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Youth Programs

The Seeds to Plant the Future: WITS 2019-20 Anthology Launches at the Portland Book Festival

Each year, Writers in the Schools publishes an exemplary student anthology. The 2019-2020 WITS anthology, The Seeds to Plant the Future, showcases pieces written by 52 high school students from Portland’s public high schools and across Oregon in 2019-20.

Publication provides writers with validation, encouragement, and exposure to a larger audience. All proceeds from the sale of the anthologies support WITS programming.


This year, the WITS anthology launch took place virtually at the Portland Book Festival. The whole event is available to stream below.

THE 2019-20 WRITERS IN THE SCHOOLS ANTHOLOGY LAUNCH, PART OF THE 2020 PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL, PRESENTED BY BANK OF AMERICA.

Youth Program Specialist Olivia Jones-Hall answered some questions about how the WITS anthology process pivoted this year, and offered advice for students submitting this year.

How did the process change this year for the WITS anthology and the WITS anthology reading at the Portland Book Festival?

Making the book itself was similar, I typically make it on the computer anyway, and it’s a fairly solitary process, so that was normal. But we did get fewer submissions, only about 70 compared with about 150 last year. We also opened submissions to high school students around Oregon, instead of students who had been in class with a WITS writer. I expected to receive fewer submissions, given that the deadline of the beginning of June was still so deep in the midst of Covid isolation, and of course the beginning of the Black Lives Matter protests that would continue through the summer. I think school was only a priority to the point that it needed to be, which is absolutely fine. Everybody needed a break, and I’m really grateful to the students who did send their work. 

The anthology launch at the festival was definitely very different. Typically it’s in person, of course, and it’s often a little more difficult to find enough student readers to fill the time. That is usually a combination of scheduling availability, access, and nerves. But we had so many students who wanted to read this year. I think students being able to read in their own homes, at their own pace, without the pressure of hundreds of eyes staring at them made the whole process a bit more accessible. I missed the sound of applause for all of them, and I hope we’ll get that back next year. But I’m so glad that the launch was so successful, and I hope everyone who participated felt seen and appreciated.

Were there any parts you felt were more successful in the virtual format? 

Having everything submitted through a Google Form made the process a little easier. Typically, there’s a lot of back and forth with teachers about names, contact information, and residency info for students, but having the online form streamlined a lot of that. It’s also possible that it’s easier for students to submit materials, because they don’t have to print anything out, or take anything home to get it signed by a guardian and then bring it back. It might also be easier for teachers because they don’t have to deal with a bunch of paper… But no one has said that, I’m just guessing based on what I had to ask for last year.

Were there any themes across student work that resonated with you? 

A lot of students write about family–these extremely mature, often heartbreaking, very empathetic pieces about family life and dynamics. I really resonate with those. There are so many different types of families, and these students really capture that diversity. There’s also adoption, immigration, substance abuse, white collar crime, and estrangement wrapped into those pieces. It’s very impressive, and I love seeing how those stories unfold. 

What advice would you give to students submitting in this year’s anthology?

Follow the idea that excites you the most. When you’re submitting anywhere, it’s easy to get caught up in what you think the editor will want to read, but for the anthology, I’m never looking for anything specific. I just want to read what you write, and feel that you’re excited about it, and believe in what you’re doing. There aren’t word count requirements or genre requirements, and the piece does not have to be written in English. The purpose of the anthology is to showcase your work to a larger audience, so take advantage of the opportunity if it interests you.


Title poem for the 2019-20 WITS Anthology

Orange as Oranges
By Katy Lei

Mom comes home
With a bin full Of
the bright spheres
She says there Was
a sale I can’t turn
back.

A fruit bowl
A picturesque scene Fit
for a grand Still life
painting But I can
only focus On one
particular Piece of
produce No color as
vibrant Or enchanting
As this one Fragrant
as if standing In front
of an orchard Full of
the citruses Bite into
it And feel like a king
As rich as The robber
barons Of the Gilded
Age A cannonball To
siege castles A throne
To sit upon The seeds
To plant the future So
I reach For a paint
brush And splatter a
canvas My hands turn
Sticky and pulpy But
it doesn’t matter

A knife lays
forgotten
On a cutting board I
peel and peel and peel
The sickly sweet liquid
Escapes and seeps Into
a papercut My hands
quiver Pressing a
fingernail Into the
plump flesh I shoot
myself In the eye My
vision turns blurry I
clench my eyes shut It
burns. Tears flood in
torrents Down my
cheeks That I can’t
wipe Away fast
enough It becomes
juice That stains And c
an’t be removed

It is my dessert. My
assertion. It is my
obsession. My prized
possession. But we
can’t all be As orange
as oranges

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