In China, Carissa Chen played the piano, practicing hours a day while her parents danced. Then, on a flight to California, her mother told her they were getting a divorce and Carissa would be leaving her home in China.
“Piano was not the same for me. I couldn’t continue playing,” says Chen, now a freshman at Phillips Exeter Academy. “Instead, I started to practice painting and writing fiction stories. They became a creative outlet for me to explore and accept my sudden change in lifestyle.”
Chen’s painting “Widowed” won the American Visions Medal in the 2014 National Scholastic Art Awards Competition. It also landed on the front cover of the autumn 2014 issue of Canvas, in which Chen’s poetry is published.
Two years ago, the founder of Writers & Books, a literary center in Rochester, New York, suggested the idea of a teen literary magazine to writer and editor Nina Alvarez, who serves as publisher of Canvas. She teaches young adults the business of producing a journal: editing, multimedia creations, e-books and print publication. She oversees a youth editorial board with broad duties, including proofreading and media outreach.
Canvas offers a multitude of ways for readers, writers and artists to connect. Print and online publications showcase prose, poetry and art. A colorful website offers audio clips of the journal’s contributors reading their work, as well as video interviews. “We’re in discussion about publishing e-books, chapbooks and novellas, as well,” Alvarez says, “all by teen authors.”
Tone, editorial content
Editors at Canvas look for pieces that are complete and invoke a sense of discovery. Brooke DiGia’s script Alf Hymer’s Restaurant plays with the idea of time in a fast-paced dining scene that manages to be both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
“Alf Hymer’s Restaurant,” says the owner, “prides itself on meals that are so good they make you forget all else to savor the taste. Savoring takes quite a long time.”
“It’s very tightly written,” says Alvarez. “There’s a sophisticated use of language and dialogue, evolved characters.”
Young adults weigh in on powerful subjects in Canvas. Sam Lagerstrom’s essay “The Power of Language” (Summer 2014) explores the challenges of staying in a dorm room for weeks as a transgender teenager with homophobic peers. “The quick peek that my mom and I took into the bathrooms to confirm there was enough shower privacy,” Lagerstrom writes, “did little to prepare me for the emotional toll that my friends’ language would have on me.”
Contributors to Canvas hail from all over the world. Many have won national and regional awards for their work. However, editors note on the website, they also “routinely receive and accept work by writers for whom Canvas will be their first publication.”
Chen’s poem in the autumn 2014 is “Cycles of Ephemeral Beauty.” It begins with a reflection on the Chinese character mei, which means “pretty.” Chen writes: “But if pronounced differently, can mean ‘mindless.’”
The poem reflects on how women alter their bodies to achieve a standard of physical beauty:
Plastic surgery, Chinese foot binding, suicide:
As humans, we love destroying ourselves from the inside.
“As a Chinese girl with monolids,” Chen explains, “I’ve been pressured by relatives and friends to have plastic surgery with double eyelids. This poem reflected my personal struggles of accepting my cultural background and how I look.”
Advice for contributors
Alvarez urges writers to show work to trusted friends or teachers before submitting to Canvas and to ask for candid feedback. “Take your time,” she suggests of the artistic process. “Go through a number of revisions and make sure the piece is as good as you can get it to be.”
“Our readers and contributors are gifted, serious student writers.”
Quarterly, online and print, $6.60 per issue.
Age Requirement: 13-18
Reading Period: Year-round
Genres: Poetry, fiction, essays, plays, art, audio, multimedia
Submission format: Online via website
Melissa Hart is the author of the memoir Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family. She teaches at the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon.