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Teenagers speak in poetry, prose, and photos

By Marilyn Gardner Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 11, 2000


Lisa Schottenfeld was only a sixth-grader when she discovered that she liked to write. For several years she concentrated on short stories. Then, in high school, she branched out into poetry.

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"It's easier to get my feelings out in poetry than in prose," says Lisa, a high school senior in Canton, Mass.

Now her talents are reaching a wider audience. Her poem, "Into the Mold," is one of 125 essays, stories, poems, and photographs appearing in "TeenInk: Our Voices, Our Visions," the first anthology written exclusively by teenagers.

Subjects range from friendship, families, and heroes to love, loss, and the challenge of fitting in. No topic is too personal or controversial to write about: drugs, suicide, divorce, unwed motherhood. But in addition to students' trials, the book records their triumphs, offering a wide-ranging portrait of adolescence that refutes stereotypes.

"It definitely helps people to see that we're not just a group of apathetic teenagers," Lisa says. "We do have passions and beliefs." She adds, "It's nice to know that your work is in print, and that people who don't know you are able to read what you're thinking and feeling."

Compiled by John and Stephanie Meyer, the book is the latest venture in a publishing enterprise that began 11 years ago in their basement. As parents, they shared the conviction that young people have much to say, but few opportunities to express their views. School newspapers usually focus on news, features, and sports. And high school literary magazines are scarce.

To help fill that void, the Meyers sent out fliers soliciting teenagers' articles, fiction, poetry, and reviews. The response provided enough material for the first issue of a monthly magazine called 21st Century.

Today the magazine, now titled TeenInk, averages 30,000 submissions a year. Selections chosen for the book first appeared in the magazine. They were also "teen-tested," reviewed by more than 3,400 students.

In an interview in their second-floor offices in suburban Newton, Mass., where a sheltie named Tyler serves as "office dog," the Meyers reflect on their mission.

"When you see all the good things teenagers are doing, and when you listen to them talk about some of the things they're interested in and concerned about, you realize how much they have to offer," says Mr. Meyer.

Over the years, as the Meyers have pored over some 300,000 submissions, they have watched topics evolve.

One theme running through the book stresses the need to distinguish between what is real about a person and what is just appearance. Diversity ranks as another favorite subject. As teenagers become more ethnically mixed, the Meyers observe, they grow more tolerant and accepting of differences.

Teenagers are also more optimistic than in the past, they say. Students are more focused on education and more committed to getting good grades and going to college. "Today's teenagers think they can change the world and make a difference for the better," says Mr. Meyer. "They feel confident about their ability to make things happen."