Have you ever heard of a professional high school literary magazine? Before this year, neither had we! The Mire reached out to Dylan Emerick-Brown, Editor-in-Chief and founder of Howl, a professional literary magazine run by the students of Deltona High School, for insight about what it’s like to produce a successful professional student-run magazine. Howl is the only highschool to be members of CLMP (Community of Literary Magazines and Presses). Emerick-Brown has been working with the students as a faculty advisor, giving constant support to this initiative. The Mire reached out to for both some advice and inspiration. He talked to us about everything from the foundation of Howl to why it is important to read literature as a high school student.
Take a look!
Emma Storm: How did Howl come about? Was it your vision or your students?
Dylan Emerick-Brown: Howl began when I noticed that quite a few of my students had a proclivity for creative writing. I had a degree in English creative writing from the University of Central Florida, had worked on a few literary magazine staffs in the past, and had run my own literary magazine, Splash of Red, for five years prior. I thought it would be the perfect outlet for the students in my school. The students were on board immediately and it grew after that. I would handle the logistical aspects and advise, as well as use my network to get interviews, and the students would run the day-to-day operations as well as direct the vision of the publication year to year. Every four years the school’s population changes which creates an eternally fresh perspective from the staff, yet the downside is that interest ebbs and flows. It requires a lot of dedication to keep the quality up and the content coming.
Emma: Howl must require a lot of time and work. In addition to your work on the magazine, you also advise your students in other activities like literary community outreach and events. I also see that you’ve also created an imprint. Can you discuss the evolution of Howl? What led you to create Splash of Red Press? What do you hope to publish?
Dylan: Howl required a massive amount of time and work. Each year the vision of the students shifted as some students graduated and others became part of the staff. It evolved organically and that’s the only way to run a high school lit mag. If you try to control everything too much, you stifle it. Splash of Red Press came about because I met an amazingly talented young Nigerian poet online who reached out to Howl through Twitter. His name is Akpa Arinzechukwu. He had an amazing collection of poetry we wanted to publish in print. I had a connection with a publisher so we could actually do this. However, some of the poetry was a bit beyond the comfort level of the school given that it tackled real life issues faced by a young gay Nigerian man in a country which made being gay a criminal offense, punishable by prison or worse. He had even sent me video during our editing process of his book (we also did the cover art) of people being laid out in the street by the army and abused. The country was in the midst of a civil war and it was stressful for him at the time to come out as a gay poet publicly in a country in which he had been beaten and threatened so many times before. He is an incredibly brave young man and an incredibly talented poet. The book, by the way, can be bought at: creativehappiness.org. So, I had to distance the school publication by creating a separate press that was sort of like an outside internship. It was a lot of red tape, but we were really proud of the product and it made a huge difference to Akpa and people in Nigeria. We always wanted to publish the best quality work in any genre that we could find and we wouldn’t had been living up to our mission if we let this slip through our hands.
Emma: Like Howl, The Mire hopes to be a professional publication run by students. How did this decision come about? How long did it take you to be accredited by CLMP?
Dylan: We decided to be professional immediately. We weren’t a professional high school literary magazine; we were a professional literary magazine run by high school students. It took a few years to build our credibility in the literary community, which can be very insulated. However, the people at the CLMP were very supportive and saw how serious we were. We became the first high school literary magazine to be officially accepted as members.
Emma: One thing that sets Howl apart from other journals is your impressive collection of interviews. I saw in an interview with Emily Temple, from Literary Hub, that you describe the process of securing one as “polite persistence.” How do you prepare for interviews? What makes a good interview question? Who is your dream interview?
Dylan: We prepared for interviews by researching the life of the subject as well as their work. We wanted to interview interesting people in various fields and so the more we knew, the more questions we inevitably had. Never ask a yes/no question. Read other interviews the subject had done in the past so you don’t repeat the same old questions. Ask them something new. Be creative. We liked asking them about the writing and editing process, writers’ block, ideal writing environments, what were they reading at the time and why…have fun with it. My personal dream interview would be James Joyce, my favorite writer. He was such a brilliant man and writer with such a trashy yet high brow sense of humor.
Emma: What would you recommend to be as successful as Howl? What’s one thing you wish you’d known before you started the magazine?
Dylan: My number one recommendation to be as successful as Howl is to not try to be as successful as Howl. We were successful because we were unique and doing things the other contemporary lit mags around the country weren’t doing like a “Novel Films” section where we interviewed writers who had had movies made of their books about that process. People are attracted to the genuine deal. Be yourselves and have fun being it. I can’t say I wish I knew anything in particular before the whole experience as it would have changed my experience. I loved every minute of it: the tough, the frustrating, the wonderful, and the exciting.
Emma: Why is it important or what was the decision process behind making Howl an online magazine?
Dylan: It was always important for Howl to be online for many reasons. One is that it would be far less expensive to produce. Also, it would be accessible everywhere and by everyone on any device. This made it global. Plus, we could easily keep archives of past work while updating new work as it came in. We could also create digital galleries of art and other multimedia tricks we wouldn’t be able to do with print. It just made sense.
Emma: When I read through all of the work, I noticed the common theme of big life moments throughout the stories, was this a conscious decision by you and the students? Who is your target audience?
Dylan: It was really organic, not intentional. The student-staff chose what they liked, debated about it, edited where needed, and published. We never really talked about themes unless we were doing something special. Our target audience was always people who simply wanted to read great new poetry and prose. It usually consisted of budding writers either at the college-age or above, so we liked to cater our interviews to them a bit with questions on the writing/editing style, writers’ block, and stuff like that.
Emma: Why is it important to read Literature especially as a high school student?
Dylan: As an English teacher, I would say because it teaches students how to cope with the world, how to see yourself as part of something bigger than yourself, and how to expand your vocabulary and use of expression. As a lover of literature, I would say because it’s what makes life worth living. The best literature written by someone from another time we’ve never met has the power to make us feel something within us we never knew was there. It’s amazing.
Emma: What is one thing that everyone should read on their website?
Dylan: Something good that will make them want to come back for more…whatever that may be.
Dylan Emerick-Brown is the English department chair at Deltona High School in Deltona, Florida. He is also the creator and faculty adviser for the school’s acclaimed, student-run literary magazine, Howl. Emerick-Brown has received the Florida Teacher Leader Fellowship and was named a Volusia County Secondary English Teacher of the Year.