Stone Soup has been an inspiration to me for a long time, from when I first starting reading it as a ten-year-old, never even considering that I could submit and have the chance to be published, to now, when I have been published in the magazine several times, have attended countless Writing Workshops and Book Clubs, and have been interning with Stone Soup for the better part of a year.
Therefore, it is no surprise to me that Stone Soup’s presence in my life certainly played a role in my decision to try and found a literary journal at my high school this past winter. I have learned a lot from Stone Soup—how to write agendas, how to plan meetings, how to organize a website, how to analyze creative writing, among other things—all of which helped in the formation of South High Community School’s literary magazine, The Apricot Journal (named The Apricot Journal because South High is on Apricot Street). This is the story of The Apricot Journal.
The idea of creating a literary magazine at my high school in Worcester, MA was something I’d been thinking about since the beginning of the school year. As previously mentioned, I was inspired by my internship with Stone Soup; and I knew that this, a literary journal, was something I was interested in creating in my own community.
I didn’t get around to actually putting forth the idea, though, until late November. That was when I reached out to my English teacher, Mrs. Eressy, (who would become one of our teacher advisors) and told her what I was thinking.
She was very supportive, and immediately suggested another teacher who would also be helpful in creating our literary journal: Ms. Bishop. Ms. Bishop became our second teacher advisor.
Mrs. Eressy also suggested that I ask a peer to help run the magazine. Following her advice, I reached out to Emma Robeau, a tenth grader who I’d gone to school with since elementary school. Emma was excited to work on the project, and so she and I became the founders and Editors-in-Chief of what would soon be called The Apricot Journal.
The Beginning That No One Ever Knows About
What does it mean to build something from the ground up? With the exception of community service projects in middle school, where I had to come up with an idea and then implement it, I don’t think I’d ever actually created something out of nothing until The Apricot Journal. There is a lot of work involved in making something exist, especially when, as in our case, school was (and still is) entirely remote. Nevertheless, Emma and I launched into it.
Every detail that might be taken for granted, in fact requires a lot of work. Forming a shared Google Folder that now has subfolders within subfolders within subfolders, we spent time working on a submission form, making sure we were asking our submitters all of the questions we needed to—and actually, just the other week we realized we’d forgotten something. We came up with a name, which was a surprisingly harder process than we’d anticipated. We thought long and hard about exactly what we were publishing; do we accept essays as well as stories and poetry? What are the word limits? There were also a lot of questions about: what is our website going to be used for? How will we send The Journal to everyone at school? What jobs need to be filled (this one was particularly important), and what responsibilities will be entrusted to our staff members? Additionally, there were certainly a few hours spent writing the standard acceptance and rejection letters that would be sent out to our submitters.
Furthermore, there were random, random things that we wouldn’t have thought of until we were actually confronted with them. For example, Emma and I quickly learned we couldn’t activate the Google Meet link in our Google Classroom by ourselves; a teacher needed to do it for us. There was also a brief moment of confusion when we couldn’t access the mock submission we’d submitted to make sure the submission form worked, though thankfully, it sorted itself out.
At any rate, you get the idea. Building the inner infrastructure of a club, an organization, whatever you want to call it, is a lot of work. However, once we had the majority of that in place (for the work never really is finished), we could begin to spread the word around our school community that The Apricot Journal was something to be excited about.
Making Ourselves Known
There were two things we needed to do to be considered an “actual club.” First, we needed to get the approval of the Principal. Second, we needed proof that at least twenty people were interested in our idea (this would be determined by the number of people who joined our Google Classroom). Our principal, Mr. Creamer, gave his official approval, and with that in hand, we set about informing the rest of the school of our existence.
Since South High is remote this year, it has a “morning announcement slideshow” in place of actual morning announcements. The slideshow is a forty-something-slide Google Slides presentation, filled with information about schedule changes, sports, and clubs. So, we designed an advertisement slide, and had it placed in the morning announcements to draw attention to ourselves. It basically said, “Do you like writing? The Apricot Journal is South High’s new literary magazine! We publish stories, poems, and essays by the students of South High! We also plan to host a virtual writing workshop every two weeks!” (This was something we’d decided would encourage people to write, and would foster a community of writers.) We have edited that advertisement slide several times now, to add deadlines and new information (“We accept submissions in multiple languages!”), but it remains largely the same.
Additionally, we created a Google Classroom where students could receive even more information about The Journal—and also, as previously mentioned, where we would determine if we had the twenty interested people needed to be a club. Through friends, our advertisement, and our English teachers, who mentioned The Journal in class, we reached the twenty easily enough (I think it was sometime in mid-December); and then we forged ahead, working toward the point where we could actually start receiving submissions.
Things That Aren’t A Magazine That Still Have To Do With A Magazine
The work of actually putting together The Journal (reading and judging submissions, deciding on magazine layout) wouldn’t come until mid-January. In the meantime, along with the perpetual work of creating forms and adverts, there were a variety of things for us to do.
Number one: introducing The Apricot Journal’s writing workshops, which would take place every other week. Our first one was on December 22. We gave a brief presentation about The Journal, including information about submissions and staff applications (we released both the submission form and staff application form after the workshop), and then gave our ten or so participants a simple prompt and let them write.
As of now, we have hosted four writing workshops (with varying degrees of attendance). They are always fun, always a decent amount of work to plan, and usually bring in one or two submissions!
