Creative writing students accepted to DePaul’s high school anthology


Maya Djurisic ’20 on left and Jessica Quintero ’21 on right

Near the end of the 2020 spring semester, creative writing teacher Nicole Lombardi received an email about “DePaul’s Blue Book Anthology: Best of Illinois High School Writing.” It was looking for submissions for its 2020-2021 issue. 

Creative writing students and club members Jessica Quintero ‘21 and Maya Djurisic ‘20 came to mind as strong contenders. Quintero’s poems, “A Lesson in Sewing” and “Day Zero”, and Maya’s short story, “Wanderer’s Inn”, stood out as exceptional pieces, and Lombardi felt they had the best chance of winning, she said. After reaching out to the students, they submitted their work.

In early December of 2020, Lombardi received an email notification that the graduate students in DePaul’s Masters in Writing & Publishing Program had selected Quintero’s and Djurisic’s pieces from over 200 schools’ submissions. 

“I was really excited when I got the email from Ms. Lombardi,” Djruisic said. “I had just finished finals week, so it was definitely a positive to a pretty rough week. And it was just really exciting because I hadn’t gotten published to anything bigger than Menagerie before.”

Teachers and faculty at LT reached out to Quintero to recognize her for the achievement, and some announced the news to her whole class.

“To me, it didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal, but it was that big of a deal,” Quintero said. “It definitely hasn’t hit me yet.”

The anthology will go live in January during a virtual launch celebration in which accepted students will share their pieces, Lombardi said. For many, this will be the first time they share their piece aloud, but Quintero has already had practice with this.

“There was a professional development day last year, and the subject was dignity and inclusion,” Lombardi said. “Dr. [Brian] Waterman reached out to me and asked me if my creative writing students would like to share pieces at the opening of that, under the theme of dignity and inclusion. I put it out to my class as an assignment and also a kind of in-class contest. That’s when Jessica submitted ‘Day Zero’.”

In “Day Zero,” Quintero highlights what it’s like to be Latina at a predominantly white school and the disconnect Latinx students commonly feel between their culture and their school life, she said.

“I’ve always felt a bit out of the blue at LT,” Quintero said. “Part of me was scared to share that, obviously, because nobody wants to have their vulnerabilities laid bare, but another part of me really wanted to show what it’s like for Latinx and other students of color at LT.”

After selecting Quintero’s piece for the professional development day, Lombardi worked with Quintero to revise the piece for a somewhat song-like choral reading, Lombardi said. For example, they added repetition of the line, “Where is another person like me?”. During the performance, two other students joined Quintero in saying this line.

In addition to being shared at the professional development day, Quintero also shared the poem with the school through LT’s literary magazine Menagerie. Quintero’s poem “A Lesson in Sewing” and Djurisic’s short story “Wanderer’s Inn” had also been accepted to the 2020 issue of Menagerie.

“A Lesson in Sewing” focuses on the external pressure that students feel to be perfect in everything they do, Quintero said.

“It’s something that, as a burnt-out gifted kid, I feel a lot,” Quintero said. “The poem kind of takes on a chastising tone, where it’s like, you should be doing this, you should be doing this, why can’t you do this? So that’s where a lot of the perspective comes from.”

Djruisic’s “Wanderer’s Inn” revolves around a motel in the middle of the desert. Throughout the short story, she builds a metaphor about the idea of home and rest.

“The uniqueness of her piece and its metaphoric journey stood out of me when she read it to the creative writing group,” Lombardi said. “Honestly, I’d only heard it that one time, but it made an impression on me. It has depth, and it’s that kind of story that makes you want to go back and read it again and again to uncover its meaning.”

Djurisic and Quintero both plan to continue writing creatively and submitting pieces to various publications. 

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that somewhere out there, a group of people, have to read your piece and consider what you said,” Lombardi said. “If you’re just submitting to publications for that feeling of ‘I’m going to have an audience, no matter what,’ it can become addictive.”


If you’re interested in reading Quintero’s and Djurisic’s accepted work, check out the link below.