Creativity Spreads: St. Louis Students Write for Publication, Not for Grades | Lifestyles

Comic book stores were a monthly destination for Isabella Ford when she was younger. Her father grew up loving comics and she has a similar passion.

“I’ve drawn all my life,” she says. Doing comics has been a dream since she can remember.

But it wasn’t until she was in first grade that Ford learned her high school might offer a way to publish her own hand-drawn work.

“I think it’s really important for kids to see other kids’ work,” she says.

Jaiyana Stallworth, 15, a student at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, uses a printing press to create a cover for Outside Literary Magazine, a student-run publication, March 9, 2022, at Central Print.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

They will, in fact, this week when the latest edition of Outside Literary Magazine is published, full of contributions from some 30 to 40 students from various public high schools in St. Louis. Its sixth issue is its largest yet and even features a public event at High Low on Thursday night, where students will read poetry and display artwork.

By submitting her comics to the literary magazine, Ford says, she found both encouragement and inspiration: “I want to submit my work everywhere now.

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A character from “Canned Meth”, a comic by Isabella Ford to appear in Outside.

The outside is not part of the district high school program, but a club that started with Central VPA High School. In just a few years – including two difficult pandemics – it has met with an enthusiastic response from students (and teachers) hungry for a creative outlet. Organizers are now aiming to involve students from every high school in the district.

“We have a lot of important stuff coming out,” Valeria Monroy says. “It’s going to be amazing to see their work come to life and be shown at the event.”

Monroy is now a second-year fine arts student at Fontbonne University. But she still helps with Outside after graduating from Central VPA. As a former design student, she will be mounting student artwork in the High Low Listening Room.

Student Magazine Staff Create Covers Outside Literary Magazine

Newly pressed covers for Outside Literary Magazine dry on shelves at Central Print in Old North St. Louis.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

His mentor is Lizzy Petersen, the magazine’s 33-year-old director, who always sends Monroy information about internships and other career builders. Petersen, who writes poetry, began hosting writing workshops in schools while working as editor of St. Louis-based River Styx magazine. She would also bring writings from contemporary St. Louisians to encourage students.

Now, she makes a living as a grant writer while spending up to 20 hours a week working with city students on their own magazine. (“Spend” seems like the right verb because the magazine depends on grant money, and Petersen says she rarely pays herself. “Those are my nights and weekends.”)

But it’s a business she loves. “When I was in high school, I wanted something like this.”

Student Magazine Staff Create Covers Outside Literary Magazine

Jaiyana Stallworth, 15, a student at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, works on printing a cover for Outside Literary Magazine.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

The idea for the magazine was born out of a conversation, she says, with MK Stallings of UrbArts, who was looking for a way to nurture the talent of young poets. Now, Petersen is collaborating with the St. Louis Poetry Center along with several district teachers and a few Outside alumni.

She doesn’t know how common high school literary journals are, but she doesn’t know of any others that run after school and try to involve as many schools in a district.

Outside Literary Magazine was founded in 2016 with “a mission to empower high school students to be writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and leaders through online and print publishing.” website said. Its content is edited by students, who learn graphic and web design, book creation, marketing and event planning, not to mention literacy skills. Two field trips each year involve Central Print on North 14th Street, where students cover the magazine and learn how printing works.

“It’s just fun,” said Central VPA student Jaiyana Stallworth, 15, as she dabbed blankets last month.

Her poem “For Black Girls” explores how she should add this phrase when searching Google:

“Sometimes I forget, I type without worry.

I don’t think twice when I look at “Cute Hairstyles”

Silky. Right. Thin. Different. Something so simple, I shouldn’t forget.

‘Cute Hairstyles For Black Girls’ is how I have to live.

Student Magazine Staff Create Covers Outside Literary Magazine

Metro High School student Lily Woodworth Wisdom, 15, holds one of her covers for Outside Literary Magazine, a student-run publication, March 9, 2022, at Central Print in Old North St. Louis.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

So far, the magazine’s annual budget has ranged from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on grants and donations. It promises to be a “safe space to write, create, and share,” and Petersen takes the time to treat students as if they were professionals.

“We want all students to see that they can be creative,” says Petersen.

Past editions show that each literary contribution is accompanied by a work of art. Many of the writings are poems focused on adolescent issues and concerns – school, sexuality, love, race.

"Wedding night"

“Wedding Night”, an illustration in Outside by Ryane Owens, a senior student at Central VPA High School.

In the third issue, a poem by Geneviève Dodson begins

“You say we have things in common,

That the music I love is music for your ears.

You think I’m going to fall for this,

For “Protests and the Pandemic” in issue five, Ismail N. Botchway wrote

“Life today is not a game,

but who is the culprit.

Together we must begin.

Botchway attends the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, which this year provides many editors for the new issue. College focuses on STEM subjects, which can be challenging for an English teacher, says Chandra Alford, whose classes include AP English.

“Just because they want to get into STEM doesn’t mean they don’t need a creative outlet,” she says. The magazine helps balance students and improves the Collegiate program: “It attracts them. They love to have discussions and talk about their ideas.

Alford says there are few concerns about censorship — not just with the after-school magazine Outside, but also in what she teaches. Every year, her AP students read Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” a book recently banned, then reinstated, in the Wentzville School District. “We didn’t miss a thing,” said Alford.

Ford, the comic book creator, says her strip is called “Canned Meth” and involves a lesbian couple. One of the characters, who appears to be a budding Walter White from “Breaking Bad”, sells a liquid drug in what are essentially soup cans. Ford says the main montage of his tape was that a peer suggested erasing a bong that was sitting on a table.

“I thought it was a fun addition,” Ford says, “but I can see how much it would be too much for a high school thing.”

So far, she has only completed the first chapter, but she has described the story and plans for five chapters.

Student Magazine Staff Create Covers Outside Literary Magazine

Staff members from Outside Literary Magazine, a student-run publication, arrive March 9, 2022 at Central Print in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

Ford used to read stone soup produced by the students, which she borrowed from the library. This national magazine is geared towards writers 13 and under. Ford says submitting to a similar venue “is really cool,” but she wishes she’d found Outside earlier in her school career:

“It’s something that should be promoted more. I didn’t know that until this year.

Student Magazine Staff Create Covers Outside Literary Magazine

A typography at Central Print is set up to print covers for Outside Literary Magazine, a student-run publication.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Post-Dispatch

Word is expected to spread further as this year’s 100 submissions also include work by students from Soldan, Gateway STEM, Metro and other schools.

At Central VPA, Ford belongs to a creative writing club, and teacher/sponsor Rachel Friedhoff is thrilled that students like Ford submit different forms of writing to the magazine. Another student, Deangelo Baker, who submitted a stop motion videosays “it was a humbling experience to be able to see and read the works of other creative people.”

Friedhoff has been involved with Outside since 2016. The first year for the enlightened magazine involved a lot of “building,” she says. “We talked to the kids about what a literary magazine is and how to get published.”

At the time of the pandemic, the students intended to make the magazine work by meeting online. Friedhoff says this is an “incredibly positive” thing for students, and that student editors work easily and respectfully with creators and their submissions.

“The wonderful thing about the magazine is that it encourages kids to do this in their free time. This is not part of a duty. It is for their own development.

Jacob L. Thornton