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Through Award-Winning ‘Tesserae’ Literary Magazine, Upper Schoolers Capture the Creative Voices of Generations of Students

At the end of every school year, students in the Upper School are given two books that highlight the past year. 

One, their yearbook, is full of pictures of their classmates and recordings of the events of that year. The other, Tesserae, is the school’s national award-winning literary magazine, filled with artistic impressions of life at Rowland Hall. It features poetry, prose, art, and photographs, all produced by students, giving a creative slant to everything that happened in the past 12 months. 

“It’s an emblem of art and expression for the Rowland Hall community,” said senior Gabriella Miranda. “It feels like a very celebratory work. Everyone gets excited when it comes out.” 

It encapsulates the voices of that particular generation of writers.—Joel Long, English, creative writing, and literary magazine teacher

Poet Joel Long teaches the creative writing class that creates the publication every year. The class is made up of a staff of student writers and editors, many of whom have been enrolled for all four of their years in the Upper School. In his tenure, Joel has watched 19 editions of Tesserae go to print and says each one has been unique. 

“It encapsulates the voices of that particular generation of writers,” he said. “It tells the stories that they are dealing with, what sorts of things matter to them at that moment.”

The publication of Tesserae is a major event for the creative writing students, but it is not their only project of the year. They spend the majority of their time working on and refining their own creative writing processes and pieces, and they begin by examining the works of other writers. 

“We read a ton of poetry and get exposed to different poets,” said junior Erika Prasthofer. “Poetry is a way to stop and reflect and understand what a moment meant to us. It’s shaped my high school experience and the way I tell stories and think about the world.” 

Joel also brings in guest speakers who work as writers. He wants the students not only to learn from them about the craft of writing but also the hard work that goes into it. “They answer questions about the writing process, about how they wrote their poems and novels,” he said. “And they show the students they are just humans. They are people who sit down in their chairs with a cup of coffee to write and work away at it.” 

Each student gleans lessons from these experiences that help shape how they create their own art. They discover habits that might hold them back and learn how to finesse a piece to take it from ordinary to extraordinary. “My writing process has evolved because I often used to try to plan what I was going to write before starting,” said Erika. “With time, I have discovered that while a structural border for writing can be important, that border can’t always be a distinct shape because the piece may otherwise feel forced and unnatural.”

And students are encouraged to discover their own voices by examining different types of writing, including poetry, nonfiction prose, and short works of fiction. As they move through the process, each person finds a unique way to express themselves and discovers the reasons why they prefer certain types of communication. 

“We’re really able and encouraged to write in the way we want,” said Gabriella. “I’ve been able to write about any topic that’s important to me and that I found resonance with.” 

“I really like freeform slam poetry,” added ninth grader Aoife Canning. “I find that being able to perform poetry for others is a way in which you can get them involved in it.”

To further develop his young writers, Joel encourages students to share their poetry with various audiences throughout the year, not only by reading aloud but also by submitting to various contests and publications across the country. This year, thanks to her writing, Gabriella was chosen as one of five National Student Poets and traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. In addition, Aoife, Erika, and senior Nadia Scharfstein were all honored at Poetry Ourselves and Poetry Out Loud events sponsored by the Utah Division of Arts & Museums and the National Endowment for the Arts. Nadia was also showcased in the young writer’s edition of the Roanoke Review

The most rewarding part is the outcome and the ability to read your writing and feel proud of your work.—Nadia Scharfstein, class of 2024

“I am so proud of the students and their outside successes,” Joel said. “They set the bar high, worked really, really hard, and earned it.” 

While the accolades are nice, the students say the work is its own reward. “The most rewarding part is the outcome and the ability to read your writing and feel proud of your work,” said Nadia. “It’s a way for me to express myself through my words. It brings a lot of joy to me.” 

This joy is also felt by showcasing their works, and the works of other students, each year in Tesserae. The entire staff takes the process very seriously, from submission selection to editing individual pieces to the final layout. Every step is done with careful consideration, and the goal is to live up to the responsibility of creating an artifact that accurately represents the artistic pursuits of this year’s student body. 

“Every year I look forward to working on Tesserae. I like being able to contribute to that and be a part of bringing it all together,” said Nadia. “It represents all the creativity that is going on in our school.”


Banner: Editors Gabriella Miranda and Nadia Scharfstein with the 2023–2024 edition of Tesserae.

