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‘Word nerds’ unite

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student holding new magazine

Usually a 10-month Sylvania Campus class that produces the annual publication Alchemy is enough for students when spring term ends. But for eight from Michael McDowell’s class, they didn’t think so. They banded together and produced their own literary publication during the summer called Recto Verso.

"They are a motley crew," said a smiling Van Wheeler, a fourth-year writing instructor at Sylvania who helped guide the group during the summer. "You have some outgoing students and a few reserved students. The more boisterous solicit input from the quiet ones. It’s an odd mix that works very well. It’s nice to see their passion for writing."

The group includes Rosana Ibarra, Zachary Ferguson, Dean Moberly, Julie Poole, Andrew Wicker, Nick Nash, Alexandra Schaefers and Chaya Stillwater.

"We are word nerds and we like to be together," said Ibarra, an English and arts student. "We just loved Michael McDowell’s class and we loved publishing. So we just decided to do it on our own. We really work well together. Everyone had a strong passion to do this."

At the end of spring term, they got approval from the English department to continue meeting in Room 104 of the CT Building once their Alchemy class concluded. According to Wheeler, he didn’t have to do much to keep the students engaged and moving ahead with their plans. Turns out, they really wanted to produce Recto Verso.

The Latin term

"recto-verso" describes two-sided printing, where "recto" is the right-hand page and the "verso" the left-hand page of a folded sheet or bound item, such as a book, broadsheet, or pamphlet. "Verso" can also mean to turn over in the mind.

"It’s a place to write and fulfill your narcissistic dreams," said Ferguson, who aims to teach when he’s done at Portland State University. "It’s pretty rare to get a group of people together to hang out and do something like this without getting credit."

Wheeler was impressed by the get-go.

"I really had minimal oversight so I just made sure they weren’t trashing the room," Wheeler chuckled. "They kept the energy going from the previous class and had really lively discussions."

The students used tactics and skills learned in McDowell’s class to get through the process of producing such an involved publication. Using workshops, where students get together and revise copy and set deadlines, the publication quickly came together. The final print version was completed Oct. 3.

"It’s hard to find people who like to read publications as much as we do," said Ferguson.

In a truncated three-month time span, the group also had to find submitters and do it quickly. The students used Craigslist and the Oregon Arts Council to solicit submissions. They got a few, but ended up using mostly artwork and literary pieces from the PCC community or local artists they knew about, Wheeler said.

Students working on magazine

"We got the people we wanted to submit," Ferguson added. "All submissions were by requests. We called them and said we want to publish you."

In the future, the group plans to continue producing Recto Verso as long as possible and many of them think they can make a career out of it. They also want to change a few things for future editions such as starting earlier on submissions solicitations and finding a bigger office space. And they have the backing of their division to help them ensure their success (Dave Stout, division dean of English and Modern Languages, chipped in with money to help with printing costs).

It’s an excellent example of how students use what they learn at PCC and take it to a whole new level.

"They got together because of friendship," Wheeler said. "It’s great to see that happen spontaneously. Yet they couldn’t have done it without going through Michael’s class."

If you are interested in submitting prose, poetry, or artwork to a future edition of Recto Verso send an email to

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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