12th Street in an award-winning literary journal that is run by students in New School’s Riggio Honors Program: Writing and Democracy. As this school year ends our staff wanted to reflect on our experiences within the program. Read Part 1 here.
Bean Haskell (Poetry and Art Editor): I worry that few assumptions about the New School’s history and its students are well-informed of who we truly are. The Riggio community of the School of Writing, housed under The New School for Public Engagement, is comprised of nontraditional students from all walks of life and struggles, ages eighteen to eighty, origins of many. Some of us are accomplished professionals, others behind the scenes. Some of us are parents, or caretakers in other manners, juggling many low-wage jobs and full-time school, and babies or teenagers, or elderly/ill kin. We rise from wars, homelessness, immigration, illness, sociopolitical struggles, and we are in the arts so as to empower ourselves and others who live through the same. Riggio gives venue to use writing as a tool for social action and a chance at the lucky privilege to make our daily bread doing what we love. We pay it forward at 12th Street, working hard to keep the arts alive, with the focus on the writer and the artist in the world as a conscientious denizen, and to help and support others. The profit we make from our publication is purely in our hearts and what we hope is the fostering of a creative community, each member of which knows how difficult it is out there each for the other. Indeed, while the statistics for the “non-traditional” student are rising, funding is dropping, making it all the more important for programs and scholarships like the Riggio Program to exist.
Ashawnta Jackson (Managing Editor): Sometimes people just know what they want to be, who they are. They know, somewhere in their core, that there is something that compels them to be this thing. I was never one of those people. Here are some of the things I said I wanted to be at some point:
I suppose I tried to be all of those things in some way or another, with varying degrees of success (let’s describe “success” in ways as broad as “took biology in high school” and “actually was a DJ for a while”). But, there came a point where I had to figure out some things, figure out what made me, me. In doing that, I dragged out my old list of aspirations. Most of them didn’t really fit me anymore, none of them except one–writer. I figured why not try that on for size again. See how it fit. Did it still curve to my shape, this new shape, this new person? I’ve been lucky to find out that in so many ways, it still does. It’s tighter in places than I remember, freer and looser in others. I’ve been lucky because I was able to find a community with Riggio, a place that has let me constantly alter this fabric, change it to suit me, tear it to shreds, and create it again.
There will, undoubtedly, be another point in my life where I’ll need to take that list out again, review it, add to it. But, I’ll remember that time in my life when I could say, with confidence, I was a writer.
Tolly Wright (Online Editor): On my first day as a Riggio student, I was disheartened when I saw the syllabus in Catherine Barnett’s literature course, “The Art of Making.” The reading list included four different collections of poetry. I hated poetry. Things only seemed to get worse: the first exercise in class was to use a portion of Leaves of Grass as inspiration for a short piece. We went around the table and read what we had written; and where other students recited excellent pieces of flash fiction or poems that incorporated Whitman’s tone, I had written a poor imitation. Throughout the rest of the course Barnett opened my eyes to the way different writing disciplines can translate across genres: a poem can inspire a memoir, non-fiction may lead to a collection of short stories, and a large epic-novel might become a sonnet. As I saw the intersection of where the genres could meet, poetry grew on me. Two years later, poetry was all I wanted to write.
Christopher Pugh (Managing Online Editor): As a writer, the Riggio’s Honors Program has introduced me to some of the most influential instructors I have ever met—running the gamut from published authors, to former Paris Review editors, and working artists. After moving to New York City in the fall, I realized the school acted much like a beacon for the dreamer—a towering blue and gold lighthouse in the middle of a murky sea of agents, unfinished transcripts, and potential (daunting for any tottering young writer).
In a recent Riggio literature course I received a definitive challenge from my instructor. She said, “Never flinch when writing.” You can never be too sure of yourself, when confronted with a city so flooded with talented ambition. You are unsure of how you will hold up. However, to write without remorse, but with action—despite the odds—ensures an endurance to swim in this great Atlantic with the best of them. Effort, not fear.
Daniel Gee Husson (Fiction Editor): Four years ago, while I was thinking about going back to school for the first time in almost ten years, I clicked on a link for the Riggio Honors Program: Writing and Democracy. That small action turned out to be a big deal.
Four years ago, I was a writer, but a novice. I hadn’t found my voice. My very first semester, I took a Riggio fiction workshop. The short story that I eventually finished in that first semester was described by a friend familiar with my writing as, “the most nuanced piece of fiction that you’ve ever written.”
Four years ago, I didn’t think I knew how to write more than a few pages. Now I’ve finished a full-length play and I’m starting another. The Riggio Program has helped me realize the role I have as a writer in society. My new play is about war and how it affects people on all sides.
Four years ago, I never imagined graduating from college. Now I’m applying to MFA programs. Without the guidance of my Riggio professors, I would never have had the confidence to do that.
Four years ago, I clicked on a link and it changed my life.
Issue 7 of 12th Street will be launched on April 30th at Barnes and Noble Union Square. Join us for readings by Elizabeth Gaffney, David Grand, and contributors. For information go to our facebook page or click here.