by Colorado Review Editorial Assistant Matthew Gorman
While many of us are familiar with traditional kinds of publications—newspapers, academic journals, literary journals, magazines, book houses, university presses, etc.—I would like to bring some attention to another form of publishing that has a different purpose than producing name recognition and resume lines: the realm of community publishing for underrepresented voices.
In August 2018, I began an internship with Colorado State University’s Community Literacy Center to be a creative writing workshop facilitator for our literary journal, SpeakOut!, alongside other CSU graduate and undergraduate interns and volunteers. The program SpeakOut! (the journal’s namesake) holds workshops for the men and women in Larimer County Jail, Community Corrections, Turning Point, and Remington House. I currently work with the latter, which is one of the two youth programs.
As a reader, I have long been surrounded by novels, short fiction, and poetry by accomplished and upcoming authors, as well as biographies, essays, and case studies by accomplished and upcoming scholars. But since I started working with the CLC, I have often asked myself: Why did I not know of this before? Why have I not read prison writings before? And especially, since I am most interested in young adult fiction: Why have I not read youth writing before?
Reading community publications is rewarding because many of the concerns are more or less the same as in any publications—alcoholism, familial violence, depression, anxiety, self-doubt, self-pride, isolation, etc.—but the perspectives are different. These writers are our neighbors, people within the same community in which we live too, and in the case of SpeakOut!, these are prisoners, ex-prisoners, and, in my case with Remington House, kids between fourteen and seventeen years old.
When I talk to people about my SpeakOut! experience, I’m often asked, “So, what do you really do?” I give them a description of what the weekly workshops look like, how they are run, what sort of writing prompts I bring to get my kids to write and share their work, how my volunteers and I provide oral and written feedback to encourage the kids to never put down the pen until it bleeds its last drop. I know, however, that the inquiries are more about our purpose.
So I explain that SpeakOut! and other community publishing models provide a voice to the voiceless; we humanize our writers to the public by providing a space for them to represent themselves to a community who may have given up on them entirely. We do not publish anything that contains details about their cases, direct references to active gangs, or anything that glorifies violence and alcohol. We publish their thoughts, memories, feelings, ideas, struggles, and triumphs; we publish their stories so that they can be seen by the community as nothing more or less than humans trying to navigate this world.
In the past, I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye and learned about isolation and depression. I’ve read The Heroin Diaries and learned about the dangers of drug addiction and alcoholism. I’ve read Lord of the Flies and learned about how easily the fabrics of society can tear and turn on one another. But looking back—and looking forward—if given the chance to read these books or read a community publication, I would recommend picking up the latter and gaining a new perspective from someone who is not an accomplished or established author, but by someone who too has a voice waiting to be heard.