"Maybe I was in love and then moved on. Was it my first love? Possibly. But one thing I do know is that it's possible to fall in love with the thought or the idea of love and there is nothing wrong with that."
That's what teen author, Stephanie, shared about her experience with love in "Write Your Heart Out," the latest book published by DePaul's Big Shoulders Books. Stephanie's story is one of more than 40 narratives and poems featured in the new book, which launched on Feb. 12.
Funded by the William and Irene Beck Charitable Trust, "Write Your Heart Out" is a collection of writings by Chicagoland teens from various schools and community organizations focused on their experiences with relationships and all their complexities. Narratives and poems include insights on the importance of self-love, navigating homosexuality and working through difficult family histories of love.
Big Shoulders Books, the DePaul English Department's own publishing house, creates free books on social justice issues, through community-oriented projects with the help of undergraduate and graduate students. "Write Your Heart Out" is the product of DePaul students, who gained hands-on experience in publishing classes focused on editing, book production and publicity.
"I had recently taken an interest in the publishing industry, and the idea of a nonprofit publisher struck a chord with my own personal values," says Drew Weissman, a DePaul graduate student in the writing and publishing program and editorial assistant for the book.
Edited by Beth Catlett, chair of the Women & Gender Studies Department, and Michele Morano, chair of the Department of English, the book also includes writing prompts and blank pages for readers to experiment with various writing styles.
"We started with the idea that young people are too often talked about, rather than listened to," Morano says. "Instead of starting with a preconceived notion about what it means to be a teen in a relationship, we decided that we should ask them to tell us about their experiences or what they hoped for in a relationship."
Over the course of several months, DePaul students enrolled in the English department's publishing courses and conducted workshops to get high school students thinking and writing about relationships for the book. By the time the workshops were complete, the team had received 90 submissions.
"Many students have trouble recalling specific details when crafting creative nonfiction," Weissman says. "I had the high school students write down a list of crushes from their childhood, people they knew and celebrities. Then they chose one and wrote about the first time they saw that person, focusing on the feelings in that moment. The students shocked me with their enthusiasm and writing skills."
The project gave DePaul students the opportunity to develop editing skills by evaluating the teens' work, crafting feedback and encouraging creativity. Every high school student who submitted a piece of writing received suggestions to include in future drafts.
"It was exciting to read and work with these narratives showing how young people are insightful, sensitive, understanding and thoughtful," Catlett says. "The intention of the book was to create an opportunity for their voices to be at the center. I feel we accomplished that goal."
Catlett and Morano plan to distribute copies of "Write Your Heart Out" to high schools and community organizations that work with youth. English and sociology teachers from local high schools have requested more than 300 copies for weekly book club meetings and class discussions.
Ultimately, Carlett and Morano want the book to inspire young people to write and feel comfortable making their voices heard.
"Kids rarely get to learn from authors their own age, and these pieces are really phenomenal," Morano says. "I want students to learn that they are not alone. Almost every relationship experience someone can have is represented in this book."
All of Big Shoulders Books publications are free. Every book includes a list of community organizations to encourage readers to get involved and make an impact on social justice issues.
For more information about "Write Your Heart Out" and how to receive a free copy, please visit the Big Shoulders Books website.