Troubadour gears up to start publishing


Aidan Simon

The Troubadour site is featured on a laptop, surrounded by various literary works.

TOWAMENCIN – Walking into the room of Mr. TJ Gillespie, one can easily see the dedication this teacher has for every sort of creative talent here at North Penn. The Troubadour literary magazine serves as an outpouring of poetry, stories, and art that captures the soul of the school. The voices of many diverse students and the many forms of self-expression that hardly get attention anywhere else are echoed in this unique publication.

For each different year, the Troubadour is associated with a particular theme that gives potential writers an idea to work with to focus their creative energy; it is not a strict requirement and can be interpreted in whichever way the writer wishes. North Penn teacher Mr. TJ Gillespie explains a bit about these themes.

“Every year, the staff comes up with a theme. The theme is designed to give a couple of things. One is [to give] perspective writers, artists, poets, and creative people a starting point. If we just say, hey, there’s a writing contest, submit your writing, that is too broad, so they want a little jumping-off point. We also want to keep it broad enough that people can interpret it in lots of different ways,” Gillespie explained.

Of course, not every year has gone smoothly for the Troubadour. This year marks one of the first “normal” years since the COVID pandemic for the publication, which has reflected some of the themes the staff has picked over the years. This was a change from ordinary years that was an explicit reference to past events.

“So, last year was the theme of paradox, because it was a weird and contradictory time. The other year, 2021, [was] our very first edition when we came back since the Troubadour had ceased to exist in operation for a couple of years. So that year’s theme was rebirth, resurrection, springtime, and anything about being recalled to life, which was a kind of explicit nod,” Gillespie mentioned.

The Troubadour staff has been ambitiously brainstorming themes, and this year they have settled upon an interesting combination of ideas.

“This year, we had a list of, like, 75 different ideas. And we just narrowed it down and narrowed it down. And that was sort of – our opening meetings, we were doing that. So, right now the theme for this year is going to be innocence. Some people were thinking originally about maybe childhood or a loss of innocence, and the idea is this – a theme that could incorporate both. So one is you could go back and write about a time in your life when your characters are innocent, or they are experiencing childhood and nostalgia. It could also be adolescence, and suddenly that loss of innocence, you’re gaining knowledge or experience, or you could even interpret it in terms of a crime. Your characters could be accused of something but they’re innocent, or they’re seen as guilty, or they have a shame, and they are trying to clear their name or regain that kind of purity,” Gillespie said.

On the kinds of submissions the Troubadour receives and what they mean, Gillespie mentioned that part of the pleasure in running the publication is not knowing what kinds of submissions will come every year.

“The value of the Troubadour is that we offer a place to publish work that doesn’t get served anywhere else.”

— Mr. TJ Gillespie

“So last [year] we had really an outstanding amount of submissions; we had more submissions last year in terms of writing than maybe any year we have ever had. So, it took a little bit longer to give every piece a careful reading and consideration. We can’t always predict what year is like that – is it the theme, is it the students in the building, is it that last year people were back in school for the first time and really wanted to have a normal year? So I don’t know what to expect, and that’s part of the pleasure – every year is a little bit different,” Gillespie remarked.

For Gillespie, the Troubadour serves a special part of the community, giving a voice to a certain kind of writer that is often unheard in other North Penn writing groups. Anyone with any creative passion has a place to show their work to the school community.

“The value of the Troubadour is that we offer a place to publish work that doesn’t get served anywhere else. So if you’re on the yearbook, that’s great, it’s a great experience. I used to be a yearbook advisor. That’s a record of your senior year, your junior year, and your sophomore year. It gets the names and the faces and the homecoming and big color spreads of activities and clubs and sports. And it’s a great time capsule, you can look at what were the trends, what was the fashion, what were the haircuts like. The newspaper is an essential part of the school. You have the facts and the figures, who are the school board this year, who’s the new principal, who are the new hires, who are the people in the pods, what was the score of the game last week, and that is news. And we need to be informed of our school in our community. But there’s another kind of writing, the imaginative kind, where we’ve got really talented people,” Gillespie stated.

With publications starting in only a week, if anyone wishes to get involved and share their creative work, Gillespie talked about either joining the staff to come up with theme ideas and editing people’s work or submitting your own work. Anyone can submit multiple pieces that can be published and one can send works anonymously if they wish. The website for the Troubadour can be found at the link here.