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New Lit on the Block :: Enizagam

What do celeb’ author Lemony Snicket (AKA Daniel Handler), luminary poet Nikki Giovanni, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler, Sister Spit founder Michelle Tea, MacArthur Genius Award winner Yiyun Li, literary legend Walter Mosley, Pushcart nominee Soma Mei Sheng Frazier, and thirty young writers at an urban public high school have in common?

Rewind back exactly one year, to January 2011: in a renovated Art Deco theater complex in Downtown Oakland, CA, a seminar-sized group of young writers put their noses to the grindstone. That day marked the first day of the Enizagam course at Oakland School for the Arts (OSA), a public charter school that admits students grade-blind on the basis of artistic auditions.

OSA was founded in 2002 by CA Governor Jerry Brown—then Mayor of Oakland. It serves over 600 talented middle and high school students. Soma Mei Sheng Frazier, Chair of Literary Arts, explains: “These kids competed for acceptance into the program. They want to be here, and I want to give them a private-school-caliber experience, tuition free. To do that, I completely overhauled our literary journal, which was once a typical publication featuring student work.” It hasn’t been easy. While the school has stacked up accolades for its arts-based methodology, and for closing the achievement gap between student subgroups, its arts programs receive zero public funding.

The students, and Frazier, run the journal as a labor of love. Frazier describes the young staff as “sophisticated readers, poised to apply razor-sharp focus.” The students gain the nuts-and-bolts experience of running a serious literary journal, and Enizagam’s readers gain access to stunning new writing selected by fresh editorial eyes.

Enizagam’s goal? To become the first secondary-student-run literary publication with serious national acclaim. It may already have achieved that. While run by urban high school kids, it is written by and for adults. Last year, it received submissions from award-winning authors working across—and beyond—the U.S. Contributors included Jendi Reiter, Laura Shearer, Nick Kriefall and Rae Gouirand, who has just come out with a new book of poetry: Open Winter, winner of the 2011 Bellday Poetry Prize. Bookstores have begun shelving Enizagam, and the 2012 issue’s literary contest judges will be Lemony Snicket and Nikki Giovanni. Robert Olen Butler and Michelle Tea judged last year’s competition.

Yiyun Li and Walter Mosley will soon be interviewed by the journal’s student staff for the 2012 issue. Kerby Lynch, Student Co-Editor in Chief, interviewed Farm City phenom’ Novella Carpenter for the 2011 issue. Says Lynch: “Among other questions about her urban farm, I asked Novella how often the goats’ breath smelled delicious. Her answer? ‘Always.’” The student staff is “juiced” to see the new next issue on bookstore shelves in 2012.

Writers: “We can’t wait to dig into this year’s submissions!” Check out the 2012 Enizagam Literary Awards in Poetry and Fiction at: http://enizagam.org

[Press release provided by the editors of Enizagam; Cover Art: Zooey Yi]

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