Posted by Katie Rivito, Poetry Reader for issue 6.1
Although I cannot recall its name, the first literary journal I was introduced to left a lasting impression on me. This was not because I found its contents intriguing or its purpose inspiring, but because I was forced to study it page by page with excruciatingly focused attention while my friends tailgated our high-school football game.
My dad had come home that day just moments before dinner time, calling out to my sister and me to quickly meet him at the dining room table. We walked into the room to find him sitting at the head of the table with two copies of a book in front of him.
“You won’t believe what I showed my students today,” he announced excitedly as he slid us each a book from across the table.
As the daughter of a high school English teacher, I grew up in a house that not only valued reading and writing, but expected it to be integrated in our daily lives as an honored routine. I was very familiar with my dad’s over-the-top enthusiasm when it came to sharing his students’ work with us. By the time I had reached junior high, I already knew exactly what an exam reviewer was looking for on the AP English essay section. My grammar was corrected daily, especially when I had friends over and my dad wanted to teach them a “valuable life lesson,” as he would say. Our dinners consisted of student essays handed to us and a dollar promised as a reward if we could find all of the grammar mistakes (I prided myself in the fact that at the age of ten, I essentially had my first steady income, walking away with a whopping fifteen dollars a month).
That night had been different, though. I was a high school senior, and at this point my dad’s antics had grown tiresome. The constant English lessons shoved down my throat after a long day at school caused me to dread family dinners. As my father instructed us to flip to the page containing the editor’s note to the readers, I got out of my seat and announced I would be eating dinner in my room tonight..
“Absolutely not,” my dad replied. “You’re going to sit down, read this, and enjoy it. You’re not allowed to leave the table until you’re finished.”
Annoyed, I did as my dad demanded. He explained to my sister and me that this was a literary journal, a collection of poems, fiction, and essays that were submitted by emerging writers at his high school. I really didn’t pay attention to the first few pieces I read, as all I could think about was the fun I was missing as my friends chugged concealed beers from thermoses behind our football stadium as the sun began to set. Eventually, I was able to shut the journal after mindlessly reading the fifty or so pieces of writing.
Flash-forward about four years later, and I am now a senior education major with an English concentration. I became everything I said I would not – my father. Seventeen-year-old me would roll her eyes at the person I have become, but the person I am today is thankful for the various after-school English tutoring sessions I received from my dedicated father.
As I now find myself focusing my attention on preparing my future students, I cannot help but consider the educational value of incorporating literary journals into the high school English curriculum. According to Scholastic, “the literary magazine…invites cross-curricular involvement and student participation.” In other words, having students study literary journals encourages active participation in class, rather than passively reading what is assigned to them and listening to their teacher’s lecture. The process of reading and analyzing a form of literature which contains carefully chosen works to showcase to the audience promotes open discussion in a class setting. Students are forced to discuss why a particular piece was chosen for inclusion in the journal, what about that piece is publishable, and how it adds to the journal as a whole.
I have also found that high school ELA curriculums push their students to write persuasive essays, research papers, and book reviews. Creative writing, however, doesn’t seem to be as valued. While my high school had a creative writing class, many schools don’t. And while my high school did offer the creative writing class, it was offered as an elective. So many of my peers didn’t get to experience the joys of creative writing because they were not required to take the course. Creative writing has many benefits for high school students, though. For example, students applying to college are required by many colleges to submit personal narratives. The study of literary journals would introduce students to the genre of creative non-fiction, a genre that when executed appropriately could greatly enhance the quality of a student’s personal narrative for their college application.
Perhaps taking the inclusion of literary journals in the high school curriculum a step further would be to mandate that every high-school publish their own literary journal. According to the NYS ELA Standards, students are required to write for different purposes and audiences. What better way to teach students how to tailor their writing to reach an intended audience than by asking them to create both fictional and non-fictional pieces of literature that they believe their peers could relate to? Not only would this practice be more engaging than your standard five-paragraph persuasive essay; it would introduce students to the world of editing and publishing.
Further, the study of literary journals in the high school curriculum would teach students more in-depth about what it takes to get your work published. Pearson Prentice Hall points out that “many students might assume that works of literature are telepathically transmitted from an author’s mind to the page of a textbook.” Creating a literary journal would provide the opportunity for students to see the process behind the books they read and love.
I firmly believe that had literary journals been introduced to me by my teachers rather than my father, I would have been drawn to that form of creativity to the same extent which I am now. I truly do wish my high school had offered me the outlet of a literary magazine. My melodramatic teenaged-mind would have definitely been able to come up with a handful of relatable pieces to submit for the rest of my angsty peers to enjoy.