In a time when society seems to be moving away from traditional magazines, papers and printed material, in favor of blogs, twitter feeds and websites, there is something nice and old school about a project in the works at Liberty High.
The school has been steadily growing a reputation as a fertile greenhouse of student creativity, particularly renowned for its music and video production programs.
Now that spirit is catching alight in the creative writing department. This year the school will publish its first ever student-produced literary magazine – “Writer’s Block.”
The idea for a magazine collecting the creative works of students was born from teacher Julie Larsen’s memories of her own time at high school.
“I was the editor of our school literary magazine,” she said. “We sat around in the yearbook lab and threw this thing together. I still read it now – it was good times.”
During a meeting with school principal Mike DeLetis, Larsen mentioned the possibility of a literary magazine – more as a casual, offhand reminiscence than a serious project proposal. But DeLetis loved the idea, and gave the green light for the pioneering publication.
Larsen put together a team of senior Creative Writing and Advanced Placement Literature students to edit and produce the magazine.
All that was needed then was works to fill the blank pages.
But if the editors were worried that their fellow students at Liberty wouldn’t want to commit their imaginations to paper, they needn’t have. After putting out an open invitation for contributions, they received more than 70 applications, far more than they needed.
Seniors Kimmy Scavotto, William Weisberg, Jeremy Heckt and Ryan Sippy were charged with the responsibility of guiding Liberty’s first foray into creative publishing. Inspired by their own literary heroes, it was an experience they took to with a great enthusiasm.
In addition to after school crash courses in publishing software, InDesign, the four editors sifted through dozens of poems and short stories, photographs and drawings, learning a lot about their fellow students along the way.
While the creative writing students were offered an extra class credit for contributing a piece, the opportunity to be published brought out the author in many students from other pockets of the school community.
“We actually ended up with more submissions from non-creative writing students,” Larsen said. It was revelation that pleased Scavotto and Weisberg.
“It made me realize that there are a lot of people with a creativity that you might not expect,” Weisberg said. “You know, people you see as being introverted, or quiet, in the hallways. We had a lot of really interesting pieces from all sorts of people.”
Scavotta said the editorial team was conscious of allowing students free range with their expression.
“We didn’t want to decline things based on their theme, or personal taste,” she said. “The only criteria we had was, ‘is it intelligent, is it well written, does it say something?'”
Some of the submissions definitely said something. Almost too much.
Like good art in any medium, some of the works really pushed the envelope in terms of what would be okay to publish. To his great credit, Principal DeLetis did more than just offer lip service to creative expression – he allowed it the appropriate stage.
“There was one piece in particular that was a bit controversial,” Scavotto said. “We thought we’d better run it by Ms Larsen.”
That piece, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s classic novel “Fahrenheit 451,” was written from the point of view of an arsonist as he watched his school burn to the ground. Given the inflammatory subject matter, Larsen showed the piece to DeLetis.
“I said to him, we’ve got pieces like this coming in. How edgy do you want this thing to be?”
It could have been a sticky spot for the principal.
A recent case in Seattle where the principal of Bishop Blanchet Catholic High School banned a student-written article about contraception from running in its school newspaper attracted national headlines.
But Deletis responded with aplomb, judging the piece on its substantial artistic merits and giving it the thumbs up.
“He said he supported tortured artists,” Scavotto said.
As well as poems and short stories, the inaugural “Writer’s Block” will feature visual art works.
“For someone who doesn’t know too much about photography and drawing, the art pieces really surprised me,” Weisberg said. “The detail in the photos, and the unique, crazy, imaginative drawings, were really amazing, I thought.”
Ten of the 75 pages will be full color, a luxury for student produced magazines that will allow a number of art works to be displayed in their fullest glory.
The splash of color will be a interesting contrast to the editorial theme of ‘Black and White.’
“We had a lot of really dark, sombre pieces, and a lot of super happy pieces,” said Scavotto. It was her job to arrange these disparate visions into some kind of unifying theme. In the end, she used the vast differences as the very things that brought the magazine together.
“With the Black and White theme, we were able to present the works as a collection of contradictions,” Scavotto said. “So we have chapter headings like, ‘Past v Present v Future,’ ‘Understanding v Misconception,’ and ‘Faith v Doubt.'”
But perhaps the essence of this groundbreaking project can be found in the final chapter – titled “Beauty.”
“It is in this magnificent chaos of black and white that one finds life in all its artistic glory
and the beautiful disaster of it all pierces my heart with a moment of sheer delight.
For we are all part and partial of this wondrous concotion.”
“Writer’s Block” will come hot off the Minuteman Press early next week. To get your copy, email Julie Larsen at LarsenJ@issaquah.wednet.edu.