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Freeing the children through the power of the word: a conversation with Peter LaBerge, editor of The Adroit Journal.

November 26, 2011 \am\30 11:06 am

Peter LaBerge has a 19th Century industriousness.  A Connecticut resident, he acts in local theater productions, most recently The Pajama Game and Into the Woods.  He is vice president of an a cappella group called the Beachside Express.  He performs in two improvisation ensembles.  His core passion, though, is in literary pursuits.  He just completed a seven-month investigation into the effects of dissidence and repression on Cuban poetry. He interviewed Cuban poets and wrote on the subject in Spanish.  He has composed Spanish-language poems.

In 2010, Peter conceived of a magazine, The Adroit Journal, which he decided would serve as a fundraising vehicle for Free the Children, a global youth network that helps children through educational programs.  The inaugural issue, released in May 2011, featured contributions from poets like Laura Kasischke and Dorianne Laux.  (Disclosure notice:  My short story “Bird-Boy” appeared in that issue.)

By the way, did I mention that Peter is 17 years old?

 

1. You created The Adroit Journal as a vehicle to raise money for Free the Children, an organization to which you’re committed. Why did you conceive of a literary magazine to support the charity?

I was really questioning how I wanted to involve myself with writing. I knew I wanted to do something, and I knew that I wanted to have a community service-related aspect, but I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be on the publishing side or the writing side.  As the journal has developed over the last year or so, I have exponentially improved my skill as a writer, both in terms of forming ideas and presenting them.

When I heard a representative of Free the Children speaking on behalf of the organization at a Model United Nations Conference I attended at Georgetown University this past February, I decided that Free the Children would be a wonderful organization to support with the journal. I think the message of the journal coincides nicely with the message of the organization: to promote education of youth, as well as freedom.

 
2. You had a greater ambition than most people would expect of a high-school student. Instead of soliciting work exclusively from your classmates, you succeeded in acquiring work from nationally known poets for the first issue – Dorianne Laux, Annie Finch and Lyn Lifshin. How did you go about creating awareness for The Adroit Journal on a national level?

Initially, it was certainly a challenge to create awareness for The Adroit Journal on a national level. I did not even have a website or any issue or previous contributors to present to those who might have happened to stumble upon my project. At first, I began to solicit submissions by referring to literary magazines that I enjoyed and contacting some of my favorite contributors, including Dorianne Laux, Annie Finch and Lyn Lifshin.

It was definitely difficult to present my project without looking foolish or overly ambitious. However, once I created a website and added the journal as a listing to Duotrope, I began to receive an increasing amount of responses from writers whom I contacted, and I began to receive unsolicited submissions. Since then, the number of unsolicited submissions has continued to rise, and, as of right now, I now rely solely on unsolicited submissions.

 

3. I know you have many interests, including community service and theater. What are your own literary ambitions beyond the magazine?

As I mentioned earlier, I feel that my skill as a writer has improved as I have had the opportunity and obligation to read more and more submissions from writers whose worlds are surrounded by literature. In terms of my own ambitions, I have begun to send my writing to increasingly selective publications and competitions.

As I continue to explore the literary world and expose myself to new styles and genres of writing, I hope to apply my writing to other interests (for example, writing for theater).

 

4. Are there any poets in particular who inspire you?

 My favorite poets are incontrovertibly Lyn Lifshin and Mary Oliver.  They both influence my writing.

 

5. Is the magazine a one-man operation or do you have help to maintain the website, read submissions and lay out the issues?

Originally, the magazine was a one-man operation, which is part of the reason that it was so challenging to get the journal and website up and running. While I still maintain the website and lay out the issues by myself, I have been able to expand my editorial staff to include over 20 other high-school and college-undergraduate students, who read all submissions and offer commentary and suggestions for the editing and selection process.

 

6. What are your long-term plans for The Adroit Journal, if any? Do you plan to continue it when you go to college?

I certainly hope to continue the journal when I go to college! Right now, I am continuing to expand the reach of the journal by expanding my staff and promoting the journal as best I can. To say the least, I am very excited to see where, in terms of development, the journal travels.

Note:  The submission deadline for the next issue of  The Adroit Journal is December 1.

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