Coffee House: Catalyst

Seeing Elan put together Coffee House has been my most rewarding experience on this  publication. Although, events like Homecoming required similar amounts of work, and the work was all worth it, Coffee House is so unique to DA and the creative writing department that I am exponentially more drawn to it.

2018 marked my third year attending Coffee House. I was a member of the core team involved with planning the program, and did everything from help generate ideas for decoration to physically setting up hours before the performance. (Compare that to freshman year, when I didn’t even know Elan put on the event.) The night-of, I was immensely proud of our department. I honestly wish I had invited more people. Coffee House has always been such an immersive and moving display of the creative writers here…I don’t know of any other school that displays student talent so uniquely and so beautifully. Students from all departments (but primarily creative writing) create original performances such as poems, spoken word, songs, skits, dances, etc. have a night to showcase their work on a DA stage.

Obviously, as an Elan member, I felt proud about what we accomplished. But, more importantly, I felt proud as an artist. The vulnerability and bravery expressed that night is inspiring in ways I never could have imagined. One piece made me cry, every time, without fail—even at rehearsal. Staying after school, struggling with the details, cleaning up after…it was all worth it. I am always moved by this experience, and can’t wait to help again next year.

Olivia Meiller, Junior Editor-in-Chief

Yellow House 2018

The most rewarding parts of being on the staff of Élan, surprisingly enough, are the ones that involve projects that connect to the literary and artistic community of Jacksonville beyond the scope of the school out of which we are based. As nice as the work we do for Douglas Anderson is, that world is a microcosm unto itself, and it has an insular feeling as all schools have to some extent. Élan, however, has made efforts to broaden its impact as an entity. We are not relegated to just the school with which we are affiliated—we gladly extend our reach into the city itself. This extension makes the work that we do feel a little bit more real. When we have the power to step outside of the school bounds and engage with the community as an independent entity, there is somewhat of an affirmation of our editorial work.

Last year, Élan and Yellow House, a local project stewarded by Hope McMath, had a wonderful collaboration. Artists and writers published in the magazine were given the opportunity to have their work displayed in a gallery installation at Yellow House. In the subsequent weeks that Yellow House hosted this beautiful gallery, they hosted an event for young writers in the community, a family event that would allow both Élan and Yellow House to touch base with our youth and actively engage such writers in a meaningful way. Although at this point I was not on the Élan staff, I did get to collaborate with staff members as the co-head of the Douglas Anderson Spoken Word Club. It was my pleasure to conduct with my fellow co-head (Ashley Chatmon, now Junior Marketing Editor of Élan) a few spoken word exercises to expose the crowd to a new form of expression. Spoken word is medium with which many young writers are unfamiliar, so it was a great honor to be the ones to introduce the form to a new crowd.

This experience meant a lot to me because it showed me how creatively a space can be used and how such a space can be used to meaningfully interact with the community around us. It taught me the power of community outreach! To stand in front of a crowd of completely new, young faces and discuss writing is a privilege that I now greatly treasure. This means a lot to me as an artist—if I had been say half my age and been told about spoken word and its endless possibilities, I’d have been doing what I do now for a lot longer. It is tremendously endearing to be that person for somebody, and I’m more than glad that Élan was the intermediary for that interaction.

Conor Naccarato, Junior Poetry Editor

Lavilla Workshop

A large factor in why I wanted to join the Elan staff is because it is not just a small group of teens publishing work by and for its own host school. It eclipses the landscape of Douglas Anderson and carries its own merit as a part of a global art community. Not only that, but it is deeply involved in the local art community, with a focus on the youth.

Civil service devotees who invested in the youth of Jacksonville taught me at a young age to love this city. Moreover, they taught me that Jacksonville’s growth depended on the nurturing of the community that inhabited it. I wanted to put the message I learned about getting what you give to your community in action through my work in this organization. In November I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop at Lavilla School of the Arts. As a daughter of two teachers, I was deeply drawn to the idea of working with young people. My love for reading seriously shifted to a love for writing in middle school, and I hoped to help stir this same reaction in someone at Lavilla.

This event entailed nearly a whole school day for the members of Elan. We worked with sixth, seventh, and eighth graders who were already involved in their middle school’s creative writing program. A major focus of these workshops was to lift up these young creators and show them that their art is incredibly important. We wanted to encourage them to keep creating, as the goal of writing is not to please an audience, but to share a piece of ones unique voice and experience. The existence of Elan proves this truth. People want to know what the youth has to say, and they have for thirty years and counting. As we analyzed example writing and heard these students share some of their own, I was shocked by the depth of their insight. I reached a point where I felt I was no longer teaching, but having a genuine discussion with fellow members of the next generation of artists.

I also got a chance to share about my personal journey with creative writing, Elan, and how both have affected who I am not just as an artist, but as a person. I already knew that my personal growth walked hand in hand with my identity as a writer, but having to put it into words made me realize how rare and important the environment of Elan has proven to be.

Ashley Chatmon, Junior Marketing Editor