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Released August 22, 2003


HATTIESBURG - If it's true what Andy Warhol said about people's 15 minutes of fame, then several area students should have about 13 minutes left after Thursday.

Two of those minutes were used when Public Radio Mississippi came to The University of Southern Mississippi to tape segments for its upcoming fall program featuring student writers across the state.

In partnership with the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute (MWTI) and the South Mississippi Writing Project, the program highlights students from kindergarten through university who have written original pieces of poetry, fiction or nonfiction about life in Mississippi. In time, the program will expand to feature the writings of teachers and community members.

"We're just so excited about the opportunity for students to share their talents with the rest of the state in this kind of medium," MWTI Director Kim Patterson said.

Three elementary school students who participated in Southern Miss' Young Writers Camp this summer were among the first recorded for the project. In all, Patterson said she expects to deliver about 240 two-minute segments to PRM by year's end, enough for a full calendar's worth of daily airings.

Hannah Berman, 11, a sixth grader at Purvis Middles School, read her original piece about the Red Bluffs of Mississippi, in which she ends, "…as I leave the bluffs, I once more gaze upon the beautiful miniature canyon."

Although she admitted being nervous before the taping, Berman nailed the piece in one take. "I just imagined no one was there," she said, giggling.

An affiliate of the National Writing Project, the MWTI is located at eight Mississippi universities, including Southern Miss. The project came about, Patterson said, when PRM approached her about filling the void left by a similar national show called "Rural Voices." In that program, students from across the nation take listeners to a distinct region through a blend of stories, essays, poems, local sounds and music.

"PRM is running out of national segments in September, and they contacted us about replacing them with the 2:06 p.m. slot," Patterson said. "So, we're compiling a CD and a play list for them. We're the only state in the country doing this for their public radio station."

Part of the challenge, Patters said, is preparing the student writers to read their stories on the air. She said that entails teaching them proper breath control, stance and enunciation.

"PRM gave us teachers a class on radio speech, and we're teaching the kids how to read their stories at the right volume and rate," Patterson said. "In the South, we have a tendency to let our words trail off at the end. A lot of these kids rush through their first couple of readings and we've got to help them slow it down."

The tips worked for Jody Nam, 8, from Presbyterian Christian School. She needed just two takes to get her piece about looking out her window in the can.

"When I look out my window, I see birds and lizards and butterflies," Nam said, reciting a piece of her composition after her taping at W-USM in Southern Hall.

Darcie Conrad, administrative co-director of the South Mississippi Writing Project, Southern Miss' offshoot of the MWTI, said the tapings have gone very well so far. This year, MWTI will schedule four tapings every three months, with the topics expanding to include students' thoughts on seasonal things like holiday traditions, spring baseball and hunting season.

"We hope this program will be an ongoing thing from now until the end of time," Conrad said.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM