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In December, the Redeemer Cafe hosted a book launch party for the new RIS Literary Review, Word/Play. The small cafe stage was set up with microphones, creating an intimate and cozy yet inviting and open space. The newly published writers—all students in the first semester Creative Writing class—introduced themselves and read excerpts from original pieces written in a variety of different genres, including cliff-hanging horror stories, ode poems, screenplays, and dystopian stories. A few students performed a group reading of another student’s play, and several students took turns reading parts of a collaborative story. Many audience members, including fellow students, teachers, counselors, and administrators, reported being struck by the readers’ confidence and poise; it takes guts to perform in front of an audience, especially when it’s your own work. At the reading, additional copies of the books were made available to the audience members, and each student took home their own copy of Word/Play.
The idea to launch an RIS Literary Review developed from my desire for the Creative Writing students to see their hard work in print and to share their creativity with the RIS school community. As a former book editor myself, I know how rewarding it can be for authors to hold a printed book in their hands and see their names inside. When I approached the high school administrators about the idea, Mr. Jim and Ms. Sara immediately said yes, and suggested that I work with the Ad Astra team to help with the book design and publishing process. Ms. Elisia, who agreed to be our editor and production coordinator, was just as excited as I was, immediately seeing the value, both pedagogically and personally, in having the students experience the publishing process and ultimately see their work in print. Since we both have professional experience in the publishing industry, we knew the work involved in producing a book and were looking forward to sharing that creative process with the students.
The Creative Writing students not only wrote the creative content of the book but were also involved in many of the steps in the publishing process, including selection of texts and images, editing, design, and marketing. In early meetings, students generated suggestions for the interior design and layout, which were shared with Mr. John, our brilliant book designer, and they decided what content they wanted to include in the book. One student, Tim, suggested that we create a “shared story” in the style of the writing game “exquisite corpse,” where each student contributes a section of the text. The class embraced this idea, collaborated to choose a setting and original characters, and even voted on several key plot points as the story, “Hectic Holidays,” developed. Later in the publishing process, students wrote their own author bios, added original photos or drawings to illustrate their writing pieces, and voted on the title and cover art, which was chosen from a selection of photos submitted by students in the class.
Mr. John took all of these ideas and suggestions and created a beautiful layout. Ms. Elisia and I ensured that the book looked as professional as possible; we added a title page, a copyright page that included acknowledgements of the students’ artwork, an introduction, and a table of contents. Once all of the content was in place and triple-checked, the final files were sent to the printer. It was such a thrill to see the book come to life! The student writers agreed; one said “The creative process of the book took a lot of time and effort, but in the end everything was worth the hard work to see how it all played out.”
When I first shared the idea of creating a literary review with these students, they were both excited and nervous at the idea of committing their work to print. This semester’s creative writers blew me away with their willingness to try new things and to revise and improve their work over and over. When student writer Ong Phetplai saw his work in print, he said “It felt great! While writing, I was living the moment and enjoying it to the fullest, and at the end letting it all go [after revision]. I could relive my memories for the first time again by reading Word/Play.” Another student reported, “Talking in front of an audience was a bit nerve-wracking, but it all worked out in the end. Everyone had a lot of manners and it was a great end to the year.” The book launch was a successful culmination of a great project and an experience I hope the students will recall with pride.
I’m pleased to announce that the second issue of Word/Play is currently in production and will feature the work of this semester’s Creative Writing class. However, this issue will include something new. The current Creative Writing class has agreed to open up the book for other contributors, and so we will be hosting a writing contest that is open to the whole high school. If you are a high school student and would like your original creative work to be published in the next issue of the RIS Literary Review, we invite you to contribute an original short story or poem. All submissions will be anonymously evaluated and the best pieces will be included in the spring issue of Word/Play, which will launch on May 23rd. Mark your calendars now to join the celebration!
To submit your writing to the spring Word/Play HS writing contest: