A locally produced book featuring the writings of local teens is certainly notable, but what’s even more noteworthy about "Milwaukee: A Collection of Work by Local Teens," published in a small run by Hidden Color Press, is that it was also edited, designed and produced by an area teenager.
Hidden Color Press is the work of 14-year-old Jack Hietpas, a student at St. Robert School in Shorewood. He started the press as a means to publish art and writing by area teens from all backgrounds.
The idea came from a project launched by Hietpas and his seventh grade teacher Marisa Riepenhoff, whose brother-in-law, John Riepenhoff, runs the Green Gallery on Farwell Avenue.
"I had the privilege of being Jack's sixth grade English teacher and noticed a real drive for book design in the projects he created in my class," Riepenhoff recalls.
"When I was assigned to be his seventh grade English teacher, I put together a plan with Jack, his parents, and the principal of our school to allow him to have an alternative curriculum for our class in which he could develop his own book imprint and design and publish a book of his choice. I knew that whatever I could teach Jack about English would not be as strong of a learning experience for him as if I had the chance to just set him free and let him create something on his own."
The 26-page work -- published in a run of just 100 attractive, hand-bound books -- collects contributions from nine students, ranging in age from 13 to 17, from Riverside University High School, Shorewood High School, St. Robert School, Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Brookfield Academy and James E. Groppi High School.
The project, says Hietpas, was done outside of school, and was inspired by a visit to Green Gallery.
"I saw that the art space really created a community in the Milwaukee area," he says. "It was inspiring to see how it brought people together, all under a common interest. So this book is an effort to replicate that in print form. We brought together a variety of different perspectives from across the city into this one book. The teens in this book would probably have never been brought together elsewhere, so it was interesting to see how all of these pieces came together."
It includes artwork, poetry, and short stories. The book was also edited, designed, and produced by a Milwaukee teen.
Earlier this year, Hietpas asked a range of teenagers in the area to submit their poetry, short stories and artwork and he reviewed the submissions with a group that included local artists, writers, educators and students.
Among the members were Woodland Pattern’s Robert Baumann, writer Dasha Kelly, Polly Morris of the Lynden Sculpture Garden and former MPS board member Jennifer Morales, who is a member of the Council of Wisconsin Writers.
"The only guideline we had was that the work had to be Milwaukee-centric," Hietpas says. "We knew that we wanted to have it be focused on the local community. Other than that, submitters had a choice of whatever form of art or writing they wished
"I reached out with posters that I designed and hung around the Milwaukee area, Facebook, the public library teen network and connections through our advisory board. In some cases, we just sent e-mail messages to different schools. Other than my own school, St. Robert, I didn't have any connections to any of the schools where submissions came from."
Hietpas asked contributors to think about "the meaning of ‘place’ and our relationship with it." More specifically, he wanted them to talk about Milwaukee.
Campbell Schaefer of St. Robert School chips in a poem that looks out toward Lake Michigan, and William Fendt, a student at MPS’ High School of the Arts contributes an imaginative futuristic tale.
"There is a place where robins dance in inches of snow,
Where sea gulls pace the beaches and steal away snacks as they go,
Where the sun flickers across Lake Michigan as the day draws to a close,
And where the stars glisten radiantly in the moonlit sky."
A poem by Alisha Bowen, who attends Brookfield Academy, is less specific, but "Untitled," by Demontre Harvey, a 16-year-old at James Groppi High on 27th Street, is a hyper-local look at violence in the city.
"from Center Street to Burleigh,
from Hamilton to Galena,
from da Southside to da Eastside,
every night it's going down in Mil-town.
dem young bucks on Congress bang-
what y'all folks called slungin' man.
I think something 'bout to pop off.
dang, another homie died tonight."
"The thing that surprised me was the variety of the pieces. We received everything from dystopian future fantasy to pieces about living in the inner city," says Hietpas. "I was also surprised by the pieces from inner city teens. They were especially moving and showed me a completely different perspective that I hadn't often considered."
While Hietpas says he learned a lot about graphic design while putting together the project, the writings of his fellow students taught him the most valuable lessons.
"The most important thing I learned is how different the lives of other teens are in the same geographical area. I have lived in Shorewood for my whole life, so I'm not exposed often to much of the poverty and violence that happens in our city," he says.
"Of course, I drive through certain areas and hear about things in the news, but it was eye-opening for me to hear some of the firsthand perspectives of inner city teens. The piece at the end of the book, by Demontre Harvey, is especially poignant. If readers get anything out of this book, I hope they become just a little more aware of different ways of looking at Milwaukee, as I believe I have."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.