It's July, so you know what that means: we're knee deep in our wonderful summer mentorship program! We're committed to giving you a peek inside, this week in the form of mentees Katherine Liu (of Illinois), Lizzy Lemieux (of Maine), and Daniel Blokh (of Alabama). Katherine is studying poetry with mentor Jennifer Givhan, Lizzy is studying fiction with mentor Michelle Ross, and Daniel is studying Nonfiction with mentor Caroline Crew. Read on, and learn more about them and their mentorship experiences!
Introduce yourselves, if you would, in a rhyming couplet.
Katherine Liu, mentee: Introductions make me nervous / I wish this line had more purpose.
Lizzy Lemieux, mentee: Dedicated to my aesthetic / so please forgive me if I wax poetic.
Daniel Blokh, mentee: His knowledge of puns makes everyone gawk. / After all, he’s the coolest kid on the Blokh.
Why do you write?
KL: To reclaim and preserve, document and depict, destroy and reinvent.
LL: My parents say that, before I knew the alphabet, I carried around a pencil and notepad and wrote with scratch marks. My unprofessional analysis of my behavior at age two is that writing had an allure beyond story telling or expression of emotion. I “wrote” because I was in awe of the process and the dedication to craft. The only thing that’s changed is that I’m now able to form coherent sentences.
DB: Writing is how I get to know myself better. I write because of that zone I’m able to achieve sometimes, when I’m working on a piece, and suddenly, relevant images and memories start appearing in my mind. It’s this weird, trippy, wonderful look into things I never knew went on in my mind, and I’ve got to write it down. And then, when I’ve finished up a piece, I have this moment of relaxation and discovery. I sit back and think, “Woah, I never knew I felt like that.” I write to reach that point. (I think I jut had one of those moments writing this response.)
If you could hang out with any writer (from any time period) for a day, who would it be and what would you do?
KL: I'd spend a day outside with Sylvia Plath. We'd paddle boat and go hiking for scenic views. Or I'd introduce her to Chinese rail travel and we'd ride the maglev train back and forth through Shanghai.
LL: I’d lounge around with Sappho on Lesbos, drinking wine while she read me her poetry. I’d ask her to fill on the blanks in my copy of “If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho” by Anne Carson. Maybe we’d do it mad-lib style. She’d say “I don’t remember what I wrote here, maybe a verb?” and I’d say something that would make us both laugh when she it read it back.
DB: I’d watch an old cheesy horror movie with Kafka. I think we’d both love it.
Interestingly, all three of you write in multiple genres—poetry, fiction, nonfiction/essay, etc. How do you think this has influenced your work thus far—and what do you think ties your work across genres together?
KL: My writing process changes depending on if I’m writing poetry or prose, so I like the versatility of going into different genres with different final expectations. For me, prose offers a more drawn-out exploration of ideas, while the goal of poetry is to convey complex ideas concisely. And I’ve never really thought about this before, but I incorporate imagery/poetic language into my prose and love writing poems with narrative arcs. I definitely return to the same themes – e.g. identity, relationships, alienation – regardless of genre. The driving impulses behind my work don’t change. But more explicitly, sometimes I’ll recycle the same images across genres. (Oops.)
LL: When I write in a single genre, I get stuck on conventions and tropes. Writing across genres reinforces my ability to break boundaries. My poetry becomes character heavy and my fiction hinges on poetic devices (pun, alliteration, the works). I also tend to write on similar topics or with overlapping settings and characters. For example, my Jewish heritage, my sexuality, and my family (among many others) are recurrent themes no matter the mode.
DB: Writing in multiple genres relieves literary frustration. When I’m writing in nonfiction, I get mad that I can’t make things up, so I write fiction for a while. When I’m writing fiction, I get mad that I can’t be more abstract, so I switch to poetry. When I’m writing poetry, I get mad over length limitations, so I return to nonfiction. Because of this, I feel that my literary voice develops simultaneously across the genres, and my pieces often have the same tone throughout different forms.
