Red Beard Press
Red Beard Press
What Red Beard Press Has Meant to Me: An Account From a Sappy Neutral Zone Senior
Hello Red Beard Press friends and fans! Today's meeting was focused around the planning of an end-of-the-year literary arts program chapbook as well as promoting Red Beard to underclassmen to get more people involved in Red Beard. As a senior at Pioneer as well as the Neutral Zone, I know I have had a really hard time promoting Red Beard in a way I think it does justice to it. We have decided to do a promotion video probably with audio from some of our readings and videos of staff members. The inspirational video which Pioneer made to promote itself made me kind of emotional to be honest, so I think we might be able to capture some of what Red Beard is about. However, I'd also really like to put my own two cents in.
As a freshman and sophomore I was afraid of being a part of the Neutral Zone. I thought the people who hung around there were weird (this was based on my older sister). However I honestly can't emphasize enough what the Neutral Zone has meant to me and what it has become in my life. I see myself in a lot of different sections and I think that becoming a mature adult definitely began when I started interacting with people in this community. I started coming to Short Story Workshop as a Sophomore and for the first year I was honestly terrified of everyone there because they all seemed really smart and interesting. I was afraid they were judging me. I think a lot of people don't participate in activities or programs here because they see it as something created only for queer or artistic people. However, I don't think I was ever someone who felt entirely proud of myself or secure in who I was until I started writing at the Neutral Zone and I wish there was some way I could describe it in a way that could make it seem like more of an accessible community. I suppose my growth through the programs is about all I can provide.
My first year I was a horrible writer. I messed up over and over and I couldn't figure out my style as a poet. I think I only really got a handle on it when I took Jeff Kass's creative writing class where I had to write something new every day and read aloud each week. I threw myself into the literary community and was devoted to becoming someone who I would have been intimidated by in sophomore year. I am still definitely growing but last year at the VOLUME Summer Institute Shira Erlichman, on of my favorite poets got up on a stage and described me as a poet who made jumps in my writing which intimidated her. I don't think I would have even been able to talk to her much less share my incredibly personal work with her if not for the Neutral Zone. I think one of the only things that helped me feel like I had something important to say has been creating a community and voice for myself in this safe space. The people I used to be so scared of I now consider my closest friends. I can share my work with them and grow with them as writers. We talk every day and share our lives with each other and it makes anything I share something I feel is received with warmth and constructive criticism.
Jaime Davidson and Clara Kaul are my family. Zaphra Stupple is my best friend. Carlina Duan, Mary Gallagher, Fiona Chamness, and Alex Kime are my mentors & idols. All of the students involved in Red Beard, Short Story, and VOLUME are what gives me energy each day, I love them so much. I would never have become close to people from the underclass or from other schools if I hadn't actually tried to stop being cold towards everyone I met and these programs are what made that happen.
I came out as queer here, I learned my space here, I wrote my first love letters, my first zines. My comics are made on legal paper from the Neutral Zone. The books I've published and the places where my name is in print all originated here. The designs I am using in my first exploratory fashion line are based on the fashion of the Neutral Zone teens and the models who will display them are primarily students who hang out here. I got jobs because of the responsibilities I took on in Red Beard Press, the speaking skills I learned through slams/speaking in classes, meetings, and workshops, and the abilities I learned from the staff here. I learned how to be both family and best friends with my own twin between those poorly insulated walls. And most of all, I learned how to trust people again.
We were trying to figure out how to describe what Red Beard had meant to us today and it came up that it looked really good on college and job resumes. However, Clara brought up the fact that a lot of students just become a part of clubs for the benefit of the title and really have no connection to the work at all. The difference I see between these programs and school clubs is that the Neutral Zone has been built off of and around the trust and freedom of the teenagers in the AAPS. We are about promoting the voices of our peers, through the stomping at slams to the hum of the audience at Poetry Night. We are about sharing space and being open to the community. We are about giving youth power and responsibility. We are about putting teens in contact with their idols. Jaime has been able to be in contact with Aimee Bender and Junot Diaz. Clara Kaul, Carson Borbely, Kyndall Flowers, Sam Kass, and Julia Bohm have had their poetry judged by Angel Nafis, Danez Smith, and Scott Beal in the contest for Ann Arbor Youth Poet Laureate (announced this Tuesday). We learned from so many different poets over the years in VOLUME, Shira Eirlichman, Molly Raynor, Nate Marshall, etc.. Even just in Red Beard we have been able to publish works of Patricia Smith, Aracelis Girmay, Martín Espada, H. Melt, and so many other incredible influential voices! (Other programs have provided similar opportunities, I just am not as familiar with non-lit. arts programs.)
