If you enjoyed last week's peek into the mentorship program, you'll love this one! It's time for round two of Meet the Mentees, this time with Eileen Huang (Poetry) and Angelo Hernandez-Sias (Fiction). Read on to hear their thoughts on inspiration, art outside of writing, and their goals for the future.
Introduce yourselves, if you would, in a rhyming couplet.
Eileen Huang: My rhymes are the worst / That's why I write free verse.
Angelo Hernandez-Sias: I'm a writer who raps and makes beats. / When I walk I make cracks in the street.
Tell us the story (the abridged version, perhaps) of how and why you began writing. What is it (whether a person, event, etc.) that has led to your further pursuit of it?
EH: As a kid, my parents would drop me off at the nearest Barnes & Noble so that they didn't have to deal with me for a few hours. I read anything from Judy Blume to George Orwell. I then started making up these little stories for my younger sister. I wrote one about a magical pond and another about two girls who discover a hole leading to the underworld in the middle of Ohio (??? very questionable), and I guess that's how I found out that writing stories could be pretty fun.
AHS: I began with listening. When I was a child, my parents read to me and my grandmother told me stories about her life. I loved the way stories changed me and thus, despite their permanence, seemed to be ever-changing. In the first grade, I learned to read and write, and my natural response to reading was engaging in conversation through stories of my own. My family encouraged my habit of writing, so I kept telling stories. Today, the process doesn't look much different than when I was ten years old; I read something so compelling that I want to say something back, and fiction/rap/poetry are the most natural ways for me to respond.
On a broader level, reading and writing have helped me to recognize my worth as a human being. In a world where I don't regularly see people of my race positively and/or complexly portrayed in the media, reading the works of authors like Junot Diaz, Claudia Rankine, and Ta-Nehisi Coates has reminded me that I am not alone in my struggles as a body of color-and as a human being. Writing is an act of defiance and optimism, a means of convincing myself and readers of our humanity.
Three writers who have inspired each of you thus far?
EH: I don't really have favorite authors, but I really enjoyed reading Catcher in the Rye—it was one of the few books I brought with me when I studied abroad in Beijing for a year. I reread it several times, and that's when I really noticed the nuances in literature. This year, I've also been exposed to contemporary poets like Richard Siken—I love that his work is so raw and original. Also, I love Sylvia Plath, who taught me that poetry can be both ugly and beautiful.
AHS: Toni Morrison, Roberto Bolaño, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Eileen, you're just finishing up your reign as a National Student Poet representing the Northeast region through the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards—which is so cool! Congratulations. I'm sure, through such an expansive and meaningful opportunity, your writing has grown and matured in some ways. What are some of these ways, and were these the ways you expected when you were inducted?
EH: My year as a National Student Poet has been completely unpredictable and exhilarating. I dove into the year expecting to improve mainly improve as a writer/on technical skills, but I think it was the experiences and people I met that impacted me the most. I was able to se just how deeply poetry affected people. I did these writing workshops for high school students in New Hampshire, and their english teacher suddenly stood u and read this poem he wrote about having an argument with his daughter. I remember the lines: "I called you a bitch / Saw the tears in your eyes, the slammed door / You thought you'd lost the fight / I thought I'd lost you forever."
Angelo, you've just graduated from high school (congratulations!), and you're heading from home in Western Michigan to Columbia University in New York City. Often, changes in landscape affect writing style and content in a lot of interesting and valuable ways but—for now—how do you think growing up where you have has affected your writing?
AHS: Muskegon, MI (my hometown) is a city of about forty-thousand people on the shore of Lake Michigan; home to Pere Marquette, the largest public beach on the east side of the lake; ex-lumber town; nineteenth most racially segregated city in the United States (as ranked by Business Insider). As it does with any writer, the language of my hometown has influenced the settings of my stories (many of which occur on the beach, in the forest, or in the car). It is my experience of residential segregation—especially in relation to the public educational system—that has affected my writing/sense of writer's purpose on a broader scope. For instance, my protagonists experience overt racism, micro aggressions, a search for racial/ethnic belonging, police brutality, colloquialisms-all themes that wouldn't even be on my radar had I not lived through them myself.
In seven words, describe your most recently penned piece of writing.
EH: Women in the Bible get super existential.
AHS: Sandaled brown boy doesn't feel like breathing.
If you weren't a writer, what sort of artist would you want to be? Why?
EH: I would actually love to be a filmmaker—I've always loved movies and I'm constantly fascinated by how good directors frame and create images. I also feel like there are a lot of things that can be communicated through film better than writing (and vice versa)—in writing, not that many things can go unsaid. In film, however, one look at the camera can say more than a whole chapter in a book.
AHS: If I weren't a writer (including the writing of music and lyrics), I'd want to be an actor. Writing is like acting in that both the author and the actor must occupy another character's mind. Acting, I imagine, would be another way to become someone else, something I enjoy doing.
AJ: And finally, what's one goal (hopefully there are many!) that you have for your time in the mentorship program?
EH: I hope to both improve my writing skills and become a part of a diverse community of writers. I've only been participating in the mentorship for a few weeks, and I've already discovered new authors and some amazing work by writers my age!
AHS: I hope to establish lasting connections and friendships with peer reviewers and mentors, people whose work I can use to practice the skill of peer review and who can offer valuable critique on my future works-in-progress.
Eileen Huang is a rising junior at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. She is currently the 2015 Northeast National Student Poet, the nation's highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. In her free time, Eileen enjoys reading and shamelessly watching B-list romantic comedies.
Angelo Hernandez-Sias is a writer who raps. His fiction has received a national gold medal from the Scholastic Art and Writing awards, two National Merit Awards in Writing/Selection from Novel from YoungArts, and a gold medal from the West Michigan Student Showcase. His forthcoming work will appear in The Blueshift Journal. He is participating in The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program while completing a six-week summer bridge program at Columbia University, where he will attend college this coming fall. His work is available at angelosias.com.