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Saturday, June 15

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In March of 2005, students at The Latin School of Chicago introduced Polyphony H.S., a new national literary magazine for high school writers. The mission of this literary magazine is to seek out the finest high school writers in the country, to work with them to become better writers, and to exhibit their fiction before a national audience. Billy Lombardo, whose collection of short fiction, The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories, was a Chicago Tribune Best Fiction of 2005 selection, is faculty sponsor of Polyphony H.S., directs the Community Service Program and teaches fiction at The Latin School of Chicago. Polyphony H.S. volume two is now available for order at www.polyphonyhs.com.

Q: To my ears, a collective voice emerges from the pages of Polyphony H.S. However, this contradicts the very idea of polyphony, which means many voices. So then, being built upon the assumption that there isn't a collective voice at all, how have the voices within Polyphony H.S. come to flourish under the same cover?

Lombardo: I had no idea what we were doing when we started Polyphony H.S. One of my students wanted to start a fiction magazine, I said let's go national, and somehow we did it. This year, when we recruited a dozen or so kids from around the country to serve as members of our national E-staff, and these young editors, whom we've never met, started returning the stories to us that they edited and commented on, I began to see the great value of this magazine. Where else can a kid from a high school in Kentucky send a story, get it shipped off to three kids from California, Indiana and New Jersey who make editorial suggests and write comments on it with an eye toward improvement, and then ship it back to the kid from Kentucky with more thoughtful commentary than he or she will ever get, in most cases, from his or her own English teacher? That's a kind of publication, regardless of our acceptance or rejection of the piece. Polyphony H.S. is infinitely more important than the actual magazine I'm looking at right now.

Q: For each student published within this publication there are of course thousands more who are out there writing. Only a handful of these students will continue writing creatively through life, but hopefully all will continue a love affair with the written word. As a practicing writer, wouldn't you agree that Polyphony H.S. is an excellent gage of the written word's future audience, and that because of this it would greatly behoove a creative writer — amateur or accomplished — to get his or her paws on this lit mag?

Lombardo: I don't think there's a more important literary magazine in the world than this one. I think we all, not just writers, have a responsibility to do something for young people. That's why Alex Kotlowitz and Donna Seaman felt moved enough to blurb this second volume, that's why Tony Fitzpatrick agreed to give me jpegs of his cover art for the magazine until I die.

Fiction is a bitch. For everyone. Especially for the young. Poetry is a little different. Kids could do poetry. Fiction requires characters, and characters require more empathy and observation than many young people are ready to give. For the most part, these stories have all been improved with editing. The beauty of Polyphony H.S. is that kids are helping each other learn the craft of writing. Every serious reader and writer out there should be interested in that.

Q: With two volumes now under your belt, how has your involvement with Polyphony H.S. affected your outlook as a teacher?

Lombardo: I'm beginning to believe that there's nothing more important that a grown-up can do for a child not his own than to give him an opportunity to tell his story, to show him somehow that it's a thing of value, and to give him a chance to articulate it for the world.

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About the Author(s)

John Hospodka is a life-long Chicagoan (and Sox fan), and has spent the past decade making a home with his wife in Bridgeport. He does not profess to be an expert in anything; he's just a big fan of the arts and is eager to make more sense of them.

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