Trajectories: an open talk about the many paths to becoming a writer.
Gary Joshua Garrison is a prose editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and appeared in or is forthcoming from Southwest Review, Moon City Review, The McNeese Review, Word Riot, Gigantic Sequins, and others. He lives in Arizona with his wife and their two torpid cats.
Jess Burnquist received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Persona, The Washington Post, Salon, Jezebel, GOOD Magazine, Education Weekly, Time and various online journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU. Jess currently teaches English and Creative Writing in San Tan Valley and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award for teaching. She resides in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area with her husband, son, and daughter. Links to her most recent work are available at www.jessburnquist.com.
Patrick Michael Finn is the author of the novella A Martyr for Suzy Kosasovich and the short story collection From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet. He teaches writing at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
Jake Friedman is the Founder and Editor in Chief of an independent community literary journal and small press based in Phoenix, AZ called Four Chambers. He is also; drinking coffee (as the picture would indicate); a waiter and sometimes bartender at an unnamed casual-upscale restaurant (the restaurant being unnamed to protect it’s identity, not actually unnamed); working on a long-form experimental prose manuscript titled The Waiter Explains (no coincidence with his current profession, he swears; long-form experimental prose being a pretentious way of saying novel, even though he has legitimate reasons for doing so involving narrative perspective and deep structure he still feels pretentious). http://fourchamberspress.com.
Jessica Marie Fletcher serves as the current Superstition Review Student Editor-in-Chief and was fiction editor for issue 16. She studies creative writing, psychology, and family and human development in the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. She has worked as an Opinion Columnist for The State Press, and one of her short stories has been featured in LUX Undergraduate Creative Review.
A group of S[R] interns and poets were invited back to Combs High School in April to be the featured readers at the school’s community poetry night.
I accompanied our readers as a supportive but silent audience member, and truly, pulling up to the school, we didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been to a few poetry slams and an equal number of solo, scheduled readings in bookstores, but I’d never attended an event like this at my own, or any other, high school. As we approached the gymnasium doors, before we even had time to introduce ourselves, a student was greeting us, pulling us into the building and thanking us for being their special guests.
The room was decorated with shawls and paper flower in a bohemian style; some students wore shawls around their waists or macrame vests in keeping with the decor. Students and guests could grab a plate of fruit, chocolate and cheese and crackers or visit the tarot reading “tent” staged in the corner before finding a seat. We found a table set with a vase and a flower hand cut from newsprint. Every detail was lovingly done by the students in Ms. Burnquist’s senior creative writing class. Along the walls and windows were printed photos of each of these students’ faces, and right above where we were sitting, sipping our lemonade, was a photo of the S[R] group during our last visit to Combs.
The evening began with an open mic portion during which Combs students not in the creative writing class read their poems or performed music. Some were quiet and hurried, but they were followed with the loud encouragements of their classmates. Ms. Burnquist emceed the rest of the evening and took the stage to read one of her own poems, “Reflections of a Teacher.”
Eleven of her students followed her. They read work about heartbreak and aging and moving on. One student read a poem for her classmate, who couldn’t face the crowd, and each poet stepped off the stage to great applause and the occasionally shouted inside joke. Our readers – former poetry editor Abner Porzio and current poetry editors Skyler LaLone and Elizabeth Hansen – concluded the event, representing the world of poetry that exists beyond high school.
It seemed the evening was the students’ own sort of graduation from the creative writing program at Combs, a celebration of all they’ve discovered about themselves and about poetry in the last three years. As Ms. Burnquist said in her opening poem, “This classroom isn’t a step before you begin, you’ve already begun.” We’re so grateful to have been a part of this event and the past two years.
On March 21, a group of S[R] interns visited the students in Mrs. Burnquist’s senior creative writing class at Combs High School to lead a workshop with some of San Tan Valley’s most accomplished and ambitious 18-year-olds. This was the fourth in a series of collaborations with Combs that began in the fall of 2012.
The students prepared 100-word stories prior to our visit, inspired by this website 100 Word Story. They had copies of their stories in hand. As I went over the workshop plans in the days before, I built up a small arsenal of tools and techniques to get the discussion going. I expected to be pulling comments out of a reticent group, but they seemed more comfortable with the workshop structure than I was.
After initial instructions to my small group of six students, I confessed that I was a bit of a fraud and had never even been in a writing workshop myself. One of the students turned to me and said, “Well, you’re doing just fine.” From that moment on, I was able to abandon all anxieties and simply enjoy the freshness they brought to our workshop. I was impressed with the level of engagement with their 100-word assignment. Each of the six students I worked with brought a deeply original story to the classroom and offered kind words and gentle criticism to their classmates.
Our discussion ranged from story conflict to that weekend’s prom to our career paths. Although no one in my group planned to major in creative writing in college, they each possessed an enthusiasm for writing that I sometimes find missing in my collegiate English classes. “What do you like to read?” they asked me, spiraling into a discussion of their favorite books. “What do you like to write most – fiction or poetry?” “What’s your writing routine?” We had a spare twenty minutes at the end of the class period to answer some of these questions as a group, though I think some of them still left with new questions.
These students, when they aren’t reading or crafting their own stories and poems, create the school’s online literary magazine, IMPRINT. You can view their latest contrast-themed issue here. During our visit to the school last semester, we discussed the importance of social media in developing an online presence. Since then, the students launched a website and have been developing a whole social media presence with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages.
Before we left the classroom, Jess Burnquist pulled us aside and told us that her single creative writing class is expanding into two next year because of the growing interest in the class material and the production of IMPRINT. This is truly an inspiring development, one that demonstrates the power of passionate teachers and ambitious, creative students.
Our partnership with Combs High School is also expanding this semester as S[R] will be participating in their Community Poetry Night on April 26. We’re looking forward to celebrating the voices of Combs that night, and we’ll be watching for the brilliant work they produce individually and at IMPRINT for years to come.
San Tan Valley is one of the newer cities in Arizona, but what it lacks in population it makes up for in education and culture. One of the more striking aspects of this burgeoning area is the Combs High School Creative Writing curriculum. While most seniors in high school focus on securing the earliest release possible, the students in Mrs. Burnquist’s Creative Writing class have taken this course to pursue an education in reading and writing literature.
Although much of their time in class is spent discussing stories from established writers and in workshop, these seniors have also been actively engaged in developing the next issue of their own online literary magazine, IMPRINT. As if they hadn’t already impressed us enough! The magazine was started last year by the inaugural Creative Writing class as a way to encourage literature and to provide an outlet for students to “leave their mark”—the slogan of the first issue. The 4th issue of IMPRINT was launched on Monday, February 4th with an Adventure theme and can be viewed online here.
Superstition Review first took an interest in this group after visiting Mrs. Burnquist’s class in the fall to discuss the publication process of our own lit mag. This semester a group of s[r] interns returned to Combs High to participate in small workshop groups—one lit mag to another. We discussed everything from character development to college applications, and had a great time doing it.
About their magazine, one of Mrs. Burnquist’s students, Kat Johnson, stated, “I am interested in the production of our own literary magazine because it allows me to leave my own ‘imprint’ in Combs history. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.” As it should, Kat. And to the rest of the Combs High students who have participated in this impressive endeavor, the pen doesn’t stop here. We look forward to seeing great things from all of you.