I have never had to do anything like this before, and now I wish I had. Finding poise and confidence at a young, formative age is so essential. While I can stumble and stutter and still carry on after whatever happens in my own presentation, I like to imagine an alternate reality where I am excited to share these stories that I am very proud of, rather than nervous about how exactly to present them in the first place. I still remember the exhilaration, in my junior year of high school, when my English teacher asked each student to bring a poem to recite to the small class, and I sped through Margaret Atwood’s “Variation on the Word Sleep,” standing in front of the whiteboard. Each of us, that day, brought something close to us that we wanted to share, and it was a really wonderful and intimate moment spent appreciating the words and stories that other people carried, and made their own in those brief moments.
"I think I write more in the winter because I get easily distracted in the summer. That said, I think I’m more of a gatherer in the warmer months, my creative process is very fragmented, so I jot things down or immerse myself in experiences/experimentation when it’s warm. In the winter it’s ugly showerless isolation, where I play chicken with my own emotional vulnerabilities and fears to attempt getting at something that at the very least feels honest—even if it isn’t any good. I binge-read in waves and spurts."
This is my gentle nudge that if you’re a writer, you never forget your own reader experience. That you remember any book you write just isn’t for you, it’s for your future readers. Assuming that if you write it (the book), they’ll find it (the book) is unrealistic. And when a person takes the valuable time of reading your book, the highest level of respect is given if they find a story they can connect with and hopefully want to read again. Or even better, they enjoy your writing so much, they commit to reading all the books you write into the foreseeable future.
"I was fascinated with the idea of magical girls, which is this whole genre in anime/manga focused on girls with magical powers who are as feminine as superheroes are traditionally masculine. I just really needed there to be a magical girl who wore a hijab so that I could feel that my hijab could be as pretty as their tiaras."
I’m sitting with a friend of mine, all silver-dreadlocked beauty cradling a red wine martini in hand, at a bar in downtown Saint Paul. We are discussing poetry with a woman who has just flown over from Syracuse, New York to see this particular spoken word competitive bout. Nighttime has nestled in and all of the performers have dissipated. Winner announced, cameras turned off, the laugher and collected gasps in the air trickle down from the rafters. The woman passionately discusses wanting to meet Neil Hilborn. I still recall when he worked the cash register at a Tea Garden next to Macalester campus, beardless and fresh-faced, with piercing blue eyes crinkling at the edges. Never did I imagine this man going on to top 13 million views on Youtube and become an iconic element to Button Poetry.
Button Poetry is the largest digital distributor of spoken word in the world. With the assistance of the Knight Foundation, Button Poetry Live is a monthly poetry slam competition that features nationally renowned poets and local talent, as well as free writing workshops open to the public.
“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference,” writes Stephen King, in his book, On Writing. I always remember this quote wrong, such that Stephen King credits having a supportive someone as making all the difference. A supportive writing community has made all the difference in my own writing practice. And in this, at least, I’m not alone. Many craft books and books on the writing life counsel writers to find a writing community and to get feedback on our writing. A writing group can be a great way to address both of these needs. But how do you find a writing group? Friends, acquaintances, and students who know I teach writing at the Loft Literary Center, often ask: Can the Loft help me find a writing group? The answer is, Yes! Because I get this question often, I decided to compile my response into a list and share it with you here. If you’re looking for a writing group, I hope you find this helpful.
Zinzi Clemmons's What We Lose is about many things, but most profoundly it's about the death of the narrator's mother, examining the loss in ways that are both unusual and devastating.
The structure of the book is slightly unusual. The story follows the same character and seems to always employ the same voice, yet sections are distinct, even fragmented, and chronology is loose. Interspersed with narrative passages are philosophical musings, historical analyses, journalistic essays, and even a few graphs. They're all about the novel's themes, but they don't build in the way most of us are used to. I'd like to look at some techniques Clemmons uses to hold this book together, despite the disparate-seeming parts.
“I write professionally,” I told her. “I’m a freelancer.”
She gave a sniff. “What, are you a trust fund baby or something?”
The question bothered me so much that I spent most of the next morning brooding about it, dreaming up responses I could say to her as soon as I had access to a time machine. I pictured a soapbox speech about how I achieved my dreams through hard work and elbow grease, and she could too, damn it! Anyone could...right?
Something scritch-scratched at the walls of my indignation.
Could anyone pick up freelance writing?
"As a young Hmong writer, I wanted to read other Hmong writers. I wanted to know if they were struggling, with their moms and cultures. I started this literary arts magazine and the only people I could convince to do free work were college kids. In not finding Hmong writers and voices in even the Asian American anthologies, and having these social scientists study us and speak for us, it was important for me and other Hmong writers to be able to tell stories in our own voices."
“What is the importance of poetry to youth? And what is its overall benefit to youth development?”
One of my favorite responses to that question is to describe my experience with a long-standing Chicagoan youth spoken word forum known as Young Chicago Authors (YCA).
In a darkly lit room in west end Chicago, nestled above a weathered green building with an almost comically placed “New Fish” shop sits Young Chicago Authors (YCA)—a home away from home for many youth coming from Chicago public schools that aim to refine their unabashed lyrical and literary sound.