Print is for posterity: Teens create their own literary magazine

Building A Community Of Readers
Wick Thomas
Wick Thomas

Who says print is dead?

Sure, our digital age has made it easy to type down our thoughts, push a button and “publish” them online… but that’s not as tangible, satisfying, and permanent as seeing your words actually printed in ink on paper.

That’s what Library associate Wick Thomas found while working with teens at Central Youth Services. In November 2011, he headed the NaNoWriMo project which allowed adolescents to post their writing online.

“When that project ended the teens were asking me, ‘Now what?’ They wanted to keep it going. They’d only written for school projects before, on topics assigned to them. Here they could write for themselves and really open up.”

The teen patrons were adamant — for their next project they wanted to create a real magazine, not just on the Internet but on a printing press.

The result is Unheard Voices, a 50-page literary journal—or "zine"—featuring writing and art by young people from throughout the Kansas City Public Library’s many branches, organized as part of the Library's ongoing Building a Community of Readers campaign. About 2,000 copies of the magazine will be printed in time for the beginning of this year’s Summer Reading Program.

“The teens surprised us by wanting to see their work in print, on paper, and not just online,” Thomas said. “We think they’re all about the electronic world, but actually they seem to view the printed page as something that lasts, something for posterity.

“I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, these are teens who were already hanging around a library.”

Thomas asked Youth Services personnel to encourage teen patrons to participate and ended up with submissions from every branch.

“I just facilitated it,” he said. “The kids and the entire Youth Services staff across the Library system did most of the work.”

An editorial board of four teens reviewed the submissions and selected material to be included.

“It was the kids who gave the magazine the name Unheard Voices. They came up with that themselves because they felt that too often their feelings and ideas don’t get expressed. This project allows their voices to be heard.”

Readers can expect some “great visual art, tons of poems and stories — even a novel, though we could only print an excerpt from it,” Thomas said. “One section is devoted to work by kids in juvenile detention. That’s some really powerful stuff.”

Printing costs for Unheard Voices were largely covered by a Library and Services Technology Grant from the Missouri State Library.

Copies of the magazine will become part of the permanent collections of all Library branches. Those wishing to obtain a copy should contact Youth Services at 816.701.3441.

“I’m getting anxious waiting for it to be published,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to actually holding it in my hands.”

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes the Library's From the Film Vault blog. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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