The editors of The Adroit Journal are thrilled to share our nominees for this year's Best of the Net Anthology:
As July turns to August, and Final Portfolios for the summer mentorship program begin to roll in, we're celebrating by learning a little bit more about poetry mentees Rhiannon McGavin (of California) and Reuben Gelley Newman (of New York). Rhiannon has studied poetry with mentor Keegan Lester, and Reuben has studied poetry with mentor Stephen S. Mills.
Introduce yourselves, if you would, in a rhyming couplet.
Rhiannon McGavin, mentee: Grew up on Shakespeare, and that’s about it, / you’d think I’d be better at iambic.
Reuben Gelley Newman, mentee: I'll frolic through the sexy forest / of life, singing, failing, hoping for rest.
Here’s a deceptively difficult question: What is it that keeps you writing? And what even got you writing in the first place?
RM: I started writing poems to attract the admiration of the cute older boy in my Shakespeare group. This did not work out, as I am still writing. I’m also terrible at keeping journals, so poetry is a way for me to keep track of the weird things that happen to me, albeit processed through a lens of readership. In the last year, I’ve been able to self-publish some dorky booklets and collaborate with my friends on making videos for my poems, and figuring out how poetry can interact with visual art/film/dance/music/smearing paint on ourselves will definitely keep me writing.
RGN: Well, in the theme of the couplet I took way too seriously, writing is sort of about playing, having fun, making things – something like frolicking. Maybe writing can even be freeing or childish in a similar way. But there's another side where it's cathartic, and I think that's where the angsty, somewhat lonely teenage nerd comes in and says, "Let me write down all my weirdness and that will magically solve everything!" Then there's witness: seeing what you don't understand and trying/failing to explain it, wondering how both lovely and horrible things happen in history. Some weird combination of these impulses got me writing and keeps me going, and then of course there's the sheer pleasure of trying/failing to verbalize and conceptualize emotion.
Rhiannon—as some of our readers most likely know, you’re doing so much good work in the realm of spoken word. How do you view the relationship between spoken word and page poetry—do you think the objectives are different, or only the mediums?
RM: Well! In spoken word (whether in a competitive slam or not), the objective is more or less to make yourself understood to a live audience in 3 minutes or less. This encourages comprehensible writing and solid public speaking skills (good things for all writers, frankly), but page poetry has space to be a bit more abstract, since the reader might have more time to digest the information. I’ve found that my best writing looks nice on the page and sounds good spoken aloud, and I think it’s important for poets to have a foot in both areas. I honestly didn’t know that page poetry and spoken word were differentiated until earlier this year, because we’re all jumbled together in Los Angeles and get Guisado’s in a group.
Reuben—as some of our mentees know, much of your work revolves around sexuality and identity. How do you think your understanding of yourself has developed and been challenged by your writing?
RGN: Look at me! Lonely gay teenage nerd who dreams that the world is a sexy forest (whatever that's supposed to mean)! Or least that's the identity that I assume and play with in some of my work, wanting attention, wanting words about sexuality to somehow compensate for being lonely. Words don't compensate, but they let me take myself a little less seriously, particularly when I've experimented with sexual humor. For a guy who's pretty serious in person, the page is freeing, allowing me to joke and play in a way I wouldn't otherwise. Writing about sexuality is also an effort both to complicate and to untangle what it means to be a gay adolescent in the place and time I live in, hopefully helping me to realize some privilege and gain compassion. I've begun to appreciate more fully the complexity of my identity and queerness.
In seven words, describe your most recently penned piece of writing.
RM: Why is everything longer in French? Oy
RGN: I travel, questioning politics, California redwoods, America.
I can’t believe we’re onto the week of assembling Final Portfolios! Alas, it seems the mentorship is coming to a dreaded close. What’s been your favorite part of the mentorship, and what’s one memory or piece of advice that you’ll take with you?
RM: Ice cream with poets!! I went to New York City in July and managed to be in the same places as Peter [LaBerge, co-director] and my mentor Keegan Lester! I was treated to a small ice cream tour of the city—caramel with Peter at Grand Central, and blackberry chocolate chip with Keegan and his gal pal on the west side. Keegan showed me this neat way to flip and dissect old poems for new drafts, and it was fun catching a Bulbasaur at The Strand.
RGN: It's been great meeting other young writers, and I'll always remember the hilariousness of the Facebook group chat, where we have a funny and loving support system. I was also lucky enough to meet my mentor, who's an amazing person and writer. He's helped me concentrate on imagery and revision, advising me to give the reader the unexpected, a lesson I'll keep using to push my writing further.
Rhiannon McGavin is an incoming freshman at UCLA, and a recent graduate of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. She is a current Get Lit Player and performed with the GLP Team at Brave New Voices 2014, where they earned 3rd in the world. She has performed among esteemed activists and celebrities including Maria Shriver, Cornel West, & John Legend, in world-famous venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, The NAACP Awards, & the LA Times Festival of Books. To watch Rhiannon’s PSA videos as well as her “Condensed Shakespeare” series, you can peep her beloved YouTube channel, “The Geeky Blonde.”
