Students add artistry to life

Journal: `Maryland Voices' offers young people a forum in which to tell their true stories.


April 14, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Although Centennial High School students have a yearbook, newspaper and literary magazine, a void remained, until recently, for those who wanted to tell nonfiction stories in a creative way.

Enter Maryland Voices, a student-run journal that began publishing this year, featuring writing by students in grades eight through 12. The first edition includes stories about dealing with the loss of a loved one and overcoming shyness.

The editors, Nikita Parson, Bridget Forsyth, Kaitlin Schwarz and Tazeen Qudsi, along with adviser Rus VanWestervelt, bill the publication as creative nonfiction, "the telling of a true story in an interesting and creative way," as they put it in a news release.

"There are so many students at school who don't get to write. [The journal] gives them that chance," said Nikita, a senior.

In "All That I Have Learned," Nikita wrote about dealing with the devastation of her father's death three years ago and how it has made her a stronger person.

"I look at the saying, `What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger,' and I realize that things have happened in my life for a reason. I believe that this event has made me strong and able to handle whatever comes my way," she wrote.

Bridget, also a senior, wrote about overcoming shyness as a summer vacation Bible school teacher for a group of first-graders.

Her story is titled "Lessons Learned."

"I learned that in order to overcome my fears, I have to face them. I faced one of my fears in that one week of my life, and I believe that I have overcome that fear with the help of sixteen first-graders. They taught me about enthusiasm and that it is OK to be nervous," she wrote.

Kaitlin's "In the Spotlight" gives the reader a sense of what it is like to be the center of attention during a piano recital.

"My name is called, and I walk to the piano. My turn seems to come too soon. I sit down on the bench and begin to play. My fingers feel weightless as they glide across the keys. My hands are trembling and my palms are sweating. I am hitting all the right keys at exactly the right moment," wrote the junior.

VanWestervelt said he and the editors were inspired to start Maryland Voices after publishing a similar journal in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"The teachers are really enjoying this," he said of the new publication, adding that they are incorporating creative nonfiction into their curricula.

VanWestervelt was quick to point out the importance that writers tell "true" stories.

"That is an ethic I strongly uphold," he said.

In the current publication, submission guidelines also call for the following:

Reflection on the part of the author.

Timeliness and timelessness.

Careful attention to craft.

Tell a good story.

VanWestervelt said the publication has received support from local writers' groups, including the Baltimore Writers' Alliance and the Maryland Writing Project.

"They are helping us with outreach," he said.

Maryland Voices will be published twice yearly with the help of students in VanWestervelt's yearbook class, he said. The journal will include submissions from students throughout the county, and the winter 2005 edition is expected to include writings from students across Maryland.

"We want to make this an inclusive publication," he said.

The students spent about five weeks getting ready for publication, including reading submissions, editing and laying out the journal.

VanWestervelt said the project received $2,000 in start-up funds from the school. By the 2005-06 school year, the students hope to rely on subscriptions.

And although VanWestervelt hopes to keep the publication free of advertisements, he didn't rule out using them in the future.

"We may use [ads by] writing groups that support student writing workshops," he said.

To submit a piece for the next edition of "Maryland Voices," write a true story between 100 and 1,500 words and send it by April 23 to Centennial High School, 4300 Centennial Lane, Ellicott City 21042, Attn: Rus VanWestervelt or Room 701. Include your name, address, grade, a brief biography, title of your submission and a self-addressed stamped envelope.

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