What really has changed me has been the openness this community has given me. I was not shy before but I didn't trust that what I said was being heard or that what I was saying was important. I only learned to trust myself and my beliefs here. Programs like Riot Youth and SOAR give community to people who have been drowned out and ignored. The art, music, and leadership positions have given students the ability to speak about their experiences. Students are in charge of financial information, grants, events, entire programs which would usually be put in the hands of someone with at least a college education which some of us may never even have the opportunity to obtain!
The importance of the Neutral Zone is the fact that you are never alone. People who you feel like you could never hang out with because they are "out of your league" become your close friends, partners, family. You have someone to help you and support you no matter what. Clara Kaul made a brief speech at Wine Word and Song about how the Neutral Zone really has been an oasis for a lot of people. The speech was given after Jeff Kass introduced her saying she was a poet at Community High and a part of the community who was grieving for a recently lost student who had taken his own life. I think that what she said really does touch upon what the Neutral Zone has made available to people who struggle every day at school and at home with identity issues, mental illness, erasure, racial discrimination, and abuse: (this is not an exact quote but it was something like this, I was not in the audience that night) The Neutral Zone has meant so much to so many people and I think it is a huge part of a lot of student's ability to make it through High School. The ability to be heard and have community through hard times has been something which I know has literally saved my life and has been a similar force in other people's lives as well. I think it is so important that this space provides that kind of solace for teens around the AAPS and especially right now I am feeling so grateful for that.
Honestly, I am a different person than I was when I started coming here. I am one of the teens this place has saved. I am one of the voices who finally was heard. I have worked on my own recovery and integration of my illness into my life with the help of people within this community. I was supported and taught by some of the most incredible people I have ever met. Red Beard Press is not just another club which students can be a part of just for the title. We are a collective brain collaborating to create art. We are a breathing thing which is fueled by a great appreciation for literature and the increased intersectionality of the literary scene. We are young and we are surviving and every week Mary asks us, "what was your favorite part of your week," and Mia Shin says, "coming here." Our work is something we are passionate about. That is one of the things I have had so much trouble finding in the schools. Everyone wants to be detached from their learning, from the people they have known for their entire academic lives. Yeah, sure, its is a bit corny to say that the Neutral Zone is based on the community it promotes, but honestly, there is no way to describe the importance of the work we do without emphasizing the people we are working with. I love everyone who has made this a space to rely on and a home to return to. When I leave here it will be with a name stemming from who I have become here.
Thank you Lori Roddy, Amy Milligan, John Weiss, Ramona Parker-Hayden, Mary Moffett, Sharonda Simmons, Jeff Kass, Kelsey Cavanagh-Strong, Jamall Bufford, Alex Alaniz, Mary Thiefels, Charlie Reischl, Jesse Kerstetter, Joanna Ransdell, Mary Gallagher, Fiona Chamness, Andy Fillmore, Adam Fink, and of course, Carlina Duan, eternal heart-beat-beast. Thank you as well to our donors, you are so important and we couldn't even have this space without you.
Teen editor, designer, head of the Red Beard financial committee, and admin of this blog,
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Other Neutral Zone teens please help me tell our stories. You can post what the Neutral Zone means to you in the comments below or email me at email@example.com if you would like for it to receive it's own post separate from this one (options for anonymity are of course available as well).
About Red Beard Press
Red Beard Press is an independent, youth-driven publishing company dedicated to creating cutting-edge literary arts projects, publishing emerging voices, and inspiring passionate literary communities.