PA Roots gives local teens a voice

New literary magazine was created by the Palo Alto Youth Council

A literary magazine created by Palo Alto youth for Palo Alto youth has jumped off the computer screen and into the hands of the community with its first-ever print edition.

Palo Alto Roots, also known as PA Roots, was created by the Palo Alto Youth Council's publication committee as a way to highlight members of the teen community who are defining success in a nontraditional manner, according to Elinor Aspegren, the current president of the youth council.

"We want to make it a custom publication for teens. A place teens can go to to read what their fellow teens are doing. A place where they feel like they can use their literary talents for this magazine," Aspegren said.

The publication launched last year under the council's goal of "redefining success and elevating teen voices" within the community and was originally started as a feature magazine rather than the literary magazine that it is today, according to Tara Madhav, one of the three editors and masterminds of Palo Alto Roots.

The editors' initial intention was to have teens go out into the community and do interviews for articles. But when that strategy wasn't as successful as hoped, they changed directions and turned the publication into a literary magazine, for which teens from the community could submit their own creations. These works range from poems and abstract tales to personal narratives. Many of the submitted works are accompanied by photos or detailed page designs also created by community teens.

The driving energy for the success of the publication was the idea of teen engagement and empowerment.

"There wasn't a publication before Palo Alto Roots that allowed kids from all over Palo Alto to publish their work. This is the first publication in Palo Alto that allows all students from all different schools to put their work in… It's really just an open forum for people to express their feelings, and I think that's very unique," Madhav said.

Aspegren said she came up with the name "Palo Alto Roots" through an epiphany she had during a brainstorming session, when the group was talking about trees.

"I thought PA Roots would be an awesome name because our whole town is very much about the trees. I mean, Palo Alto means 'tall tree'," Aspegren said. "And roots really do provide a foundation for trees. So we wanted to provide a foundation for youth, hence the name Palo Alto Roots."

The first print edition (available at local libraries as well as some schools and businesses) was funded by a $1,000 city grant. The money helped with print-production costs as well as providing food at meetings to encourage involvement, according to Aspegren. Submissions for the print product of PA Roots were taken at the beginning of the 2016 spring semester.

Once the three editors sorted through submissions and decided which ones they would publish, they had to play the role of editor as well as become a team of designers. They quickly learned how to properly execute Adobe Illustrator to create the publications pages, Madhav said.

"I never knew really how hard it could be to get the money and all that kind of stuff and to actually pull off one 12-page issue. But it's definitely been very worthwhile and a pretty good experience gathering all these submissions and really encouraging teens to share their work."

Although the final print product was a large accomplishment for the organization, it is not the final goal.

"The plan for the grant money was to be used for the first issue in print and then shift back to online once the magazine gained exposure from the print product," Madhav said.

As president of the council, Aspegren is not ruling out the possibility of doing another print edition of the magazine if funding is granted but hopes that eventually it will gain enough exposure to be exclusively online. She believes that having the publication online will make it easier for contributors to submit their work and for readers to access it. Madhav echoes Aspegren's point of view by commenting on how teens in the community will see the paper copy of PA Roots and "know we are a real thing."

All works submitted to the magazine are on a volunteer basis and more information can be found on the Palo Alto Youth Council website.

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