“Having a safe space to share your art/writing and the power of publication to galvanize aspiring young artists and writers to share their voice” is a motivating factor behind Binsey Poplar Press according to Founder and Editor Sophia Smith. Featuring poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photography, and art by contributors ages 13-26, Binsey Poplar Press publishes an online literary magazine every two months as well as publishing pieces on their website. “Our website will be continuously updated with new art and writing pieces and issues,” said Jessica Gao, Web Designer and Co-Editor for Art. “We hope to make it even more visually appealing and be one of your favorite reading spots.” [Read more…] about New Lit on the Block :: Binsey Poplar Press
“Breaking the Silence” has been the long-time effort of The National Alliance on Mental Health, and now a new outlet sharing this mission is Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine, an online publication featuring contributions from youth 12-22 years old, and particularly works covering mental health conditions and the teenage experience.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief Anna Kiesewetter [pictured] shares the publication’s genesis, “The word ‘cathartic’ has always perfectly encapsulated what writing is to me. I realized that some of the most powerful writing I’ve read and created was used for catharsis – to deal with emotions, to make sense of life, to put trauma into words. I’m a firm believer in the power of vulnerability, and I’ve realized that writing has helped me with a lot of my own mental health struggles. Writing has made me more mindful of what goes on within my head and provides me with an outlet that I can’t really get anywhere else; I thus hoped it might provide similar benefits for other young people. Mental health is also a subject that has been almost taboo to discuss in the past, and even now it still carries quite a bit of stigma. Especially during this pandemic, which seems to be exacerbating existing conditions. Youth mental health is such a prevalent and important issue, yet one that isn’t often talked about. I felt like this magazine could serve a threefold purpose: to open up discussion about mental health, to encourage mindfulness and writing for catharsis, and to provide a platform for young writers as a sort of steppingstone to larger publications.” [Read more…] about New Lit on the Block :: Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine
What happens when you repeatedly tell a teen they can’t do something? Of course, they will find a way to do it, which, in the case of Editor-in-Chief Benji Elkins, resulted in The Milking Cat, an online publication of comedy in all forms, from written works to movies to comics and more.
The name itself has a comedic referent, as Benji explains, “’The Milking Cat’ is a reference to the 2000 film Meet The Parents where Ben Stiller’s character lies about milking a cat on a farm that has no cows.” Benji found the scene especially humorous and decided to name the website as a testament to it. “Also,” he adds, “it rolls off the tongue once you get used to it.”
Behind the name, the mission of The Milking Cat is to provide an outlet for aspiring teen comedians, but the initial motivation stemmed from an experience Editor-in-Chief Benji Elkins faced. “It goes something like this: In ninth grade, there was a stairwell that consistently had pencils stuck in its ceiling. When I returned to school in the tenth grade, the pencils were completely gone! All that remained was the scarred terrain of pencils that once were. As a result, I wrote a comedic piece featuring the pencils’ removal entitled ‘COLLECTIVE STUDENT BODY ART PIECE DESTROYED BY SCHOOL.’ However, when the school newspaper refused to publish it, I asked that they create a humor column. When they refused that, I asked his school’s activities director if I could start a humor paper. When they refused that as well, I decided I would simply have to do it myself.”
Putting together a humor publication editorial staff is a delicate balance between skill sets. Benji Elkins [pictured] says he has always enjoyed both writing and making jokes at the dinner table. “I’ve been involved in other (and much more serious) teen literary magazines through the submission of my own work,” Benji quips, “and therefore like to believe I ‘know the industry.’ But I’ve also been an active member in my school’s literary magazine. Currently, I’m the co-Editor-in-Chief. Otherwise, I’m simply a fan of writing and comedy and a huge fan of trying to put the two together.”
Alongside his efforts is friend and colleague Dan Soslowsky, who, “after coming down from the high of winning his third-grade art contest, needed something to keep his cartooning skills sharp.” As Dan tells it, “I originally turned down my offer to be the Senior Editor and Head of Illustration and Design for The Milking Cat, but ultimately gave in after receiving a box of chocolates, flowers, and a 2018 Mercedes-AMG® GT C Coupe on my doorstep with a note signed ‘With love, Benji.’” In addition to his role with The Milking Cat, Dan is the Head Editor of the Humor Section in his school’s newspaper as well and is involved in numerous other art-related extracurriculars.
