Reading the First Élan

Jacob's Blog Post PictureWhen working within a publication with as long a history as Élan, it’s easy to forget how complicated and interwoven tradition is. For 30 years, this magazine has collected and judged student writing and art under the supervision of teachers and students. There have been dozens of print issues, ranging from handwritten construction-paper projects to typewriter printouts, from small wads of paper custom-printed for Extravaganza to professionally produced full-color journals. Hundreds of staff members have worked on the magazine, and thousands of authors have given their work to the custody of the advisors, the editors, and the staff members of Élan.

It’s easy to forget. You work on only the most recent content, the newest poems, stories still in such rough drafts that writers will change entire plotlines when asked to. For those submitting work, it’s the same concept. Writing is new—it’s unique, it’s singular for the person creating it. Even if a long tradition of writing exists for a form or a character type or a style, the work feels like it only exists in a moment. Still, over time I realized how much my own writing had benefitted from the ideas and works of other authors—never from my contemporaries as much as from long dead authors who had been all but forgotten in the modern day.

It was thinking about tradition that made me want to investigate the history and lineage of Élan. To understand my role in the publication and the role of the work we were creating, I knew I had to look to the past and see where we had come from.

It started in 1986 with the first edition. Élan began as a letter-size stapled magazine, supervised by the English department with advisors that included Ms. Lynch and Mr. Lipp. Each piece was type-written and Xeroxed into the actual magazine, often with strange but eye-catching layout and almost always accompanied by illustrations, not by contributing artists but by the staff members themselves. The cover is blocky, grungy, impressively raw. The art is black and white, simple, almost primitive in its action and emotion.

But the most impressive part of the first edition is the writing. One would think that writing so unpolished and unprofessional, so unguided by the structures of a formal department, would be hard to read—spiky, sharp. And one would be right—the poems often rhyme, the stories are simple, and the style overall is what one would expect from any high school, not an arts magnet. But the honesty of the writing still shows. An essay from an English class, strange as it would be in our Élan, feels like it has a place in the first edition because it was written with care and passion.

Passion sums up the first Élan. It was simple, it was D.I.Y., but the people making it cared about writing. They cared so much that they started a magazine. It’s our job to continue that tradition of caring and passion—even if it feels rote and mechanical, art began and still begins in a place of creative excitement.

-Jacob Dvorak, Senior Fiction Editor