Lit & Conference

Lit & Conference

By Kelsey Denham

Few high school students have the chance to present their work to an audience of peers outside their own school. It’s an opportunity that, for many, does not arise until graduate school. Every year, a few Flintridge Prep seniors are lucky to share this unique experience at the Literature &… (Lit &) Conference, a program hosted by the Archer School that invites LA independent school students to submit and present interdisciplinary literary work.

Founded at Archer 11 years ago by 12th Grade Dean and English teacher Tyke O’Brien, the spring conference at first involved four local schools but has since grown to feature participants from a dozen schools.

Modeled after a graduate-level conference, Lit & receives over 200 submissions per year, about 30 of which are selected. The presentations are categorized into panels, with emphases on the sciences, film, art history, design, architecture, psychology, sociology, gender, race and more.

This year, three writers from O’Brien’s City in Literature class, an English course that explores a variety of LA-focused texts and films, were accepted to the conference. Their submissions drew from their class midterm projects, which challenged them to conceptually “map” major themes from LA history, drawing inspiration from class materials and personal experiences.

Cameron Wu ’17 completed a creative piece he describes as a “lost chapter” in The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West. “It is an abstract, self-referential work centered entirely on my perspective of LA,” he says.

Haley Harris ’17 shared her literary exploration of LA titled A City in Conflict. LA, she says, “subsists on contradictions and opposing ideals: elite and marginalized society, facades and truth, fantasy and reality.”

Alex Grace ’17 contrasted depictions of death across various race and age groups in several LA-based texts.

The work Prep students share at the conference is thoughtful, personal and impactful. “Writing gets so much more authentic when it is shared with a wider audience of readers or listeners,” O’Brien says. “It changes the writing from word one when students know there’s a possibility of presenting their work to others.” Authenticity is a key feature of work produced for the conference, she notes, because students are encouraged to explore their interests, to widen their reading of literature and to find their own voices as writers and scholars outside the classroom.

Original and unique connections also come through. “Though based on the same assignment, the three Prep presenters had different voices and approaches. Some of them had overlapping curriculum points but expressed them in completely different ways,” says O’Brien.

Students especially appreciated experiencing a widened intellectual dialogue.

“My favorite part of the event definitely was listening to the other presenters,” Wu recalls. “I was very pleasantly surprised by the depth of the various panels.”

Grace agrees: “I loved getting to hear people from other schools,” he says. “The topics they chose were fascinating, and their opinions were different from anything I would find in class at Prep.”

Harris adds, “It was an interactive experience, sharing with and learning from a wide array of people.”

Considering the class’ goal of analyzing interpretations of LA, the conference is a fitting end to the semester. “Lit & isn’t about their own voice anymore, or the voice of their class, or the voice of Prep,” O’Brien says. “It’s voices of people their age all over the city. Lit & is a rare celebration of that.”