The final editorial staffer is Noah Stern, who “has been an avid fan of comedy since his parents let him watch their DVD box set of the Family Guy Star Wars parody episodes.” Noah is the head of the satire section at his school paper as well.
Additionally, “in case anyone was wondering,” Benji included, “all of the Editors’ favorite apparatus on the Bop-It machine is Twist-It.”
The learning curve for running their own publication was steep, as Noah shares the greatest hurdle they have faced was “bringing The Milking Cat to the level it is at today. Originally, The Milking Cat submissions were open to anyone of any age, but in retrospect, we cast the net too wide. We would rarely get submissions or viewers and as a result, the main people submitting were mostly us three editors. We pushed ourselves to write something every week, and it was increasingly stressful. However, when COVID-19 hit, we decided to kick it up a notch and grow our team – specifically around teens like us. We rebranded as a ‘by teens, for teens’ comedy website and began receiving many staff applications and comedy submissions. As a result, the greatest joy we’ve all experienced probably comes out of our greatest hurdle; the thing we love most about the site is giving teens around the world the opportunity to not only to read comedy, but also to provide them the opportunity to create it themselves as well.”
Readers of the publication, which posts new content every Monday evening, can expect to find content related to sports, politics, riffs on classic literature – “all sorts of readers can find a comedic piece that fits their specific interests,” Noah assures. “We triple-dog-dare you to pick any piece at random, and no matter which you stumble upon, you will find something thoughtful, well-written, and (hopefully) funny.”
In addition to the editors’ contributions, recent content includes:
Julianna Reidell – Hamlex Commercial: A commercial screenplay for the new prescription drug inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Asher Hancock – I Tried 5 Dark Web Dating Sites and was Pleasantly Surprised: A lonely romantic reviews various shady dating sites such as SatanMate.com and WeHaveCandy.com.
Sascha Nastasi-Feinburg – Pad+ Casting Calls: A mock casting call asking for actors to fill roles in the next big WattPad novel adaptations, including “I Fell in Love with a Cannibal because I Thought He Was a Vampire.”
And a sampling of humor by title alone:
Teenaged contributors who are not a part of The Milking Cat Staff are welcome to submit works. Submissions are collectively reviewed by the Editors on its publication status. If accepted, the work is uploaded verbatim to the site. Pieces written by staff members are reviewed by Staff Curators who make edits and suggestions that the author can accept or reject before publication.
Looking to the future, Benji says, “Our plans for this summer include The Milking Cat Comedy Competition, where teens around the world can submit humorous pieces of any kind for the chance to win special prizes from 4 Ivy League Humor Magazine and the satirical site The Hard Times, such as up to $350, merch from the various humor magazines, workshop sessions, and much more! We also hope to establish ourselves more among teens as a regular place to read comedy from their peers. As for long term plans for the publication, we will keep doing it as long as it keeps bringing us joy (and it is).”
Here’s to a lifetime of joy for The Milking Cat!
This past week, Sundress Publications and A Novel Idea bookstore sponsored Secluded: A Virtual Writing Conference with three days of online talks, readings, and even happy hours. I was able to attend Ira Sukrungruang’s keynote “Writing as Survival,” in which he spoke about the role of writing during times of chaos, uncertainty, and despair. Both a teacher and a father, his insightful honesty provided a sense of grounding. Ira named authors he encourages his students to read, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxanne Gay, and Claudia Rankin, commenting:
Not to say these books will give you an answer, but to me, these books inform me, it insulates me in a community of people who want to talk instead of who to say something – who is refusing to listen. One of the things that I always preach nowadays to my students is that I’d rather you listen to the world at this point before you even open your mouth. But when you open your mouth, and I encourage them to, I encourage you to write, to speak out, to protest peacefully, to go out there and say what’s on your mind, what’s ailing your heart. But I think you also have to listen to what the world is trying to tell you.
The conference was free and recorded for replay here.
The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
― William Shakespeare, King Lear
Editor in Chief of The Weight Journal Matthew E. Henry shared, “At the beginning of my state’s COVID-19 Stay at Home order, it was widely circulated on social media that Shakespeare likely composed some of his greatest works in the midst of the Black Death. This was being shared as an encouragement for writers to continue producing work in the midst of the pandemic. The Weight took its name, in part, from the ending of Lear. But it is a general call for teens to take up writing as a tool to lay down the various things ‘weighing’ on their lives.”