Arts

Through Award-Winning ‘Tesserae’ Literary Magazine, Upper Schoolers Capture the Creative Voices of Generations of Students

At the end of every school year, students in the Upper School are given two books that highlight the past year. 

One, their yearbook, is full of pictures of their classmates and recordings of the events of that year. The other, Tesserae, is the school’s national award-winning literary magazine, filled with artistic impressions of life at Rowland Hall. It features poetry, prose, art, and photographs, all produced by students, giving a creative slant to everything that happened in the past 12 months. 

“It’s an emblem of art and expression for the Rowland Hall community,” said senior Gabriella Miranda. “It feels like a very celebratory work. Everyone gets excited when it comes out.” 

It encapsulates the voices of that particular generation of writers.—Joel Long, English, creative writing, and literary magazine teacher

Poet Joel Long teaches the creative writing class that creates the publication every year. The class is made up of a staff of student writers and editors, many of whom have been enrolled for all four of their years in the Upper School. In his tenure, Joel has watched 19 editions of Tesserae go to print and says each one has been unique. 

“It encapsulates the voices of that particular generation of writers,” he said. “It tells the stories that they are dealing with, what sorts of things matter to them at that moment.”

The publication of Tesserae is a major event for the creative writing students, but it is not their only project of the year. They spend the majority of their time working on and refining their own creative writing processes and pieces, and they begin by examining the works of other writers. 

“We read a ton of poetry and get exposed to different poets,” said junior Erika Prasthofer. “Poetry is a way to stop and reflect and understand what a moment meant to us. It’s shaped my high school experience and the way I tell stories and think about the world.” 

Joel also brings in guest speakers who work as writers. He wants the students not only to learn from them about the craft of writing but also the hard work that goes into it. “They answer questions about the writing process, about how they wrote their poems and novels,” he said. “And they show the students they are just humans. They are people who sit down in their chairs with a cup of coffee to write and work away at it.” 

Each student gleans lessons from these experiences that help shape how they create their own art. They discover habits that might hold them back and learn how to finesse a piece to take it from ordinary to extraordinary. “My writing process has evolved because I often used to try to plan what I was going to write before starting,” said Erika. “With time, I have discovered that while a structural border for writing can be important, that border can’t always be a distinct shape because the piece may otherwise feel forced and unnatural.”

And students are encouraged to discover their own voices by examining different types of writing, including poetry, nonfiction prose, and short works of fiction. As they move through the process, each person finds a unique way to express themselves and discovers the reasons why they prefer certain types of communication. 

“We’re really able and encouraged to write in the way we want,” said Gabriella. “I’ve been able to write about any topic that’s important to me and that I found resonance with.” 

“I really like freeform slam poetry,” added ninth grader Aoife Canning. “I find that being able to perform poetry for others is a way in which you can get them involved in it.”

To further develop his young writers, Joel encourages students to share their poetry with various audiences throughout the year, not only by reading aloud but also by submitting to various contests and publications across the country. This year, thanks to her writing, Gabriella was chosen as one of five National Student Poets and traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. In addition, Aoife, Erika, and senior Nadia Scharfstein were all honored at Poetry Ourselves and Poetry Out Loud events sponsored by the Utah Division of Arts & Museums and the National Endowment for the Arts. Nadia was also showcased in the young writer’s edition of the Roanoke Review

The most rewarding part is the outcome and the ability to read your writing and feel proud of your work.—Nadia Scharfstein, class of 2024

“I am so proud of the students and their outside successes,” Joel said. “They set the bar high, worked really, really hard, and earned it.” 

While the accolades are nice, the students say the work is its own reward. “The most rewarding part is the outcome and the ability to read your writing and feel proud of your work,” said Nadia. “It’s a way for me to express myself through my words. It brings a lot of joy to me.” 

This joy is also felt by showcasing their works, and the works of other students, each year in Tesserae. The entire staff takes the process very seriously, from submission selection to editing individual pieces to the final layout. Every step is done with careful consideration, and the goal is to live up to the responsibility of creating an artifact that accurately represents the artistic pursuits of this year’s student body. 

“Every year I look forward to working on Tesserae. I like being able to contribute to that and be a part of bringing it all together,” said Nadia. “It represents all the creativity that is going on in our school.”


Banner: Editors Gabriella Miranda and Nadia Scharfstein with the 2023–2024 edition of Tesserae.

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