Free Verse Goes Bow-Tie With Ken McGraw


One of many Free Verse posters made by McGraw’s Creative Writing Class

For the past 25 years, the posters decorating the walls of Community High School have urged students to submit prose, poetry, short stories and artwork to Judith DeWoskin for entry into Free Verse. But this semester, the posters begging for submissions to the literary magazine have had one major difference. Instead of directing students to submit their work to DeWoskin, these posters list fellow CHS English teacher Ken McGraw as the new compiler of Free Verse.

“Ken and I have been talking for years about the possibility of Ken doing Free Verse,” said DeWoskin, who will be partially handing control of the publication over to McGraw for the spring edition. “And one of the things he said was ‘Don’t just retire some day and leave me hanging here with this magazine.’ So I thought, given that I might retire within the next ten years, he ought to learn how to do it, and that the best way for him to learn would be for me to do it in his classroom, in front of him.”

DeWoskin’s plan is to hand production of the magazine over to McGraw’s fourth block Creative Writing class, who will review the submissions to decide which pieces will be featured in the magazine. Editors from McGraw’s class will also take on the time-consuming task of producing the publication, formatting the submissions and copy-editing the final product.

McGraw is delighted to have a chance to run Free Verse this year. “It’s something that I have been salivating to do since 1996, when I student-taught for Judith,” he said. “As her student teacher I helped run Free Verse and went through the process of making the magazine. I loved it. And in the years since, I’m never wanted to be a golf coach, or a drama/theater director, or whatever it is English teachers do after school sometimes…but I’ve always wanted to run a literary magazine. So my dream has come true this semester, and I’m very excited.”

Although DeWoskin has emphasized that she is not planning to retire soon, she wants to prepare for the possibility by grooming a successor for a smooth transition later on, and believes that training McGraw on the job is the best way to do it. “There’s no way I could write this up,” she said. “Say in ten years, when I’m long gone and doing something else, he wanted to do Free Verse. What am I going to do, tell him over the telephone?”

Certainly, there’s a lot to learn in producing Free Verse, especially when it comes to processing submissions. McGraw has to note each incoming submission on a master list, then cut off the author’s name so that when his Creative Writing class scores the piece, the author’s identity is protected. Using a network of color coded folders, as taught by DeWoskin, McGraw has been doing his best to keep the submissions organized. “I’m going to follow [DeWoskin’s] process step by step, and she’s given me a tutorial almost every day that we’ve been in school,” he said.

Sadie Besl, McGraw’s student teacher, will also be helping to make the process easier.  If any problems in Free Verse come up during the school day, she will be available to cover McGraw’s or DeWoskin’s classes while the two sort issues out. “She can run into my room for a few minutes, cover me for a few minutes,” said DeWoskin, “and I can run into his room, and show his kids what to do while he sees what [I’m] doing.”

Although DeWoskin and McGraw put plenty of effort into making Free Verse happen, DeWoskin acknowledged that a lot of the work of making the magazine falls to the students editors, not the adults. “Ken doesn’t know InDesign. I don’t know InDesign. We don’t have to know InDesign; the students have to know it. And the last time I did Free verse with three editors, one student knew InDesign and taught the other two in twelve minutes.”

With good communication and the help of students, both McGraw and DeWoskin are confident that Free Verse will easily weather the storm of the transition. “It will survive,” said Ken. “I’m going to make sure it survives. But I need the help from Community, from the writers of Community High.”

Students can submit to Free Verse by emailing their pieces to, or by delivering hard copies to Ken McGraw, Katie Taub, Hannah Laker or Julia Karr.