by Amber Pence
When Jenny launched in November 2010, we wanted to expand on the concept of gathering local writers and artists on a single creative platform. Our inspiration comes from the raw and beautiful landscape of dilapidated steel mills, which stand as husks of prosperity and fodder for our voices as artists and authors. My inspiration draws from teaching the young voices of the SMARTS students over the years. This pool of creative energy is vibrant and fresh lacking the quiet pessimism from the generations before. Theirs is a new voice resonating into future “Jenny-rations” expanding the reach of art and literature within the Rust Belt.
The Jenny/SMARTS collaboration developed into a highly specialized class focusing on our local young adult writers and artists giving them a platform to display their creative works. SMARTS offered a classroom filled with their highly artistic students, we offered a Jenny-inspired lesson plan to include a multi-genre writing experience covering poetry, non-fiction, and flash-fiction. With the help of local award-winning author Nin Andrews, and other volunteers with program, the Jenny/SMARTS class developed into a fun and creative workshop experience for the students.
The Jenny/SMARTS class will continue offering one select Jenny YSU student the opportunity to teach the class each semester. The student’s work will be featured in the special SMARTS section of the Jenny online literary magazine. Our collaboration will continue as each new class will build upon the one before, and each Jenny-ration will add to the voices found only here in the Rust Belt.
The selections featured on the Jenny/SMARTS page are a testimony to our commitment of inspiring young adult writers as they take their work into new creative directions and flow into wealth of artistic expression featured in Jenny.
“When You Write Something, It’s Yours”: Learning From the Students of SMARTS
by Chris Lettera
When I arrived at YSU five years ago to begin my undergraduate studies, I didn’t speak a whole lot. I resided within my shell, undecided for two years, drifting in a sea of gen ed courses. I enrolled in a creative writing workshop because I liked to write on my own. I learned the power of writing in a classroom, a university, a city. I felt the power of my art and the power that comes from sharing art with other makers. I made friends. I enrolled in the graduate studies program and began teaching comp classes.
This is what college is supposed to be, I thought. But something was missing.
I’m currently President of the YSU Student Literary Arts Association. Last Fall, we published our first issue of Jenny, a literary magazine named for the Jeanette Blast Furnace that once existed here in Youngstown. Our goal in publishing prose and poetry is to honor the creative spirit of this city – to connect Youngstown to the world, and the world to Youngstown. For our second issue, we teamed with SMARTS, with our friend and mentor Becky Keck and her remarkable team, and myself and fellow SLAA member Amber Pence began teaching SMARTS Jenny creative writing courses.
Nothing can describe my anxiety when, on a Monday night, I walked into a classroom full of kids ages six through twelve. How do I talk to them? I thought. What do I do if one of them begins to cry? Should I ask if they’re having an existential crisis? But then, I realized, I teach a college course, and I didn’t know how to talk to them either. I didn’t know, at twenty-three years old, what made me a teacher.
My SMARTS students are from the Boys and Girls Club. They’re full of energy, but like many writers, they’re sometimes reluctant to read their work aloud. A young student asked me to read her poem one week. She held her notebook up to her face and glanced nervously at me. I recognized myself. I said to her, “In this world, if you write something, it’s yours. Do you want me to take credit for your success?” So she read. And a whole bunch of other kids read their poetry.
I walked into my comp class two days later with a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. Through the creative outpouring of these young students, I had learned to take ownership over whatever instruction I have to offer in a classroom. SMARTS opened their doors to Jenny and provided me with the opportunity not only to teach, but to learn. The Jenny team hopes that you enjoy these offerings from young writers and that you find as full of life and humor and magic as we have.