United States Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith said, “Reading deeply and writing courageously are the best defenses against the culture of ignorance, complacency, and fear. When students commit to listen to and interrogate language in this way, they become more mindful, compassionate, and indispensable as citizens.” What makes this sentiment all the more powerful is that Smith said these words to students, my students.
In my first year teaching English at Deltona High School, I created the school’s student-run literary magazine, Howl. I saw a yearning in my students for a creative outlet in their writing. As an after-school club that meets once a week—mostly in school, but once a month at a local coffee shop—the students write, edit, and publish their own poetry, fiction, and memoir. They also read, review, and publish submissions from around the world, giving them rare and valuable insight into global contemporary literature, while also providing the literary community with a fresh perspective from the rising generation. Additionally, the students write and publish reviews of forthcoming books sent to us by publishers from around the country such as Coffee House Press, Steerforth Press, Beacon Press, and Chicago Review Press. To date, they have also interviewed acclaimed writers, including twenty-three Pulitzer Prize winners, seven former U.S. Poets Laureate, two Nobel Laureates in Literature, and other acclaimed writers such as Richard Blanco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Joyce Carol Oates. They even conducted the last recorded interview with Maya Angelou, which is now in the permanent archives of the Library of Congress. Howl is the first and only high school literary magazine to be a member of the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), a special honor for the students. Established in 1967, CLMP is an organization made up of hundreds of small publishers, creating a network of professionals that encourage and support one another in their endeavors to publish great literature, both in print and digitally. CLMP provides everything from technical assistance and peer-to-peer workshops to articles on the industry and other helpful resources. Publishers must apply to become members of CLMP and are selected based on strict criteria. This membership has provided the students with a professional level of expertise, giving them access to the various resources and assistance CLMP provides such as fundraising advice, best practices for using social media, and networking opportunities.
These students, however, have delved even deeper into the literary arts community, creating interesting projects and events themselves. One example was the Novel Films endeavor for which the students interviewed writers whose works had been made into films, in an effort to invite more movie-goers into the world of reading. Featured writers were Lois Lowry, author of The Giver; Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours; and Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish. Their interviews for this project were compiled on Howl’s website, where readers could learn about how the authors felt about their work being adapted to film. What did the directors get right? What did they get wrong? Any cameos? The students even collaborated with the Florida Literary Arts Coalition to present an event in St. Augustine at which the film, Big Fish, was screened for an audience, followed by a live Skype interview with the author, Daniel Wallace, afterwards.
Perhaps one of the most influential projects the students have done is a fundraising campaign called Pay It Forward. The students wanted to inspire future generations to develop a love of the literary arts by encouraging them to become readers and writers when they enter high school. They raised money through donations and selling autographed books given to us by some of the generous authors they interviewed. With this money, they funded various projects throughout Florida. There are many websites where teachers post projects they need funding for, such as Find It Fund It Florida; the students researched various projects, discussed them, voted on which one to support, donated their money, and reached out to the teacher to help more. The key was to get in touch with the teachers to learn more about what else they needed, in addition to funding, in order to best bring the literature to life for the students. This also created a personal and memorable touch to the experience, which enriched the students’ philanthropic spirit.
One project they funded was to purchase a book series by author Andrew Tofolli for students at Flamingo Elementary in Sunrise, Florida. Tofolli is known for writing educational children’s books to help students learn about historical figures. He presents the figures as characters who are animals such as Christopher Cowlumbus, a cow explorer, and Bengalmin Franklin, a tiger posing as the Philadelphian founding father. In classic Howl fashion, the students went a step further in supporting the project by arranging for the author himself to meet with the students at the school.
Other projects included providing the funds for and advice about starting up a literary magazine at a Florida middle school and purchasing class sets of Christopher Healy’s book, Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, for students at Starke Elementary School. Healy’s books pick up where traditional fairy tales leave off, following the princes after they’ve rescued their damsels. It’s an interactive experience for the students that teaches them about cause-and-effect, morality, and the consequences of decisions, all in a fun and unique way. Of course, we also arranged for Healy to Skype with the students to talk about storytelling and writing.
As acclaimed poet Billy Collins told my students, “I have said that high school is the place where poetry goes to die, but with the right teacher and the right poems, it can be the place where the childhood joys of poetry are renewed and set in place for life.” To this end, Howl and its student-staff have one clear objective: to promote the literary arts in education by developing and supporting literary magazines in high schools throughout the country.
The students have already planted the seeds of this goal in their Pay It Forward campaign, but they want to get the word out about how far they’re willing to go to promote this effort. For those high schools interested in launching their own literary magazine, my students can help by developing the website, helping to structure the staff, designing a mission statement and annual goals, obtaining writer interviews, securing local press coverage, creating relationships with book publishers for student reviews, and soliciting submissions from around the world. We want to create a network of high school literary magazines that are taken seriously and provide for students a unique and valuable opportunity to become an integral part of the literary landscape.
In October 2017, as part of our effort, Howl student-staff will present a panel for the Other Words literary conference held at the University of Tampa, an amazing event organized by the Florida Literary Arts Coalition, which we have been a part of and presented at in the past. We will also be working with the Atlantic Center for the Arts whose support of student literary endeavors have been of great value to the community. In the past, we created a scholarship for a high school student to attend their summer student writer’s residency program and provided live Skype sessions with writers from around the country to talk with the young residents. Other partnerships include the Florida State Poets Association, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, Volusia County Public Schools, local newspapers such as Hometown News and Daytona Beach News-Journal, and, of course, the Academy of American Poets.
In response to a question about advice she would have for budding high school writers and editors, Pulitzer Prize-winning former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück said to my students via phone, “…everybody was a high school student. Everybody was a child. Everybody was once unsteady and unsure. In fact, in this life you’re unsteady and unsure pretty much all the way through, as far as I can tell.” My students are going out on a limb and taking a chance, amidst their standard academics and extracurricular activities, prom and homecoming, driver’s permits and college applications, falling in love and breaking up. They want to carve out time to take their passion and what they’ve worked hard to learn to help spread this zeal for the literary arts into other high schools. Every high school should have its own student-run literary magazine. They’re cost-effective, intellectually challenging, socially bonding, and fun.
Jacqueline was a student editor on Howl for all of her four years of high school. As she moved up grade levels year to year, participating in various extracurricular activities, the school literary magazine remained a constant for her. She did everything from edit and publish poetry and prose from around the world to organize events, interview writers, and influence the direction of the literary magazine. “Being part of Howl was an amazing experience,” said Jacqueline. “Not only was I able to interview countless authors and publishers, but I also got the chance to perfect my writing with other creative and like-minded students. Howl gives students an outlet for their creativity and helps them to grow their ideas into so much more.”
For any student yearning to write or any teacher wanting to promote the literary arts, reach out to Howl and we will do everything we can to make your passion literary publishing. We’ll help you create your outlet, define your mission, and support your goals. We’ll link up and create an unstoppable, ever-growing community of high school literary magazines fueling the next generation of writers, editors, and publishers. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham said to the student-staff, “Nothing could be more important than the literary efforts of young writers. They’re the ones, after all, who are going to keep literature alive. Here’s to their brilliant futures.”
For more information about Howl and to contact the staff, visit www.deltonahowl.com.