Writer's Festival inspires Greenwich students

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Aspiring writers from Sacred Heart Greenwich, Brunswick School (Brunswick), Greenwich Academy, King School, and Rye Country Day School gathered at Greenwich Academy Saturday, February 3 for the ninth annual Greenwich Writer’s Festival. Students listened to three writers, Mr. Adam Haggiag, Ms. Sally Wen Mao, and Ms. Wendy Walker share how writing has shaped their lives and careers. The seasoned writers offered advice, led writing workshops, and encouraged students to use writing as a creative, empowering tool to amplify their voices.
Mr. Haggiag is a film producer who specializes in motion capture production technology and has a passion for writing. While addressing students at the beginning of the festival, he revealed that writing skills have shaped his approach to producing. Writing has also had an enduring presence throughout Mr. Haggiag’s life, as his mother is an accomplished children’s author and his father is a publisher.
Mr. Haggiag graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of Arts and has worked for multiple movie studios, including Rumbalara Films. He has worked on popular films such as “The Adventures of Tintin” and “Avatar.” November 2017, Mr. Haggiag released his most recent project, “Bombshell,” which is a documentary about American actress Ms. Hedy Lamarr.

Sacred Heart students participated in workshops with the featured speakers. From left to right, Emily Coster ’18, Elisabeth Hall ’18, Mr. Haggiag, Ms. Mao, Ms. Walker, and Laura Ferrucci ’19. Courtesy of Dr. Cristina Baptista

During Mr. Haggiag’s workshop at the Greenwich Writer’s Festival, he explained the steps and skills required for the production of a film, using “Bombshell” as his primary example. Mr. Haggiag shared how writing skills have played an integral role in his producing career. For instance, he asserted that the first step in creating a film of any kind is to develop a thesis and hook, just as a writer would begin his or her work. He specified that the thesis and hook guide the concept and overall production of the film, enabling the production crew to effectively compile research and edit the production. 
“One of the fastest shortcuts is to learn editing. It is a great way to put together and tell stories. You also become imminently more hirable. If you know how to edit and you know how to tell a story, then you can go out and shoot as well,” Mr. Haggiag said.
Mr. Haggiag continued the workshop, explaining each step in Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, a plot structure template for any 90-minute narrative feature. Afterwards, Mr. Haggiag ended his lecture with some tips for those who are interested in the film industry. He emphasized the importance of getting personally involved in productions, stating that only through an emotional bond with the film is the viewer able to connect to the feature. 
Poet Ms. Mao also offered her expertise at the Writer’s Festival. Ms. Mao holds an M.F.A from Cornell University and has taught writing classes and workshops at institutions, including Cornell University, The George Washington University, Hunter College, and the Asian American Writers Workshop, according to sallywenmao.com.
In her introductory speech, Ms. Mao discussed her process for finding inspiration while writing. In her first book Mad Honey Symposium, published in 2014, Ms. Mao took inspiration from the honey badger. The animal’s preference for honey made from the poisonous azalea plant compelled her to write poems that mimic the daring nature of the animal. Ms. Mao continued researching azalea honey, also known as “mad honey,” and found excerpts of literature dating back to 400 BCE. This long and complex history of honey sparked a writing project that led to Ms. Mao’s collection of poems, which she later compiled into her book.
Ms. Mao also expressed her gratitude for the ability to share her voice as a poet in the Greenwich Writer’s Festival. In her speech to the student audience, Ms. Mao encouraged young writers to surround themselves with like-minded people who share similar passions. In her opinion, doing so will help writers confidently pursue their unique voice.
“Being in a space like this, and hearing young girls tell me that they were impacted by my work is really important because […] it made me feel like a valuable person, that what I’m doing with my poetry is really rewarding and important,” Ms. Mao said.
In her workshop, Ms. Mao focused on the literary device of persona. She gave students a selection of poems to read that provided an example of using alter ego in poetry. Students then created their own alter egos, using a template with sparking questions such as, “What is the shape of your body?” and “Who are you and who do you love?” After, she instructed writers to interact with each other while in their alter-ego’s character. To conclude her small workshop, students used the exercise to craft a poem that described the alter ego they had created.
Ms. Wendy Walker, a novelist and mother of a Brunswick alum and two current Brunswick students, also told students about her personal pursuit of a career in writing.
Before launching her writing career, Ms. Walker attended Brown University and later earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Initially, she was a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., and later she became a family law attorney in Fairfield County as she raised her three children.
Author Ms. Wendy Walker speaks to a Greenwich Academy student and friend of Mr. Haggiag. Emily Coster ’18

While working in law, Ms. Walker began writing thriller novels. She eventually decided to pursue writing full-time, publishing her first book All is Not Forgotten in 2016. American actress Reese Witherspoon, who stars in Big Little Lies and has produced and starred in a number of thriller films, recommended All is Not Forgotten on social media as an addition to her book club. Ms. Walker’s second book, a thriller called Emma In The Night, was published by St. Martin’s Press in August 2017. Emma in the Night has earned praise from The New York Times and Amazon named it a “Best Book of the Month” in August 2017.
Today, Ms. Walker is working on her third novel, another thriller.
Ms. Walker spoke to students about her unconventional path to a career in writing and the unique insights that her careers in law and finance brought to her writing. Ms. Walker’s writing workshop focused on her approach to crafting a thriller novel. She emphasized the knowledge that she had gained through trial and error during her early forays into writing, with the hopes of equipping students with essential writing tools.
Her workshop also highlighted the craft of storytelling, offering students strategies for constructing stories, characters, and plots. Specifically, she explained how tools such as tense, narration, and setting can shape a story.
In addition to describing the process of constructing the plot of a thriller, she also offered encouraging advice to student writers.
“Take [writing] classes, learn the nuts and bolts, build your vocabulary and your skills, read a lot, and pay attention to how other authors have built their plots and what tools they use,” Ms. Walker said. “Keep filling up your toolbox so that when you have a story, you have this huge box of tools to construct a story in a way that will best give life to that story.”
– Elisabeth Hall, Managing Editor, Nina Rosenblum, Opinions and Podcast Editor and Emily Coster, Editor-In-Chief