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Monday, June 11, 2018 - 11:15am

Red Hyacinth

Mercy celebrated the first issue of its newest literary and arts journal, Red Hyacinth, in May. The journal publishes Mercy students’ original writing and art and is also edited and designed by students. Red Hyacinth is dedicated to the memory of Mercy creative writing professor Valerie Lewis and funded by the Valerie Lewis Memorial Fund  which previously supported students through the Valerie Lewis Award for Excellence in Creative Writing.


“I'm so proud of Red Hyacinth,” says student editor Hope Androsko. “It's kind of like watching my baby …. It was such a rewarding experience to see submissions turn into this beautiful journal. It’s so rewarding to be able to say, ‘I made this!’”


Red Hyacinth is a collaboration between students in the English program and the Design + Animation program in Mercy’s School of Liberal Arts. Dr. Kristen Keckler, English professor and faculty advisor for Red Hyacinth, sees the journal as a repository of the best student work of the year, and it was important to her that the journal be published in hard-copy form: “Though the trend these days is towards blogs and web-based journals, there is nothing that can replace the feel of a book in one’s hand, the physicality and longevity of it.” The final product is an 84-page, full-color journal that is “perfect-bound”  an attractive, premium method of binding publications.


Lewis  to whom Red Hyacinth is dedicated  was a beloved creative writing professor at Mercy and a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing when she passed away in 2013. Given that she published original pieces in over 30 journals, Keckler and Lewis’s family knew that she would have loved the idea of a literary and arts journal dedicated to her memory. Through Red Hyacinth  which is named for Lewis’s favorite flower  “Valerie is actually still supporting the arts and supporting students. Her mission continues on,” says Keckler.


Androsko – along with fellow student editors Jayliss Diaz and Briana Snyder-Harper  reviewed submissions from over 70 undergraduate and graduate students in a “blind reading” process in which two editors read every submission, each voting whether it should be included in the journal. Pieces with two “yes” votes were published, pieces with two “no” votes were not published, and pieces with mixed votes were read by a third student who made the final decision. The editors looked for creative, polished pieces that met the standards of the genre. They also edited and ordered the selected pieces. “I'm really impressed with [the editors’] selections,” explains Keckler. “I double-checked everything to make sure nothing brilliant was being overlooked and nothing weak was getting in. But almost every decision was made by the students.” In honor of Lewis, the editors decided to open the journal with one of her poems and a charcoal portrait of her that they commissioned from student Joshua Davis.


After the editing process was complete, the design team  which included students Amal Baidas, Anthony Duque, and Chelsea Fone  laid out all the pages and designed the cover. “I really reflected on the intention of [each piece] before designing,” explains Baidas. “I wanted each piece to stand out, to hold true to what the student thought it should be, not just what I thought it should be.” She explains that the design team decided not to add many visual elements in order to let readers focus on the piece they were reading or looking at.


In true Mercy fashion, Keckler sees the Red Hyacinth as providing a real-world learning experience for the student editors and designers. For example, students were the ones who communicated with the printer and dealt with issues. “It gave them experience dealing with vendors and real-world issues in a professional way,” Keckler explains. “It's so important that we give [students] the opportunity to gain skills that are related to their disciplines. This marries the conceptual side of their education with a practical side.” Mercy is committed to providing real-world, experiential learning experiences in order to prepare students for life and work after graduation.


The Red Hyacinth’s release party on May 3 was so popular that it was standing room only.

The event featured hors d’oeuvres and live music from a Mercy trio, and students dressed up for the occasion and invited their families. Several members of Lewis’s family attended  including her mother, sister, boyfriend  and the editors and designers presented them with the original version of the charcoal portrait of Lewis. “Valerie’s mother was crying and so grateful,” Androsko says. “It was really touching to see their reactions.” All the attendees received a copy of the journal and followed along as five students read their pieces aloud. Keckler describes seeing students giddily flipping through the journal to see their work and names in print. “Being in print legitimizes your words,” she explains. “There's something thrilling about them being permanent.” After the release party ended, a small group of students even sat out on the porch of Maher Hall reading pieces from the journal aloud to each other.


When asked to name favorite pieces, none of the editors or designers could choose just one. Keckler spoke of “Quarters” by Stephanie O’Connell, “which is about a relationship between daughter and mother, and under the surface it's about trauma, but it’s very subtle.” And she described a creative nonfiction piece called “The Friendship” by Sharell Walker, which is told in “really beautiful vignettes … and the writing is just superb.”


Androsko listed several writing pieces and also described a series of visual pieces  “Room” by Thomas Spencer, “Untitled” by Nicholas Colon, and “Textured Interior” by Kevin Pesantez — as “haunting and kind of creepy and the most amazing atmosphere. They have a way of washing over you, these creepy unsettling pictures.”


Baidas shares how intrigued she felt by “Scales of the 180-210th Degree” by Kate Keesler. “We were really trying to decipher what the author was trying to say. It was almost like a riddle. We all had different theories in the end, which was the really funny part.” When they tracked down the author to ask about the poem’s meaning, she laughed and gave a noncommittal answer. “I guess it will remain a mystery,” Baidas says with a smile.


Lewis is remembered as a talented writer and educator, and now Red Hyacinth is part of her legacy too. As Keckler remarked at the release party, “By living a life devoted to her writing and the writing of her students, by living her art, she has made it possible for us to continue to celebrate and commemorate her life through art.”


Students who are interested in submitting pieces to the next issue of Red Hyacinth or in joining the editorial or design teams are encouraged to email