The Weight Journal, publishing online poetry, slam poetry, flash fiction, fiction, creative nonfiction, and hybrid works by writers ages 9-12 grade, “endeavors to showcase the best in teen literature, including works that are not deemed school appropriate.” Matthew adds: “whatever that means.”
“We want work that is honest and says something profound about the human experience as can only be captured by this age group,” he explains. “We want to provide a common, public space, for those who have dared to undertake the challenge of objectifying their experience and imagination in writing.”
Matthew E. Henry knows this challenging experience, having been nominated twice for Pushcart and a Best of the Net for his poetry. He has been publishing poetry and fiction since 2003, and his first collection, Teaching While Black was published by Main Street Rag in February. Joining Matthew are six editors, current or former high school English/creative writing teachers, each with at least one MFA or MA. They are all writers themselves with a varied background of interests and publications.
Given this level of expertise and experience, writers who submit to The Weight Journal can expect their writing will undergo a rigorous process. “All submissions receive a first pass from the editor in chief,” Matthew explains, “to see if they are a potential fit for the general vibe of The Weight. After this, submissions are sent to the content editors, who pass their acceptance (sometimes with suggested changes), recommendation for resubmission, or rejection back to the editor. The editor then makes the final decision. Submitters are welcome (and encouraged!) to send in revised pieces or new ones in the future. Sometimes we’ve been able to provide one-on-one support through the revision process. We’re teachers and can’t help ourselves.”
The caliber of reading content available for the public is a standard Matthew defines clearly: “We aren’t publishing writers who are ‘good for their age.’ We’re publishing ‘good writing,’ period. So readers will find honesty and maturity from a diverse set of voices and experiences. Some works may be triggering for readers. Others will fill them with joy. All of them will make readers think, and rethink, and come back for more.”
Recent content published in The Weight includes “a conversation between what is alive, and what only pretends to be” hybrid by Anne Fu; “Broken Sanctuary” poetry by Sarah Street; “The Stages of Falling in Love with Her” poetry by Charlotte Edwards; “The Met” creative nonfiction by Alexandra Carpenter; and “Colors” creative nonfiction by Emma Kilbride.
Creating a new publication comes with joys and frustrations. Matthew focuses on what has worked well for The Weight: “Thus far, the greatest joy has been encouraging some amazing young writers. In some cases, we’ve been able to send the first acceptance letter to someone with a bright career ahead of them. We have already published pieces that I am jealous of and hope this will continue long into the future.”
In terms of the future for The Weight, “I want to see how this naturally evolves,” Henry muses. “The old man in me is thinking about a print publication or at least a ‘best of’ anthology in the future. But who knows? At this stage I am content to help usher these young authors into the literary scene.”
The Weight accepts submissions on a rolling basis, with a goal to publish new work every other Friday depending on the number of submissions. Matthew adds, “In light of our current realities, while submissions are still open for all students and on all topics, we are interested in works that are focused on matters of racial identity, especially from students of color. These works do not have to be centered on our current racial tensions, but they very well can be.”
While at times it absolutely feels like the weight of the world is upon us, how wonderful to have such a supportive and encouraging venue for young writers and readers of all ages to come together and share in the experience.
“We were thrilled with the many nominations that came in from individuals, presses, and journals,” Rhett commented. “The 10 finalists that went to the guest judge were powerful poems, all worthy of the award, poems everyone should read.”
Guest Judge Maria Hummel chose Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ poem “Good Mother,” which first appeared in Tin House, as this year’s inaugural winner. Griffiths’ poem can be read here.
The Nina Riggs Poetry Award is a crowd-funded award, with the winner receiving at least $500. “Thanks to the generous donations of so many supporters,” Rhett shared, “we were able to award Rachel Eliza $1,000.”
Honorable Mention went to Melissa Crowe for “Dear Terror, Dear Splendor.”
Traci Brimhall, “Oh, Wonder”
Tiana Clark, “A Louder Thing”
Carrie Fountain, “Will You?”
Keetje Kuipers, “Still Life with Small Objects of Perfect Choking Size”
Megan Peak, “What I Don’t Tell My Mother about Ohio”
Thomas Reiter, “Companions”
Anna Ross, “One Time”
Molly Spencer, “A Wooing, Outright, of My Beloved Ones”
Rhett added, “We hope many people will nominate poems for the next round. Any poems received before Nov. 1 will be considered for the 2021 award. We are looking for the finest poems on family, relationships, or domestic life published in the last three years. No self-nominations.”