Reuben Gelley Newman is a rising senior at The Dalton School in New York City.
It's dangerously close to the end of July, meaning we're dangerously close to the end of our summer 2016 mentorship program for high school students. But here's the good news: we're bringing you as much to learn and remember as possible, with this nifty new interview featuring Scott Stevens (of California), Charity Young (of Washington), and Jordan Harper (of Alabama). Scott has been studying poetry with Will Brewer, Charity has been studying fiction with Alex Higley, and Jordan has been studying fiction with Graham Todd. Let's see what they have to say...
Introduce yourselves, if you would, in a rhyming couplet.
Scott Stevens, mentee: I’ve done many things you’d think a crime / but I’ve got in my pocket a pen – a real carbine.
Charity Young, mentee: My name is Chairs / I have some hairs.
Jordan Harper, mentee: In a small body of corn chips unrest / local four-year-old is trying his best
What led you to start writing? What made you stick with it? Tell us the abbreviated story.
SS: One night, detained in an RV with my family, I dreamed about a peripheral friend of a friend at school. I don't remember the dream, but I remember banging my head against the overhead and yelling, “I MUST BE FRIENDS WITH HER!” I decided to write her an ode describing how cool she was — not really knowing what I was doing — she wrote back, and we became best friends over poetry.
I stuck with writing for two reasons. Writing helped me visualize the abstract problems in my head and generalize the worries and joys of my everyday life. At all my major life moments since that summer, I’ve had poetry, journaling, and, recently, fiction, to guide me through my emotions and thoughts. I also stick with it for the pleasure in mastery over language. I watched my friends train their limbs in dance, their voices in chorus, and I thought, Damn! I’m jealous. If I couldn’t sing, I’d write. I’ve been trying to make beauty ever since.
CY: I never had cable TV growing up, so for entertainment I spent weekends reading YA fantasy in the library and watching lions devour antelope on Discovery. As a child my life was full of organized activities, but with a book in my hand I could get through anything from tedious orchestra rehearsals to church to getting mowed down by aggressive soccer children/moms. Later my love of reading naturally spilled over to writing, which at first only took place in school—from grades 1-7 we had to read in front of the class, so I told stories about dragons, spies, and an evolved cunicular race enslaving humanity (though my dad is not a literary man, his apocalyptic theories subtly influenced me)—but today, instead of all those activities, I write about people because I want to tell the truth of who we are, and I would be hypocritical if my life didn’t tell the truth of who I am.
JH: As it turns out, people with higher IQs tend to be associated with wearing glasses because they are near-sighted and turn more toward activities like books and science rather than sports and entertainment. I don’t remember if I made that fact up or not or what my IQ even is, but that was my excuse when people tried to pressure me into playing whatever kind of sportball. I was just better at reading and writing. Now that I’m well into the groove of writing, I’ll just say I do it to tell the stories no one else will.
In seven words, describe your most recently penned piece of writing.
SS: Grandson/father exchange macho skills; trippy mirror play.
CY: Incestuous twins stab each other debating reincarnation.
JH: Man eats Lucky Charms; it’s magically realistic!
One interesting I’ve just realized is that one of you (Jordan) goes to an arts high school, one of you (Scott) just graduated from private school, and one of you (Charity) just graduated from public high school. I was wondering if each of you could talk a little bit about how you feel your experience in school has affected your journey into writing thus far—I imagine each of you have had different experiences, and that your respective schools have played varying roles in those experiences.
SS: The Silicon Valley mythos – that exultation of the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics, combined into one enterprising spearhead for the future – has attached itself to the neighborhoods and schools around me. I am thankful that, though my school is at the nucleus of this culture, it nurtures writing more than some other schools in the area. I won’t speak for other private schools, but I will say that my school engrained “Be your best” into most students’ heads. This is code for high expectations. This can be positive. For me, that meant being my best at the challenges I enjoy – for example, writing. If you have the opportunity to attend a good school – public or private – it’s up to you to do what you want with that education. Nobody told me to put extra time into writing poems. Unfortunately, sometimes the surrounding mythos of what is “the best” can make some young people confused. You see these fresh college graduates at Google and Facebook (earnest, hard-working people) – the perceived image of these people is that they can materially do anything they want. But, intellectually, that path may not be right for someone with a mind more inclined toward writing. So you have to swallow the fact that your material life, the “limitless possibilities of technology” may not be in your hands. That fact, combined with the sight of your high school classmates all going off to bright-seeming careers, while you are working a double life, your day job and your determination to write, together can seem daunting.
CY: This is an interesting question. In truth I found my elementary/middle school years much more formative in my love of writing (I went to a hybrid part-time school) than my high school years, with one exception: my freshman English teacher, Mr. Farland, found potential in my work and encouraged me to pursue it. If I hadn’t met him, I might not be a writer today.
JH: My school has given me an unbelievable support system. I doubt I’d be where I am now without it, and I sure wouldn’t be in this mentorship. Even outside the creative writing classroom (obviously my major) it’s good to be surrounded by people who believe in their artistry and are pursuing it daily, especially considering I heard a joke the other day that went like, “We are cutting this faster than a public arts school budget.” This world doesn’t want artists to win for some reason?
