Jacob Nau’s life could be very different. The UW Tacoma senior is married and has two small children. He works and will graduate in June with a degree in writing studies. His future looks promising, but that wasn’t always the case. “I was pretty messed up for a number of years,” he said. “I was drinking and drugging and if not for a few lucky breaks I could be in a very different place right now.”
This perspective informs Nau’s worldview and is one reason he started a literary journal. One Person’s Trash publishes works of nonfiction, fiction and poetry by authors who have a connection to homelessness.
Nau has been working with the homeless population in Seattle for more than five years. In his job he interacts with people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. “There’s just this world of stories that go unheard and not purposely so,” said Nau. “There just aren’t a lot of places to put them.”
One Person’s Trash has its origins in the literary editing and publishing class taught by UW Tacoma Lecturer Abby Murray. Students in the course pitch ideas for different literary journals. The most popular are developed into mockups. “We spend the quarter working on a journal that could be presented to an arts council,” said Murray.
Initially, Nau thought of going with a different idea to present to his classmates. His rationale reflects his already-busy life. “Abby said to pick something that you love because if it goes anywhere you’re going to end up spending all of your free time doing it,” said Nau. “I originally wanted something I could walk away from at the end of the quarter.”
Nau ultimately changed his mind. His decision is largely based on an understanding of his own history. “When I look back at my childhood there were multiple times when we had to stay with family members because my dad was between jobs,” he said. “But we were still fortunate to have a roof over our heads.”
Nau and his classmates—namely Steve Gontarz, now the journal’s assistant editor—developed the idea for One Person’s Trash. It soon became clear the project wouldn’t end after 10 weeks. Nau approached Murray with the idea of doing an independent study to further develop the journal. Murray agreed and created an advanced literary publishing and editing curriculum for Nau to follow. “My role, I think, is as a kind of mentor,” said Murray.
Murray helped launch Collateral, a literary journal affiliated with UW Tacoma that publishes stories about the military experience. Nau is interning with Collateral as part of his independent study. The real-world experience has proved invaluable. “I’m learning a lot about journals and what it takes to get one off the ground,” said Nau.
Nau is self-financing the first few issues of One Person’s Trash but is hoping to find long-term funding. Murray has leant her expertise to the project and is counseling Nau on how to write grant proposals. There’s been some early success. Nau is currently in the running for a $10,000 Amazon Catalyst grant.
One Person’s Trash went live on May 22. The journal exists both online and in print. Nau had 150 copies made and distributed them, in bundles of 10, to members of Tacoma’s homeless community. The journal sells for $3 apiece with the proceeds going to the sellers. “As I’ve gotten older and come to understand more I feel an obligation to people who didn’t have life break the same way,” said Nau. “I want to do everything I can to help alleviate their situation, to give them a good turn even if that means $30 here or there.”
The launch proved more difficult than Nau expected. “We were hustling all day, corner to corner, exit ramp to exit ramp,” he said. By the end of the day 10 people had agreed to sell copies of the journal. “It’s going to take time to build up trust,” said Nau. “Right now I’m just this random guy.”
For her part Murray is trying to help Nau see the big picture. “I expect this literature to be controversial, I don’t see how it couldn’t be,” she said. Homelessness is a thorny subject with strong opinions on all sides. Murray wants Nau to be prepared. “We talk about how editors prepare for and work through problems rather than avoid them,” she said.
Nau hopes to expand his grassroots effort to include local agencies that work with the homeless. He wants to make sure to get feedback from different community stakeholders. Nau is also developing an editorial strategy that honors the work while acknowledging the challenges of working with a population that can be hard to contact.
One Person’s Trash is a quarterly publication. The next issue is scheduled for late August/early September. The online edition will be regularly updated. Nau hopes the work featured in his journal will help people see the homeless community differently. “There’s a humanizing aspect to reading other peoples’ stories, to looking past stereotypes to the life and love and heart within.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org