Last week I was honored to take a contract position with a high school in Portland. I won’t be teaching, however my work will hopefully have an impact on the students of Roosevelt High School. My new boss works as a service learning consultant, which means she finds creative ways to impact schools that are culturally rich but economically poor. With the help of Dennis Stovall, the founder of the master’s program in publishing at PSU from which I’m about to graduate, they started a writing and publishing center for the students at Roosevelt to staff. The publishing house, Unique Ink, has published its first book, an anthology of writing about Portland by Portland writers called Where the Roses Smell the Best. The collection features student writing alongside pieces by well-known Portland writers such as author Brian Doyle and poet Kim Stafford.
My job is to help market this anthology when it is released in July, as well as helping to seek submissions to their next anthology, which will explore issues of race, gender, and indentity. I’ll also work to help develop a donor base and various fundraising options to support and sustain this innovative teaching press. I am beyond excited to play a role in this venture. By giving students the opportunity to explore the publishing process, they can move beyond passively intaking literature to producing it. They work with tangible objects that they helped create through editing, designing, and marketing.
I wish I had a program like this when I was a high school student. Being the lit nerd that I am, I worked on both the literary magazine and the yearbook, but to have had my own publishing house to explore in more depth what it takes for an idea to become a book, would have meant I could have realized even earlier that I wanted to work in the publishing industry, that it was a valid job option for someone who loved writing.
Thinking about students and creative educations, I start feeling nostalgic about all the teachers who played important roles in shaping me into the writer I am today. When reflecting on my journey as a writer, I remember many teachers who influenced me. It Started in second grade, when Mrs. Petre held writers’ workshops and I wrote my first stories (complete with pictures), that I still have today. In sixth grade, it was my humanities teacher Ms. Smart who read some of my work outside of class and told me I was a mature writer for my age.
In my tenth grade advanced English class, the terrifying Ms. Larson gave me an A-. Nobody received an A in that class. Ms. Larson was so notoriously hard that she even ruined my best friend’s perfect record and prevented her from becoming Valedictorian. That harshness was my first real glimpse into how tough the writing industry is. I returned to Ms. Larson for another class, worked my ass off, and earned the only A in that class. In eleventh grade, Mr. Hale signed off on me dropping a math class I hated so that I could hold an independent study with him and write short stories. I owe it to him for encouraging me to write short stories, although I should probably blame him for allowing me to drop a math class–there went my chances of becoming an engineer and making real money. Mr. Burns, an English teacher I had classes with in junior high and high school, shook my hand on the last day of high school and told me he would look for my book someday. I’ve carried those words for eight years, and I know that when the day comes that I publish a novel, I will find him and give him a copy.
So I didn’t have an innovative publishing house to work in when I was sixteen, but I did have a series of remarkable teachers who saw something and helped to coax it out of shy little introvert me. In college, of course there were the professors who really shaped me and helped me have the confidence to pursue writing, but if it weren’t for the tough-as-nails Ms. Larson or the always kind Mrs. Petre or any of the others, I would have never found a name for this urge in me, this desire to write stories. I’ve never wanted to be a teacher myself, but I have the utmost respect for them. It is a special kind of gift to help others realize their potential. I am forever indebted to so many of them and wish this small offering of thanks were something bigger to match all they did for me.