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Lit How teens can speak up through The Decameron Project

Jun. 23, 2020
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It’s during the times when we feel most hopeless that what we have to say matters most. While our voices may be muffled by masks, we’ve certainly proved that they’ll still be heard. Silencing the youth has forever been an impossible task to complete. It's hard to imagine that even a pandemic could do so. 

It may be hard to feel important while sipping hot tea on your couch. Who cares what I have to say? How could my words even reach others effectively? In a world clearly lined with injustice, bias, and hierarchies, finding a safe space where you’ll be listened to and acknowledged is extremely important.

That’s where The Decameron Project comes in. When hit with the sudden realization of a world temporarily halted from genuine connection, teens Freddie Coffey and Lucas Gimbel were prompted to found an organization whereby young adults from across the world could tell their individual stories. Any young writer who desires a platform to storytell can submit writing (under 1,500 words) and is guaranteed publishing. Even more importantly, the strongest of submissions are sorted through and sent up to be read aloud by real, accomplished writers that make up the project’s advisory board. The board consists of two Pulitzer Prize winners, a National Book Award winner, a New Yorker staff writer, and the former Head of English at UPenn. Recognition from real, published writers can potentially open doors for aspiring writers. 

The Decameron Project has already been featured in Teen Vogue and promoted by comedian Chris Rock on Instagram and Twitter, where he called it “a great literary outlet.” 

I decided to highlight some of my favorite questions and answers from a conversation I had with the impressively young founders of the project.

Adolescent Content: Was there a single thought or moment that sparked the inspiration for this project?

Lucas: Back in March, the ideation—a mere sapling compared to what the scope of the Project is now—entered my head. I’d read The Decameron, Boccaccio’s ancient work, in English class the year before, and then suddenly I was thinking about it again. The book’s relevance, its timeless power, struck me suddenly and deeply. I just knew there was something to be done. 

Freddie: There were big shoes to fill, but we had faith in ourselves and the ingenuity and adaptability of young writers like us. That’s where the spark, the excitement came. That’s what pushed us through to where we are.  

Adolescent: What makes The Decameron Project different from other youth writing projects out there?

Freddie: When young people submit a story to The Decameron Project, not only are they joining a plethora of others like them, sharing their perspectives in this unique and scary moment—they’re also becoming a part of a seven-hundred-year-old tradition. Giovanni Boccacio’s Decameron, the original inspiration for the Project, is the story of ten young Italians who self-isolate together during the Black Death, telling stories to pass the time. While, unlike them, we can’t be together physically, we can come together through the power of the stories we have to tell. There’s something unique and powerful about becoming a part of that history—about knowing that we, humanity, have been here before; that we, humanity, have overcome this before. 

Adolescent: Do you think you’d ever branch out into different kinds of storytelling submissions such as film, art, or photography in the future?

Freddie: Growing the Project is critical to fulfilling our mission. As the project gains traction, as more people join our community and submit stories of their own, what starts to emerge is a  wonderful slice of what young people are thinking and feeling right now. Whether it's through their teachers, their friends, or articles like this that young people hear about the work we’re doing, when someone becomes a part of The Decameron Project, they’re adding their own unique voice and perspective to a plethora of others that serve as a real, tangible example of what we can do when we come together. That diversity is where the Project’s value really lies: and that’s why we fight every day to expand it. 

Adolescent: Is there anything special coming up in regards to the Project that you’re particularly excited about?

Lucas: I can’t wait to host Angie Thomas, the author of The Hate U Give—she’s become an idol to so many, and her work is so potent, that it’ll make for a fascinating event. We’ll be chatting with Angie on June 22nd, and everyone is welcome to join. 

Freddie: Seconded. The Project’s aim has always been about giving young people a voice and a space to speak freely about what’s truly important to them. In light of the murder of George Floyd and the protesting and unrest in its wake, the Project has really tried to stay true to that—we changed our current theme to “Justice” so that young people can continue to tell impactful, personal stories that reflect on the world around them. Angie Thomas is a seminal voice in the Black Lives Matter movement—seeing her speak to our community, especially in this moment, will be empowering for our participants, in particular by hearing the voice of a storyteller whose words have been vehicles for awareness and change. 

If you want to submit a story to the Decameron Project, visit decameronproject.org/story-submission. To learn more about them, visit decameronproject.org/mission.

Photo by Jurgita Vaicikeviciene