By KrisAnne Madaus, 2017 MFA alum
In Spring of 2017, I climbed the painted blue staircases of George Jackson Academy on St. Marks with scotch tape in hand to hang posters--calls for submissions--on each floor. I'd just finished teaching a semester-long creative writing course at the all-boys middle school as a part of The New School's WriteOn fellowship and was searching for a way to keep the students' creative energy alive. My co-teacher, Elise Burchard and I (along with the help of other WriteOn fellows Nicole Starczak and Thais Vitorelli) thought the best way to do this was to continue the school's tradition of publishing an annual literary magazine. Issue 6 of Pen & Pencil became our project.
After the posters went up, we waited. The response was slow. We expected submissions from our former students, but only received a few emails of poems and stories. We sent reminder emails. We put up more posters and extended the deadline, but still weren't getting much. We'd also dropped off a folder in the office for students without computer access. A few weeks later, I stopped by to pick up the folder and was amazed at its contents. We received over 70 submissions from a school of 130 students! The folder was brimming with rhythmic poems with accompanying drawings, inventive stories that straddled the real world and an imagined one, and family biographies. We were stunned, thrilled! And since many of the submissions were handwritten, we had a lot of work to do.
We spent hours reading, typing, running back and forth to George Jackson to make revisions with our young authors, and the work was well worth it. Below are a few poems that showcase the variety of talent from our final product. From the humor-driven, "I Threw My Life Away," about former Cleveland Browns football star Johnny Manziel's fall from grace to the sobering "Mad Rad" echoing Gwendolyn Brooks, what struck me most about all of the published works is that each author wrote about exactly what mattered to him. The boys wrote about ideas that loom large in adolescence--school, crushes, sibling rivalries. They wrote about current events in sports and technology. Some, like Kamal Norton, tackled the largest of subjects in his poem, "Time." All who worked on this production are incredibly proud, and this issue of Pen & Pencil serves as an example of the talent and drive of these promising young men. We look forward to seeing what they share in the future.