conference, students…

Are challenged and encouraged to be better writers.

Leave with new strategies, ideas, and skills to become a better writer.

Learn that strong writing skills are important in life.


For more information about about the Virtual Young Authors Conference or if you are interested in becoming a presenter, contact Colleen Feller at 612-638-1511.

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© 2021 Success Beyond the Classroom

SBC presents its programs in collaboration with Metro ECSU. Metro ECSU member districts can participate in SBC programs at special member rates. For more information, visit