High school literary magazine in Portland earns mark of excellence

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PORTLAND — Valerie Carpentier may not have started reading for fun until fifth grade, but she hasn’t let that slow her down.

Five years after finding inspiration to write after reading the Harry Potter books, the Deering High School junior has found a supportive and creative home away from home.

Carpentier, 17, is one of about a dozen students who belong to Breccia, a club that publishes the school’s literary magazine. The 100th anniversary edition recently received an “excellent” rating from the National Council of Teachers of English.

Breccia was one of 391 magazines nationwide evaluated by the program and one of two in Maine recognized in the “excellent” category. Noble High School in North Berwick also received the distinction.

Literary magazines are judged on quality of writing, variety of genres represented, editing, design and graphics and the level of involvement of students in editing and production.

Breccia adviser Shana Genre said the distinction is exciting affirmation of Breccia’s importance for students who participate in weekly meetings and whose work has been included in the annual publication.

“I was really, really excited to hear about it,” Carpentier agreed.

Carpentier, who joined Breccia as a freshman, said she found a place where she could share her work and learn from others. She has already sketched out a five-book series about a teenage girl in foster care who is looking for her parents.

She said she looks forward to weekly Breccia meetings, where she and her classmates complete creative writing prompts and share their work.

“You definitely learn a lot about yourself and other people in your age group,” Carpentier said of the weekly meetings and reviewing pieces submitted for publication.

Mikayla Episcopo, a 17-year-old junior, said she joined Breccia at the beginning of the school year at the urging of a friend.

“Now I’m in love with it and I can’t wait for Mondays,” she said. “It’s the best part of the week.”

Episcopo has been writing regularly since middle school – often filling eight journal pages a night – and said Breccia has allowed her to learn new styles. She said she has pushed herself to share more of her writing at monthly Breccia coffeehouse events.

Like Episcopo, junior Ian Donovan looks forward to the coffeehouse and reviewing magazine submissions, particularly those with a visual element.

“I find it is, in general, a huge expression of one’s self. It’s a form of escape if something is troubling you,” he said. “Breccia allows pretty much anything … It really allows people to say what they want, draw what they want and create what they want.”

That kind of flexibility is exactly what Genre and co-advisor Tracey Menard said they want to achieve with Breccia. The monthly coffeehouse allows students to experience an arts event in a way they might not have before, Genre said.

“It’s very much like what you’d find in a cafe downtown,” Menard said. “It gives students an opportunity to have a real audience for their work, which is a motivating factor.”

“It’s a casual celebration of the arts, not a contest or a competition,” Genre added.

Breccia coffeehouses feature a special guest, often a local poet or musician, who performs and talks to students. Genre encourages community members to come to the coffeehouse events, which raise money for publication of the magazine.

The next Breccia coffeehouse will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 1, at Deering High School.

As they prepare for the next coffeehouse, Breccia members also are preparing to dive into the compilation of the next edition of the literary magazine. Genre said the magazine will come out at the end of the school year and she hopes, like last year, to sell it in local bookstores.

“It feels good to have it out in the community,” she said.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow Gillian on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

Sidebar Elements

Valerie Carpentier, left, discusses Breccia literary magazine with fellow Deering High School junior Mikayla Episcopo. The 100th anniversary edition of the annual publication recently received an “excellent” rating from the National Council of Teachers of English.

Breccia members Mikayla Episcopo, left, Ian Donovan and Valerie Carpentier say Deering High School’s literary magazine has allowed them to develop writing skills in a supportive environment. The 100th anniversary edition of the annual publication recently received an “excellent” rating from the National Council of Teachers of English.