It’s sometimes hard to believe where you end up. If someone had told me as I entered college that I’d end up the editor of a weekly paper in Philadelphia, I would never have believed it.

As a college freshman, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was generally interested in computers – I was a proud Commodore user then and wrote basic programs and saved them to a 5.25” floppy drive that was the size of a contemporary laptop. When I had to pick a course of study, it was simple: I enrolled as a computer science major.

During that year, though, I discovered Corso, Ferlinghetti, Mailer and Kesey and became more interested in writing. I started hanging out with English and art majors. And then,  in a move that may have cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in earning potential, switched my major to English with a concentration in creative writing.

It’s a strange twist that now, my work at a weekly paper has a lot to do with technology. I spend as much time thinking about and planning for the Local’s website as I do its print edition. Who would have imagined that juxtaposition? Some of those old instincts and comfort levels tooling with software have come in pretty handy in the last year, that’s for sure.

But I’m not really interested in talking about myself. The reason for the anecdote is context for ho  impressed I was with the high school students who came to read at last weekend’s Local event at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival. All four – Mark Tagliomonte, Amanda Grace Rush Ashbaker, Julia Stevens and Emily Brown ­– are very interested in writing, and in the case of poetry, writing in a form that’s as old as human language itself.

In this day and age of information overload – the Google search, the Tweet and instant Apps – it’s remarkable that these high school kids are dedicating so much time to a form of art that is often, even for those of us who love to do it, tedious and labor intensive.

When I asked those high school writers who came to the event to talk about their inspiration, one included Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare as inspiration. None even worked in the last century!

But that is what is great about these students – the enthusiasm and optimism to work at writing and to imagine a future in which they can continue to pursue writing and maybe even earn a living doing so. That there is overwhelming evidence that writing – particularly poetry, is a fast and fading anachronism when practiced today – doesn’t faze these kids one bit right now.

It didn’t faze me then, either. It’s been a long time since I was really engaged in writing for a purely creative purpose. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve been able to string a poem together (even longer since I’ve composed a good one).

One of the student writers asked about the chance of making a living as a writer after the event concluded. I was honest.

I said that even journalism, where writers have turned to make a living for the last century, was no longer a safe place. It’s definitely good to have “marketable skills” like HTML design, but being able to write is not only a good skill, for those who enjoy it, it’s a deeply satisfying occupation, as the adult, amateur writers who also participated in the Local event confirmed.

Writing is definitely worth pursuing, if for no other reason than that the skills it takes to compose compelling and literate stories will make you a better thinker in anything you might wind up doing in 20 years, including building and maintaining a local news website.

Pete Mazzaccaro

[PS: Special thanks to the writers who attended our event on Sunday and who submitted. It was a pleasure reading your work and meeting you all in person.]



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