In seven words, describe your most recently penned piece of writing.
KL: Speaker journeys through various cities feeling uncomfortable.
LL: East coast road trip with redneck angel.
DB: Russian? American? Jewish? I’m angry, that’s what.
I feel like a wise literary philosopher has at some point said that time spent away from writing is just as important as time spent writing (if not, I’ll say it). What do you do when you aren’t writing?
KL: Aside from reading, I scroll through news and social media on my phone while alternating between lying on my bed and selected couches. I spend an alarmingly large amount of time messaging friends. During the school year I prepare for various sciences competitions (#sciolyforlife), though I have yet to successfully write about science. This summer I've developed a penchant for gardening and now I obsessively prowl through my three blackberry bushes for ripe berries.
LL: At boarding school, where I study creative writing, I’ve tried a lot of different activities in an attempt to spend time away from writing. There was a brief stint with yoga, some theater going, a stop in at the school dance. The one thing I’ve stuck with is a skit competition called Odyssey of the Mind, where I can try my hand at visual art, acting, singing, and any number of other art forms.
DB: Aside from reading, thinking about writing, and finding advice about writing? Usually spending time with friends. Listening to music with them, going to a movie, or just chatting. Conversation, like writing, is a way for me to discover new things about myself and other people. It’s like writing, but instead of opening yourself up to a page, you’re opening yourself up to a person. Also, it helps me write better dialogue.
I can’t believe that this is the last week of writing before we begin working on Final Portfolios! What’s been your favorite part of the mentorship, and what’s one memory or piece of advice that you’ll take with you?
KL: The mentorship community is absolutely catalytic—there’s such a huge support network of writers, and my fellow mentees continuously amaze and inspire me. I’m going to miss being so excited about sharing my work! As for advice, the biggest thing I’ve learned is to always focus on a poem’s “beating heart.” So even if I think a line or image is really pretty, if it doesn’t advance the narrative, I’ll have to cut it.
LL: The mentorship program has provided me with a confidant, and better yet, a confidant who had answers. On days where writing seemed too difficult or my work felt insignificant, there would be an email from my mentor, Michelle Ross, asking what difficulties I’d encountered so far and what questions I had for her. When I struggled with plot, she replied that for her, plot was an ongoing exploration—but it wasn’t simply commiseration, it was an acknowledgment of process with insight on how to move past obstacles. It seems simple, but the hardest thing for me to keep in mind about the writing process is that it’s a process. Michelle reminded me that I don’t have to master plot, or craft, or character, at age seventeen in order to be a writer. I simply have to explore.
DB: My favorite part of the mentorship has been group discussions of work (aka geeking out together about artists we love). There's only one other nonfiction mentee, so our group was pretty small, which led to discussions being personal and friendly. Really, every discussion in the mentorship felt like this, even the mentee group-chat. I’ll always remember hilarious and insightful conversations with other young authors. It has been a place for writers to get advice and knowledge, a place where we could bring our work for review or help one another out of writer’s block. (Or should I say, Writer’s Blokh?)
Katherine Liu is a rising senior at Adlai E Stevenson High School in Illinois. Her writing has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Princeton University, Gannon University, Brigham Young University, and IGGY & Litro, among others, and nominated for Best of the Net. Katherine enjoys sweatpants and certain amphibious memes.
Elizabeth Lemieux comes from a small town in Maine, where churches outnumber traffic lights. She attends Interlochen Arts Academy, in Interlochen, Michigan, as the recipient of the Virginia B. Ball Creative Writing Scholarship. Her work can be found in Best Teen Writing of 2015 and The Adroit Journal, among others.
Daniel Blokh is a student at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, Alabama. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, and have appeared in Gigantic Sequins, Cicada Magazine, and Longridge Review. His book of essays In Migration was selected as the winner of the Books-A-Million Publishing Contest, and will be available soon.