For more information, visit: http://www.cavewallpress.com/ninaaward.html
Once again, Sync Audiobooks is offering a free summer audiobook program for teens (13+) – and perhaps some adults too! SYNC 2020 is utilizing Sora, a student reading app available for free download from OverDrive. Each week Sync shares two YA titles that can be downloaded with no expiration. After the week, the titles are no longer available to download, but previous titles with descriptions remain available on the site.
It’s already Week 5 of the program, but there are seven more weeks remaining. Previous titles include Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson, The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, Secret Soldiers by Paul B. Janeczko, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (stupendously performed!), Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, Sisters Matsumoto by Philip Kan Gotanda, and Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork.
All you have to do to access the titles is register your email address. I’ve done so for the past two years and never receive any related junk mail or other solicitations, so this is an great program for teens and adults alike!
Among the many wonderful resources NewPages offers to readers and writers is our Young Writers Guide to Publications, which features publications by and for young readers, and our Young Writers Guide to Contests, which includes carefully vetted legitimate contests. These are open-access ad-free guides that I personally curate out of my commitment to supporting young readers and writers as well as parents and teachers.
Despite the pandemic which surrounds us, great efforts are still going on to create opportunities and provide motivation and encouragement for young writers. I recently heard from Sophia Hanson, who is one of three founders of the National Youth Foundation. This Pennsylvania-based non-profit seeks to improve literacy and educate youth on topics related to social justice. Each year, they run two book competitions: Student Book Scholars – which involves players from the NFL, NBA, and MLB; and Amazing Women’s Edition – a national writing contest focused on gender equality. Past competition winners have been honored at the Smithsonian Museum as well as having their images included in a statue honoring the late Marian Spencer, who was the subject of the winning book.
I am so heartened to know that this kind of outreach to young writers persists through these difficult times. When I asked Sophia how this has impacted their work, she responded, “The global pandemic has more parents at home than ever. We have also seen a major increase in emails from parents about our contests and programs. We even had NBA and NFL players contact us to host a Bounce Back art contest to help kids process the pandemic. On the flip side of that, we had two writing workshop series planned in Philadelphia with two amazing women, and those are on hold.”
Still, like so many efforts, the National Youth Foundation will find ways to continue to engage young writers. Now more than ever, online resources like ours are here to help. If you have young people in your life or know of others who do, please tell them about NewPages Guides for young readers and writers!
Considering all the cancelled or postponed or modified conferences and workshops, it’s comforting to know the August Poetry Postcard Festival is up and running this year just as it has been for the past twelve years!
The concept is simple: You sign up and your name is added to a group along with 31 others. Once the group is “full,” you each get the list with names and addresses of participants in your group. The week before August, you start writing and sending you postcards (so that the first one arrives around the first of August). You write one postcard per day and send it to the person listed after your name in the group. The next day, you write another poem and send it to the next person – and so on until you go through the list. One for each day.
The idea is spontaneous writing without editing, censoring, or revision. You can use the postcard as your prompt or not. Some people choose a theme to write on for the month. The postcards vary from store bought to homemade, contemporary to vintage. It’s really wide open to your creativity, imagination, and passion. Then, throughout the month of August, you will receive poems in the mail from the others in your group.
This year – the one change in the event has been year-round registration – so you can register now. Some participants have already started sending cards instead of waiting until August – in response to the pandemic – since we could all use a bit more poetry and a bit more connection in our daily lives. A few ambitious writers have already completed their 31 cards and have signed up for another group! The organizers welcome repeat participation.
This is a safe and fun way to connect, motivate your writing, and enjoy the wonderful gifts that others will send your way. Sign up today!
American Life in Poetry: Column 782
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
I’ve mentioned the anthology, Local News: Poetry About Small Towns from MWPH Books, P.O. Box 8, in Fairwater, Wisconsin. Here’s one of the many poems I’ve enjoyed, by Scott Wiggerman, who lives in New Mexico. His latest book is Leaf and Beak: Sonnets, published by purple flag, 2015.
At the top of the hill, a towering
Catholic church with Gothic spires,
below, a one-pump gas station,
a beauty parlor with a picture window,
at the town’s only four-way stop sign,
a convenience store with a bike stand,
and three smoke-drenched taverns,
their bars of the same solid wood
as the church’s hard benches,
only more polished, more worn down.
We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2019 by Scott Wiggerman, “Johnsburg,” from Local News: Poetry About Small Towns, (MWPH Books, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of Scott Wiggerman and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.