It’s no secret that Alpha considers literary excellence and creativity to be an important aspect of every student’s success. That’s why we were so grateful when Gregory Dominato, MacLachlan College Director of English and Chair of CITE (Conference of Independent Teachers of English), generously gave us a copy of InCITE 2015, at the Leading With Words conference in April, held at Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton. InCITE 2015 is a book of humorous short stories written by youth who attend private schools across Ontario. The collection is the product of a youth writing contest, judged by award winning Canadian author, Terry Fallis.
InCITE 2015 begins with a message from the CITE 2015 “Leading With Words” conference chair, Jeremy Johnston. Johnston notes that we don’t take comedy seriously enough. He says that humour is an essential ingredient to every story and situation. In this message, he writes, “We believe humour is as essential as tragedy in aiding our understanding of the human condition.”
The most gratifying part of reading this book is finding humour in every single story. Without turning each story into a stand-up routine, students took average, everyday situations, and developed witty, delightful narratives. There are stories that take on the theme of differences in humour across cultures, dark humour, or even the imagined humour of inanimate objects. In all stories, readers are guaranteed a smile.
Since the book is a collection of vetted contest entries, it had three winners for three categories: middle (grades 7 and 8), upper (grades 9 and 10), and senior (grades 11 and 12). However, all the stories published in InCITE 2015 are remarkable in some way, so I’m discussing a couple of “non winning” stories deserving of attention.
“Four Philosophers (Or, The Perks of Suspending Disbelief)” (26), by The York School’s 11th grade Adrian Marcuzzi, begins with three of history’s greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The philosophers are asked to solve some of the greatest philosophical questions posed by thinkers in the future. A stone slate with “clairvoyant properties” is brought into the room, and the philosophers are told that they “are forbidden to leave until [they] come up with something deep” (26).
The three set to work, asking the slate to show them the most popular question posed by the youngest popular thinker in the future. The rest of the story narrates how Socrates, Plato and Aristotle spend their time trying to derive meaning from Jaden Smith’s tweets, beginning with, “How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real #JadenSmith,” (27). By the end of the story, with the help of the temple caretaker, Socrates realizes that perhaps the reason they can’t understand Smith’s tweets is because, “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us, (28)” thus coming up with the famous philosophical statement we know today.
Marcuzzi’s story combines humour and philosophy. In his witty observations about Smith’s tweets, he manages to make some insightful statements about society, and tie in the modern day with the old. He also cleverly wrote his story in a way that managed to bring it full circle, offering readers an unanticipated ending.
Appleby College’s Sydney Kalyn is the author of “Meet the Literals” (96). The story is a perfect example of how students used this year’s prompt to display their own unique sense of humour. Kalyn’s story is about the Literal family, who take everything literally. When the Lancasters go over with their children for dinner, they begin to notice the Literals’ odd reactions to certain statements. When the Lancasters’ son, Max, tells the Literals’ daughter, Curiosity, that she’ll only catch him “[o]ver [his] dead body” (97) during a game of tag, the story takes a dark, but humorous turn that can be appreciated by readers of all ages. Kalyn’s story blends humour, horror and word play to produce a delightful rendition of the absurd.
InCITE 2015 also features student paintings, drawings and photographs to accompany each story.
Reading InCITE 2015 has been an inspiration and important point of reference for us at Alpha Textbooks, as we prepare for our 2nd Annual Short Story Contest. We anticipate that in it’s second year, the contest will grow, and students’ work will be just as imaginative. The new judges are going to have a great (and tough) time!