I talked to a group of middle and high school students today about starting a literary magazine for their school with myself and their librarian as sponsors. I thought about it for two weeks, made notes about good craft books for new writers, my own bio, what the lit mag could include, and what literary submissions should entail. I even drafted an exercise for them that involved taking an abstract concept and describe it using concrete details.
I had created an email for the lit mag to share with them, drafted a communication to go to faculty and students, and met with my co-sponsor about our vision. I was prepared, in that naive way new teachers are prepared, to start a real conversation.
My vision and the actual event diverged quite a bit.
One girl requested point-blank to be the poetry editor so she could decide what to publish and what not to publish (we deferred handing her the position on the spot). She told us about her short stories, her website, her poetry, and when I explained that we would need a prose editor also, she corrected me by saying, “Well prose is just a type of poetry, the type I write. It doesn’t rhyme or anything.” Sigh. I explained what prose meant in the broader sense when discussed the various literary genres, but she had moved on to looking up something on her laptop to show us. Right then.
Another girl listened attentively and said she’d never met a real writer before, a boy thumbed through the literary magazines I brought along (The Southern Review, Ploughshares, Green Mountains Review, Glimmer Train, Hunger Mountain, whatever else I had picked up at the AWP or through copies included with contest fees for my own submissions), another girl raised her hand to insert non sequiturs, and one girl, having reluctantly joined the group, looked a little pained to be there but was responsive in general (she is writing a fan fiction blog and has 89 followers).
I didn’t know how the talk would go, but I needn’t have worried that they would be interested in my own work, experience with lit mags, or credentials or that no one would speak.
But still, I kind of enjoyed the experience.