Number two: staff applications. Emma and I couldn’t run The Journal by ourselves (nor did we ever intend to). This meant we needed a staff, composed of our fellow classmates. We launched an application form, received about ten or so applicants, and held virtual interviews when we returned from winter break. The selection process was difficult, and took longer than we anticipated, but on January 19, we held our first staff meeting!
There are nine of us on the staff, including myself and Emma. Everyone reads submissions (also known as the Editor position), but there are additional jobs, as well. Besides Emma and I being Editors-in-Chief, we have one person running Web Design (our website), another in charge of Magazine Layout, one Treasurer, one Secretary, and three people who are exclusively Editors.
Number three: our website. Our website launched before we had a Web Designer, which meant that Emma and I originally organized and published it. (We used Google Sites, so it wasn’t overly difficult to format.) Nonetheless, creating the website was a fair amount of work (and still continues to be), between writing bios for ourselves, giving The Journal a mission statement (“to encourage creative writing in our school and give students an outlet to express themselves”), writing down submission information and FAQs, providing links to writing tips, and more lately, uploading the things people write in our Writing Workshops to the website. We also come up with Creative Prompts; The Apricot Journal releases weekly Creative Prompts—which are definitely very hard to come up with, and always a work-in-progress!
However, by mid-January, with our staff chosen, and our Creative Prompts and Writing Workshops up and running, we were ready to start the task of creating the first issue of The Journal.
The Actual Work Of Putting Together A Magazine
At the time of our first staff meeting, we had eight submissions—which is a lot, at least for us. We divided the staff into two groups, and they each read and judged half of the submissions on their own, and then discussed them in our weekly meetings. Emma and I read every submission.
The amount of work we had put into creating The Journal so far had been immense, but we quickly saw that we had only scratched the tip of the iceberg. The process of putting together an issue was a whole new world for us. Now we had to worry about pieces being edited on time, about who was going to design the cover, about when the acceptance and rejection emails were going out, about what the inside of the magazine would look like. (What size font were we choosing? Did we want two columns for the pieces? Were we putting in name and grade, etc.?)
In addition to hosting writing workshops, posting reminders on our Google Classroom, coming up with Creative Prompts, keeping our adverts (by now we had more than one in the morning announcements) updated, and various other things, we were now introduced to a new schedule: assign submissions, read submissions, accept/reject submissions, edit submissions, repeat.
It was fun; it definitely was; but it wasn’t without its challenges, and it wasn’t without its rough patches. Emma and I had learned to work with each other, but now we had to learn to work with the staff, how to listen to their ideas, how to delegate assignments, how to make sure that everyone felt welcome.
There were definitely a few squabbles with our staff, and sometimes the whole process felt a bit disjointed, and I’m sure those feelings aren’t going to go away all at once, but I think that now, now that we’ve put out our first issue, now that people really get to see all of the work we’ve been doing, now that we’ve found more projects for our staff to run (enlisting people to help with the never-ending Creative Prompts, and starting an Instagram account, among others), things are really, truly, finally coming together.
The Release (a.k.a. The End Of The Beginning)
Following days of texting about various drafts with our Magazine Layout person, and after one final proofread, The Apricot Journal was ready to go. It was released on February 11, emailed to the entire school as a PDF.
It contained all of the things that a normal literary magazine might contain: an Editors’ Note, a table of contents, a bunch of writing (eleven pieces in ours, I think), and a page where we listed our staff members. We were also lucky to have one teacher submit a poem, and so we had a Teacher Spotlight, which followed the students’ work.
It was exhilarating to see it published. All of the work we’d done, the countless hours put in; and here was the product. Now the whole world (or, you know, our high school) could see it. We held a reading on the afternoon of the 11th, where we invited the authors who were published in the issue to read out their writing. It was a very fun event for all of us. Our staff came and introduced themselves, and we all enjoyed hearing the pieces in The Journal be read and celebrated. We enjoyed having The Journal itself celebrated, too.
And yet, the release was, in some ways, anticlimactic. This wasn’t the end; rather, it was the end of the beginning. The Apricot Journal was really just getting started.
I’ve been on school break this past week. Its timing coincided nicely with the release of The Journal, giving us a built-in week off in between issues. Even so, we’ve already started planning out the next few months in the life of The Apricot Journal.
We’ve received more submissions (and we have some left over that didn’t make it into our first issue); we’ve got a whole schedule of writing workshops lined up; we have finally come up with enough Creative Prompts that we can go several months without needing more; we have an Instagram account with around fifty followers; and we have many ideas for new projects to start as spring rolls around.
We’re hoping to release our second issue sometime in April; and with the foundation of all of the behind-the-scenes work we’ve completed over the past few months (and are still undertaking); with the support of our staff, and the students in our Google Classroom who reliably show up for Writing Workshops; and most importantly, with the knowledge in our heads that we’ve done it before, that we’ve already produced one creative collection of stories, poems, and vignettes in multiple languages; we are truly looking forward to embarking on the next chapter of The Apricot Journal.
Stone Soup Editors' Notes:
The Apricot Journal is only issued within the school so we cannot share a full issue with you. We thank South High for granting permission to use images from the first issue, and congratulate the whole team at The Apricot Journal on their fantastic work!
"Thunderstorm" by Anya Geist (image above) had its origins in a Stone Soup Writing Workshop in May 2020. You can see more of Anya's work from Stone Soup on this website–just type her name into the search box at the top right of this page.
Jacqui South says
Thank you for posting this story about starting a Literary Magazine. I am sponsoring a literary magazine club at my middle school, and it’s been a challenging year so far. I will share your story with our group to show your journey.