By Amanda Silberling
Welcome to the first installment of the "Summer Mentees of the Week" feature! Every Friday this summer, we'll introduce you to some of our wonderful participants in the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program. Over a six week period, twenty-six high school-aged mentees work with members of The Adroit Journal staff to develop an innovative vision of their writing and find what makes their voices unique. But even outside of the literary realm, these Adroit mentees have pretty distinct personalities. For our first Summer Mentee feature, Meet Emmi Mack, the personification of Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire, and Robert Esposito, Spelling Bee stage crew extraordinaire.
Introduce yourself in a haiku.
Emmi: Emmi Mack is loud/and probably not at home,/writes when she’s alone.
Robert: I write stories ‘cause/I’m not good at poetry/I like science, too.
How did you find out about the journal?
Emmi: My talented former teacher Bri Cavallaro (check her out!) emailed all her old students about the journal's Wildcard Deadline Period for some publishing opportunities.
Robert: That’s actually an involved story. My school this year performed 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and I participated through stage crew. I had to sit in Right Wing for every single performance of it, including practices, so I memorized every song and got to know the lines better than the performers. In one of the songs, a girl sings, “Be smart be cool be an adult be remarkably adroit in social situations,” and it’s disgustingly catchy, so obviously I had to sing it in my head for the next few months. During that time, I was reading some story online and I saw the author’s biography, which said something along the lines of, “S/he also wrote in the following journals: [irrelevant], [irrelevant], [irrelevant], The Adroit Journal, [irrelevant].” I chose Adroit solely because of that song, and it easily became one of my favorite literary journals.
What made you decide to apply to the workshop?
Emmi: Friendly rejections from the magazine that made me want to improve with its help.
Robert: As soon as I read most of the works, I knew that I wanted to try and get published in the journal. I submitted a few poems, the only poems I have penned, and one prose work. All of it got rejected, but with the prose, Peter sent me back an email that advised me to submit to the mentorship program, so I did.
How did you react when you were accepted?
Emmi: I called my two best friends from writing camp, to find out that they were accepted as well!
Robert: I immediately cleaned up my ritual circle I had set up in my bathroom that allowed me to join the program and thanked the dark gods.
Who is your mentor, and what are they like?
Emmi: Talin Tahajian is my mentor, and aside from being ridiculously impressed by her pieces I’ve read online, she’s full of reading and prompt suggestions that make every week exciting. She also gives me unique feedback about parts of the poem that I hadn’t really given much thought to pushing further. I hope to get to know her more!
Robert: Elizabeth Ballou is my mentor! Since it’s only the second week of the program, I’ve had limited interaction with her, but so far she’s really neat! We have a lot of similar interests in genre (although I haven’t delivered on any of my favorite genres so far, oops).
What has been your favorite moment in the workshop so far?
Emmi: Lunching with Peter LaBerge and other new mentees in Bryant Park the week of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards was such a fun way to celebrate writing. I was able to meet and reunite with some brilliant writers like Oriana Tang and the lovely Becca Alifimoff. Meeting Peter was so nice, because not only am I a fan of his poetry, but I admire how hard he works to pull this program together and make everyone feel so comfortable.
Robert: My favorite moment was probably the day that I began interacting with my peers. Only one of my friends shares my enthusiasm in literature, but we read independently, and our tastes often don’t coincide. When I found that there were people who love books that I love (specifically The Song of Achilles, which I’m still reeling about), I nearly had a heart attack. I knew they existed somewhere, I just wasn’t expecting such a concentrated mass of them.
If your writing were a Disney Channel sitcom, which one would it be?
Emmi: Lizzie McGuire. Check me out on Halloween.
Robert: As deplorable as it may seem, I’m unfortunately not up to date with my knowledge of Disney sitcoms. The only one that’s coming to mind is Wizards of Waverly Place, which I’m not even sure counts. But what I’m trying to capture is that my work may be the essence of all sitcoms combined, in the way that they’re so awful, but in being so awful, they completely reconfigure the Graph of Quality. Suddenly the awfulness of it becomes so consuming that it inverts, and becomes somewhat decent. That’s what I hope to achieve.
In seven words, describe the last piece you wrote.
Emmi: Messily while staring at a phenomenal view.
Robert: Thinly veiled metaphor for racism with angels.
How has the workshop helped you develop as a writer?
Emmi: It's forced me to actually sit down and write enough this summer to produce three pieces a week... no way could I maintain that work ethic all on my own.
Robert: I’ve been writing since kindergarten, but there was really no one there to help me get along with my creative endeavors. I didn’t reach out to anyone online, mostly because I was too shy. I took one Creative Writing class in high school, which would have been a lot of fun were the other kids not seniors who took the class for an easy A+, but that’s about as much “legitimate” help in writing I received. Obviously books count to some extent, but that’s beside the point. In just two weeks, the Adroit mentorship program gave me more feedback than I’ve received in seventeen years. It’s mildly overwhelming, but great to finally have someone else’s opinion on what works and doesn’t work in my writing. For example, for some reason I thought it’d be really cool to write a story involving flashbacks all in present tense. It wasn’t.
What can we expect in the future from Emmi/Robert?
Emmi: Enough bad decision making and chance encounters to keep giving me something to write about. Maybe even enough to fill a book.
Robert: Hopefully at least one novel that I’ll be submitting to the Scholastic Writing Competition this year, and after that, probably nothing! I’m not too interested in submitting to journals anymore (after my whole adrenaline rush of being published a whole one time), and I’m focusing my energy on resurrecting my school’s local literary journal. After that, writing is probably going on the backburner and be more therapeutic than anything since I’m most likely going into the dreaded biology major for college.