Give Back Through Writing
American Peter LaBerge is only eighteen years old, yet he has already accomplished feats equivalent to those of many established writers. He is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, a Foyle Young Poet of the Year, and a two-time Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Medalist for Poetry. Furthermore, Peter founded The Adroit Journal, a charitable literary publication that features work from both emerging and established writers. I had the chance to speak to Peter about his work as a writer, the creation and aims of The Adroit Journal, and his goals for the future.
At what age did you become interested in writing? How did that interest develop?
I stumbled upon writing amidst a rather eager (read: desperate) search for a passion at the end of my freshman year of high school. Somehow, I managed to be published in my high school’s literary magazine that year, and I somewhat impulsively decided to take writing seriously for the first time in my life. Of course, things really heated up once I (again, impulsively) decided to start my own literary magazine in the fall of my sophomore year. I became Senior Editor of my high school’s publication and an Executive Editor of a high school magazine called Polyphony H.S. based in Chicago.
Aside from actual editorial experience—which, by the way, I believe was quintessential for my development as a writer—I managed to land bits of recognition here and there from the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Awards, and ultimately began to reign in publications from such venues as The Louisville Review, DIAGRAM, The Newport Review, and Hanging Loose. Beyond the publications and fancy competitions, though, I think my writing interest and ability has principally developed from the international community of young writers that has formed with the development of my literary publication The Adroit Journal. I can’t tell you how much I have learned about writing (and, arguably more importantly, myself) from the numerous emerging and established writers I’ve come to know.
What is your favourite medium of writing to produce?
My favourite medium of writing to produce is definitely poetry, although—in fairness—that’s really the only literary genre I’ve given myself the opportunity to pursue. I’m always jealous of prose writers and screenwriters, which I think stems from the fact that mainstream society seems to appreciate and recognize writers of prose far more frequently than it recognizes writers of poetry. I suppose we’ll see what the future holds!
What does a typical day on the job entail?
Hmm. Well, generally I’ll wake up and read through emails I received overnight, and respond to the ones that are relatively undemanding. Then, I typically go to class and use breaks between classes to check up on our submission manager and reject pieces that have received what we deem sufficient editorial consideration (evaluation by 5-7 staff members) and maybe aren’t quite right for us. Lately, because we’ve been in the midst of a significant hiring spree, I’ve been interviewing a lot of people over Skype with my managing editor, Alexa Derman, and I’ve been sorting out a lot of job description inquiries—but hopefully all of that will end soon!
Is there a message you wish to convey to readers through your writing?
Hmm. I don’t know if there’s necessarily a consistent message found within my writing, but I have definitely been writing a lot recently about the intricacies of the family system: how fragile, fleeting, and uncannily bizarre familial relationships can be.
What barriers do young writers face today? What is your advice for young writers?
As a teenager, it can be very difficult to believe that you have what it takes to pursue writing as a profession beyond high school or college. I think there’s a lot of affirmation and encouragement that young writers need but are not necessarily getting. Beyond that, however, I think there is an overarching push for students to pursue quantitative, theoretically more lucrative fields. Sometimes, I fear for America’s future culture, but I suppose that’s a separate conversation. For now, I think the best advice I can give to young writers is to involve themselves in as much literature as they can. Take classes, join online communities and workshop groups, get involved in an editorial project, and (most importantly) read and write… really practice your craft. And recognize that it isn’t all about the contests, though it may seem that way. It can be so hard to distance yourself from all the drama of contest results (especially when you’re in a very talented and successful community of writers), but—at the end of the day—it’s all about satisfying and developing the need to express yourself.
You founded The Adroit Journal, a charitable literary publication. What can you tell us about the journal and how has the process been?
Well, first of all, founding and developing The Adroit Journal has without a doubt been the most thrilling experience of my life so far. I never thought the journal would get to where it is today, especially not within the first three years of its existence. But I suppose I’d better start at the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, I was a sophomore in high school—and quite an amateur writer—when I decided to found the journal. I had little marketing, publishing, and editorial experience, and no formal literary knowledge to make up for it. While most people look at this as perhaps a situation bound to fail, I saw it instead as an opportunity to initiate a publication without the burden of traditional publication customs. What little I had seen of the literary world served as a jumping-off point—as a young writer, I felt constricted and muffled by the existing literary scene. I found support for ‘emerging writers’ geared mainly to MFA students, rather than to high school and college students, and realized the need for a revolutionary shift of emphasis. Three years and seven issues later, the journal has received over 7,500 submissions of writing and art, produced humanitarian features increasing awareness of Cuban and Zimbabwean literary repression, and acquired an editorial staff of nearly eighty students from around the world. Most importantly, the journal has remained true to its founding mission: to unequivocally support young writers in high school and college in a variety of unique and necessary ways.
I will not pretend that developing the journal to its current level was easy. Particularly during the journal’s beginning stages, convincing more established writers of our legitimacy felt like a losing battle. Since beginning studies at the University of Pennsylvania, however, I have found sufficient opportunity to acquire funding, and I am very excited to see the future of the publication.
What can you tell us about the Fill-A-Room Campaign associated with The Adroit Journal?
While the journal has always held charitable contribution in high regard, the Fill-A-Room Campaign has only just joined our mission. A couple of things really intrigued me about the organization and its mission—mainly, its firm commitment to combating illiteracy in underprivileged communities around the United States, but also its similar structure of teens helping teens (and, in some cases, adults). In the past, we donated proceeds to Free the Children and the Acumen Fund, but—until I began talking to Fill-A-Room Founder Rurik Baumrin—I wasn’t sure whether the journal itself might have a sizable impact. Now, instead of merely donating the publication’s proceeds to a worthy organization, I hope to orchestrate a complimentary distribution of our print issues to people who need them. At the end of the day, I just want to further inspire and encourage teenagers to share the voices they have been given, and to pursue their interests.
What is your greatest achievement thus far in your career?
Although I’m proud of my personal accomplishments, I’d definitely say my work with The Adroit Journal. It’s really my baby—the thing I daydream about, the thing that keeps me up at night.
What future projects are you currently working toward?
Well, as I said, the University of Pennsylvania is providing funding through the Kelly Writers House, so I’m really working on expanding The Adroit Journal to become less of a “publication for only the best” and more of a “community resource for all emerging (and established!) writers.”
Where do you aspire to be in five years?
Living, breathing, and probably writing. Realistically, I’ll likely be in graduate school pursuing one (or both?) of my two principal interests (creative writing or marketing), but I haven’t even begun to even think about that yet. How exciting—we’ll see!