Neutral Zone Hosts New Youth-Owned Publishing Company

Red Beard Press is a new youth-run publishing company in Ann Arbor. www.redbeardbooks.com

Red Beard Press is a new youth-run publishing company in Ann Arbor. www.redbeardbooks.com

Shadi Ahmadmehrabi

Red Beard Press is a new youth-run publishing company in Ann Arbor. www.redbeardbooks.com

On Monday nights, while most teenagers are doing homework or watching TV, Adam Woodcock goes to the Neutral Zone to help publish books- written, edited, published, and distributed by teens. Woodcock is a member of Red Beard Press, a youth-driven publishing company which was started recently by the Literary Arts program at the Neutral Zone.

“It’s pretty awesome that you’re producing your own work and putting it out there, and you can be respected for it,” said Woodcock.

The company was first introduced to the Ann Arbor community on Poetry Night 2009 when their first book, Three Hole Punch, was released.

Since then, the group has published four more books, the most recent being Watch Me Swing, an anthology of poems by Martin Espada and Samantha Thornhill. Espada and Thornhill performed at Poetry Night 2010, where the book was sold.
Poetry Night has been a large part of the history of Red Beard Press.

The group was started by Karen Smyte, who is married to Jeff Kass, the coordinator of Poetry Night and Literary Arts program at the Neutral Zone. Having attended Poetry Night for many years, Smyte saw a need in the community for a publication of the poems performed. She suggested the idea to Kass numerous times but eventually started working with teens herself to publish Three Hole Punch.

“We wanted to keep the tradition of hard copy books and reading in a technology-heavy world,” said Smyte.

Red Beard Press became part of Youth Owned Enterprises (YOE), a new program which gives teens the opportunity to begin and run businesses within the Neutral Zone. “We worked with the YOE idea of letting youth make some decisions and empowering them,” said Smyte.

The group officially began meeting on Monday nights at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. However, many teens spent the summer working on the program. “We work really well together,” said Jasmine Ari, a senior at Rudolf Steiner who spent her summer working on the business plan for Red Beard Press with other teens.

The group named the business after Spencer Kibble, a teen involved in the literary arts programs at Neutral Zone, who had a red beard. Kibble committed suicide in 2008 and the teens wanted to pay a tribute to him; the group also published You Owe Me This, a collection of poems by Kibble.

The business is doing well and hopes to continue growing. So far, every book published by Red Beard Press has made a profit or broken even while still maintaining low prices. The group makes it a point to keep prices around $10 so that more teens are able to purchase books. “This is a great way to get literature into the hands of the youth. If the youth help run books about who they’re excited about, it’s much more interesting to them,” said Smyte.

Currently, Red Beard Press is working on publishing an untitled project which is a conversation between two friends through poetry. The group is also brainstorming ideas for their next publication. The company decided that they wanted to publish a book about generations by receiving submissions from all age groups. Teens are in charge of every step of the process: from compiling manuscripts to designing pages to marketing.

“This is just the beginning…The publishing world is really changing. It’s a good time for this type of program. Who else would do it except for the youth?” said Smyte.