My eighty-year-old friend, Elli DeLling, just had a collection of her poems published by the Red Beard Press, a publishing company run by high school students here in Ann Arbor. They combed through a lifetime of her poetry, choosing their favourites for her book, then proceeding to edit them. Conversely, in her recent poems, Elli began to modify her style, to play to the tastes of the teens. This was an instance of inter-generational cooperation like I’d never witnessed before.
Deeply moved by her publishing experience, I visited the Red Beard Publishing company’s weekly planning meeting. A dynamic and positive young woman from the University of Michigan conducted the meeting of of volunteers from several Ann Arbor high schools. They already were at work on their next book project—a volume of poems by two nationally known poets, Danez Smith and Frannie Choi. I listened in as they made design decisions for its cover, delegated work, and planned an outing to take photos for the cover.
For part of the meeting, a pair of local librarians visited to get advice and energy for their own teen outreach program. Students from the Red Beard press offered to lead workshops on fiction writing and book design as well as to hold a poetry slam in the library with an open mic.
Overall, I couldn’t help think of Summerhill, the progressive English boarding school, that was the brain child of A. S. Neill, the English educator, which so influenced students and teachers of my generation. The teens at Red Beard amply demonstrated how they can accomplish as much as their elders if given opportunities for initiative, decision-making, and creativity— all Neill ever envisioned for students at his school.
I left the meeting with the insight that young people are capable of far more initiative, creativity and energy than their elders. Certainly, in our tech-dependent publishing world, young people who are so conversant with the latest technologies, can be the logical leaders of adults. Maybe that is the secret that those of us old enough to have to earn a living don’t want anyone to know. Young people are better than us in the end.