11/19/2010 | DR. DAWN-MICHELLE BAUDE
starting a literary magazine
In order to understand how literary magazines morph into literacy magazines, step back into the early 20th century. Traditionally, the literary magazine is an annual publication, perfect bound with a slim spine, and featuring poetry and short stories. With its roots reaching back to the pamphleteering days of yore, the literary magazine has a serious, dignified tone. The hallmarks of its design are formality and restraint, its content limited to the genres of poetry and fiction, perhaps with a small section of book reviews clustered at the end.
The mid-century mimeo revolution encouraged the literary magazine to venture into new terrain. Publications began to experiment with form and style, often incorporating original art and photography from any point on the creative spectrum. A couple decades later, the identity politics of postmodernism encouraged magazines to further test their boundaries. At the end of the last century, expectations of what constitutes “literature” seemed a little too tight. Why would a literary showcase be limited to poetry and fiction? It’s like limiting an athletic program to football, basketball and baseball. Textual art forms expanded to include everything from dream journals to etymological excursions, often under the rubric of “nonfiction,” which ranges among travelogues, epistles, diaries, “real” stories, and other declensions.
The change is now complete: the “literary” magazine has been reinvented as a “literacy” magazine, and contributions are coming from all over campus. Reflections from the philosophy department, a plant census from the biology lab, chorographical notations, speeches, political tracts, and so on, mingle with poetry, fiction and book reviews. Add artwork, musical scores and calculations from Math and Physics, and you end up with a “literacy” magazine in the broadest sense of the term: a vital document attesting to student learning, creativity and accomplishment.
The key to success is identifying kids with interests — cooking, philosophy, soccer, astronomy, music, geography, civil war history, and so on. Next, the “interest” has to find its textual and/or visual form. A student, for example, who wants to major in counseling at college, may want to write an advice column. A design student may want to do a fashion report. Kids with strong mathematical skills might want to explore the metaphorical application of formulae to real-life situations, substituting concepts for numbers. The kid who only thinks of being on the athletic field can describe the play-by-play of a recent game. Songwriters submit lyrics, linguists list amusing idioms, and photographers offer up their latest pictures.
While the English department traditionally advises the literary magazine, networking across the curriculum has several advantages. Departments that usually keep to themselves suddenly have an outlet to display their wares. Kids who do not enjoy written expression can cultivate their literacy through a side-door — for example, a student who struggles with writing may have no problem at all authoring captions for a cartoon. If the school has a vibrant visual arts program, resources will be on hand to provide a counterpoint to the text and help with magazine design.
The interdisciplinary collaboration inherent in “literacy” takes the pressure off kids who would like to participate in a school publication but who are put off by the idea of having to write poetry or a story. Teens in particular have a lot they want to express, but often lack the courage, know-how or the venue to make their creativity known. Literacy magazines give them an outlet to show others, as well as themselves, how well they communicate. Students who volunteer to edit the magazine learn valuable literary tools that will only continue to serve them both in college, and in the professional world. And everybody who participates gets a new item on their college resume, as well as bragging rights to a link.
At The Storm King School (SKS) where I am the founder and co-advisor, along with Helen “Steevie” Chinitz, Head of School, the decision was made to transform our annual print literary edition to a monthly digital literacy magazine that can be downloaded and printed by readers. Not only does the digital format reduce expenses, it also increases flexibility. Costly color reproductions, which print editors struggle to reduce, are featured in our online edition, along with various textual hybrids encouraged by the “literacy” format. “Polls” and “interviews” have emerged as a solid SKS favorite, along with book reviews and field-trip reports. We also include a “First-Person Account” for nonfiction stories, as well as slots for poetry and short fiction, among several other popular columns or blogs.
Students, in my experience, desperately want “a voice.” Readers don’t have to search far to understand why we call our literacy magazine The Voice Monthly. It’s clearly a stellar way to hear what the students want to say.