While Keshav Dhir's young classmates were fantasizing about growing up to become astronauts and basketball players, he was dreaming of a less lucrative career: writing.
Keshav has always loved to read and to write — mostly sci-fi and fantasy (his favorite book is "Harry Potter") — and several years ago submitted a piece to a children's publishing company. He never got a confirmation that his work was received, and an outdated website included no way to contact the publisher.
"I was kind of discouraged," the Palo Alto teen, now 14, said in an interview at the Mitchell Park Library on Wednesday. "I felt like someone had put a stopper on my creative flow."
So the well-spoken Gunn High School freshman created his own solution: a free online literary journal that aims to be responsive, accessible and respectful, with the ultimate goal of encouraging more young people to express themselves through writing.
The journal, dubbed Scribere (which means "to write" in Latin), publishes four times a year and takes fiction, nonfiction and poetry submissions from youth ages 11 to 18 years old. Authors must adhere to word counts and submit age-appropriate work that hasn't been published elsewhere, not even at school, but the process is otherwise open. As soon as a person submits a piece of writing, he or she receives a confirmation message, and within a month, the writer will get another notification that the piece will be published or needs further work.
If a piece needs more work, Keshav sends the author specific feedback and invites him or her to resubmit a revision. A youth editorial board of four other local students, including from Gunn and Terman Middle School, will soon get involved in this process, Keshav said. The students reached out to Keshav in response to posters promoting Scribere, which he put up at all Palo Alto high and middle schools and some campuses in Mountain View and Los Altos, as well as in Midtown Palo Alto. He's also advertised via social media, emails to teachers and Inkitt, an online publishing community.
Keshav claims Scribere is Northern California's first online literary journal for youth, by youth.
The inaugural spring issue, published in March, featured an array of writing: a fictional story about having cerebral palsy, a nonfiction piece about visiting the Exploratorium in San Francisco and several poems.
Keshav said he received about 15 submissions per issue last year.
Scribere gets "a little bit" of adult help from a technology adviser and a JLS Middle School teacher who serves as literary adviser, Keshav said.
Scribere is funded by two separate grants. Last year Keshav received about $700 through the city of Palo Alto's Think Fund, which provides money to help teens bring ideas for community programs, activities or events to life. He's using the dollars for more posters to promote Scribere, maintain the website and other expenses.
This month, Scribere will host creative-writing workshops for Palo Alto Unified School District students, funded by a $500 grant from Youth Service America and Disney for National Mentoring Month. Participants will have 40 minutes to respond to writing prompts and then spend 20 minutes sharing their work and getting feedback from peers as well as Keshav and the Scribere youth board members. He envisions this to be "mentoring in the form of peer-to-peer feedback."
At the end of the workshops, participants can hand in their work to be considered for publication in a special themed issue of Scribere. The workshops will be held after school at Gunn and Fairmeadow Elementary School.
Keshav hopes the workshops and journal will give other youth what he failed to find in his first attempt to get published: "a rewarding creative experience … (that) jumpstarts their creative flow so they continue to express themselves."
For his part, Keshav isn't sure what specific career path he wants to take in the writing industry, but knows he wants to become an author. Though he still gravitates toward sci-fi and fantasy, he can see himself writing nonfiction, he said. He recently dabbled in journalism as a reporter for Time Magazine for Kids, interviewing Khan Academy founder Sal Khan and writing about education technology.
For now, Keshav is focused on growing Scribere, with the ultimate goal of getting submissions from youth across the globe.
To submit work to Scribere, go to scribere.org.