UT student fulfills passion for storytelling through camp, mentorship

Cameron Osmond

After spending hours studying for a history exam, Christina Johnson pulls out her laptop and enters back into the life of a 15-year-old nurse-turned-pirate. She has 500 words to write, a task she’s been looking forward to all night. 

Ever since she was young, Johnson, an international relations and history freshman, has enjoyed writing and telling stories, spending her free time developing new pieces of fiction. Now, she is a five-time participant of Camp NaNoWriMo, an online writer’s workshop held in April, and is in the process of publishing a
children’s book. 

Camp NaNoWriMo, which has featured works such as Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” requires each participant come up with a story and write 20,000 words in the form of a play, short story or collection of poetry.

“It’s weird in that it takes place during school and it’s not an actual camp that you drive out to or physically attend,” Johnson said. “Therefore, the main challenge has been juggling the stresses of college with my commitment to my story. A lot of times, the story trumps the studying.” 

Her high school friend and current boyfriend, Noah Hodge, who attends Texas Tech University, said her love for storytelling was apparent from the first time they met.

“We were in a creative writing class together, and the teacher asked us to come up with an idea for an original children’s book,” Hodge said. “It was clear she cared much more about telling the rest of the story.” 

Johnson wrote three children’s books featuring bear puns, one of which, “Walcott the Scared Little Bear,” is in the process of being published.

Johnson’s current project, the story she’s writing for Camp NaNoWriMo this month, focuses on a girl living during World War I, who, after the death of her husband, is forced into the world of piracy.

“[My current project] is very fun to write, but very dark too — it’s maybe some of the darkest writing I’ve done,” Johnson said. “It’s been a rewarding ride telling this girl’s story.”  

Although Johnson does not have plans to pursue a writing career, her main vocational interest is embedded in her passion for writing and literature. After college, she hopes to  increase international literacy for refugees, a cause she said she is already working on by mentoring Congolese boys.

“This year, I began working a lot with refugee children, specifically three high school-aged refugees who came to Austin having trouble with their English,” Johnson said.

Acting as the boys’ mentor, Johnson assigns them weekly writing assignments to practice their English. She said their responses were often eccentric and full of character. 

“It’s fun to read their tales about dragons [and their] stories that provide many details about their individual pasts,” Johnson said. “We really like to talk a lot about story ideas. I think a main reason why the mentorship has been so rewarding for both me and my students is because we each love talking about whatever is on our mind.”

Johnson said the main reason she continues to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo is because of the satisfaction she feels upon completing a story. 

“With Camp NaNoWriMo, you get to see yourself succeed, which can be much-needed,” Johnson said. “You get to see yourself progress on paper, with something you’ve set your mind to and you’re doing — that’s exhilarating.”