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Unmasking Success

T.C. Williams’ literary magazine wins top honor from a national group.

Behind their masks, students at T.C. Williams High School are all pretty much the same. That was the conclusion of editors and writers who put together last year’s award-winning literary magazine, Labyrinth. The theme of the magazine was “masked.”

“We asked the writers and the artists to think about the masks that we wear and to try to get behind them,” said editor Maddie Abram. “We thought that this was a theme that would get some good submissions.”

Earlier this month, 2005 Labyrinth won the Highest Award from the National Council of Teachers of English Program to Recognize Excellence in Student Literary Magazines. Only 11 of the 486 competing schools received this top honor, a special award presented to magazines exhibiting exceptional skill in writing, production and promotion.

Abram, who is now ending her junior year, decided to take the school’s Magazine class during her sophomore year on a whim. A friend recommended it, and she decided that it would be a useful endeavor. She is a fan of magazines like Cosmopolitan, US Weekly, Seventeen and Life & Style Weekly — and she wanted to translate her enthusiasm into the student’s literary publication.

“School magazines aren’t boring,” Abram said. “They can be exciting too.”

UNMASKING T.C. Williams was a challenge, and layout editor Tamara Wilkerson was presented with the task of fitting all the pieces together. She said that some of the other themes under consideration — destinations, bubbles and metamorphosis — just wouldn’t have worked. Eventually, after weeks of intense debate, “masked” won the day.

“It was broad but not too broad,” Wilkerson said. “Many of us thought that ‘destinations’ was too broad.”

Wilkerson, who is now ending her junior year, took the Magazine class as a sophomore. She knew that her interest in design would be useful in a production setting. Her favorite magazine are Wired, Vogue and Seventeen — highly stylized publications that Wilkerson hoped to emulate in the design for Labyrinth.

“The folio is consistent,” she said, pointing out a series of lines that add uniformity to the pages of the magazine. “We repeated these lines for conformity.”

Aside from acting as the layout editor, Wilkerson had several pieces of art published as well as a story about a band named “Bayliss.” She says that the band broke up shortly after Labyrinth was published in Labyrinth, but she didn’t think her story had anything to do with it. The magazine also featured a drawing of her friend Jihad Kimmey.

“He’s the kind of person that people might make all kinds of judgements about when they look at him because he wears makeup,” Wilkerson said. “I think this drawing really captures his spirit because of the raised eyebrow and the expression of curiousity and playfulness.”

THE LABYRINTH staff had about 20 students who were advised by English teacher Jessica Haney. Other honors bestowed on the 2005 edition of Labyrinth include a Gold Medal from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, Trophy Class designation from the Virginia High School League, All-Southern designation from the Southern Interscholastic Press Association, First Place with Marks of Distinction from the National Scholastic Press Association and First Place with Special Merit from the American Scholastic Press Association.

“It’s a real-word work environment, and it takes a lot of diligence to pull it off,” Haney said. “We have really good artists at the school, and the three art teachers give us full access to their wonderful selection.”

Haney said that one aspect of the Labyrinth that distinguishes it from other high school literary magazines is its local feel. As advisor, she has made an effort to ensure that the magazine has some reference to Alexandria as well as a sense of the times in which it was published — giving the magazine a personality that judges would respond to.

“One reason that the magazine does well is that we incorporate creative nonfiction, which is something that the judges are looking for,” Haney said. “Over the years, we’ve added more local features that give the magazine a sense of place. Even if they are too newsy, they give the publication a temporal feel.”

FROM THE 2005 LABYRINTH

“Mask of Dreams” by Abby Downs

An unfinished story filled with unknown faces

Only partially complete, barely begun,

And a dramatis personae still half masked.

The plot thickens as the tale is spun,

Careful and delicate as a web,

Details are hazy while worlds make no sense.

The world is confused, bizarre, and kerfuffled

Silent cacophony and organized chaos.

Soon the midst lifts and the tale drops away,

Characters forgotten, familiar places unknown.

The new sun rises and the new moon sets

Shadows of dreams fade with the dawn.