If you could marry a writer (from any time period), who would it be? Why?
SS: Voltaire, because he would be adventurous in life and in editing my work – satirical comments all over my margins – because he would energize me when I’m feeling down, because I’d get to speak French (duh), and because he cheated the lottery to amass a fortune! My kind of man.
If getting burned alive for sodomy is a concern, then Virginia Woolf for sure. I would want to hear the way she described everything around her.
CY: I am trying to think of financially and emotionally stable writers. It is very hard. I would marry F. Scott Fitzgerald so we can descend together in a turgid cavalcade of glamor and destruction.
JH: The anonymous author of Beowulf. I can't be tied down.
Charity and Scott, you’re both heading off to college in the fall (Princeton and Stanford, respectively—casual!). How do you see the place writing has in your life evolving over this time period? And Jordan—what are your goals for writing in the next year leading up to your graduation?
SS: No lie, I have to be resolute in guarding my self-respect as a writer at Stanford. Coding is king there, and I’ve heard rumors that they call humanities kids “fuzzies” in contrast to “techies.” Despite the fact that there is nothing fuzzy about demands such as writing a dissertation on Finnegan’s Wake. Every day this summer I am struck with an almost crippling fear that everything I’ve built up will fall apart while I'm there. But I think that if I keep reading, keep writing, no matter whether I major in English or Neuroscience, I will be aiming to build a stored bank of writing that I’m proud of. I’ve only been writing for three years, so I still see myself as a neophyte, someone who will be trying to learn as much as I can from the professors and visiting Stegner Fellows there. This apprenticeship state tempers my currently (roiling) ambition to try and publish a book of my work. But I also hope to take more risks. Who knows what’s possible at the Coding Kingdom?
CY: Oh, I’m super excited to work with the English faculty! I hope to have a certificate (minor) in creative writing, so if I’m really lucky I can write a novel for my senior thesis under the mentorship of a faculty member. Regardless, I will sign up for lots of Creative Writing classes to take advantage of the resources available to me.
JH: I’ve hit a pretty brutal drought in terms of producing work and submitting to places which are personal virtues I’d like to kick back up in 2016/17, even amid college apps and AP classes. Mostly, I’m going to focus on completing my senior thesis (I grew a mildly handsome first draft of a story in this very program) and I’m really pumped to be an editor on our literary magazine.
As I was saying during the first Meet the Mentees chat of the week, it’s hard to believe this is the last week of writing for this year’s mentorship program. What’s been your favorite part of the mentorship, and what’s one memory or piece of advice that you’ll take with you?
SS: My favorite part of the mentorship has probably been the encouragement to connect our readings to our writing prompts. Sometimes it is easier for me to just head for the anthologies and read good ol’ Elizabeth Bishop, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, so I have loved being pushed toward more contemporary writers, getting a better feel of what’s being written out there.
One memory: this past week, I had the privilege of peer-editing a mentee’s poem that shocked me with its beauty and sinister narrative arc. I remember thinking, I want to be able to write something in that style. I worry sometimes that everybody is going to turn into a computer and only write lines of Java, not poetry, but I get hopeful that the line of writers will continue when I read fantastic work from people the same age as me.
CY: We are at the dusk of our days, but my favorite part of this mentorship is the wonderful, scarily talented writer friends I have made. It’s extremely refreshing to connect with people around my age who share the same interest, and also the same (?? bad) sense of humor.
I have a very short animalistic memory, so I’m going with the most recent piece of advice from Jordan Villegas (fellow manatee): if you’re having a bad week/year/life, “Just wait for your next one. Maybe you’ll reincarnate as a wiener dog and you can just chill all the time.”
JH: Getting to know the grossly talented mentees has been so much fun. And as a young writer it becomes exciting once you begin to recognize all the names you’re among as winners of contests you’ve entered or programs you’ve applied for, that you’re a part of this community of stunning artists (which can be encouraging or demoralizing depending on what kind of person you are) who are all learning the same as you, you’re on the same playing field. As for advice, I think I’ll carry with me the work ethic of my peers and mentor, who are relentless demigods all of them. A mentee just called 15 pages “a day’s work” as I’m typing this.
* * *
Scott Stevens is a poet and fiction writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, and has been published in literary magazines such as Textploit and Glass Kite Anthology. He is a recognized California Arts Scholar, has attended the Iowa Young Writers' Studio at the University of Iowa, and has received distinction in the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Corey Van Landingham selected him as an Honorable Mention for the 2016 Adroit Prize for Poetry, and he will be a freshman at Stanford University in the fall.
Charity Young is a recent graduate of Union High School in Washington. Her fiction and illustrations have received national medals in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and she was included on the Editors List for the 2016 Adroit Prize for Prose. She likes to wear terrifying shoes, and will be a freshman at Princeton University in the fall.
Jordan Harper is a senior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts as well as an alum of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and Interlochen Arts Camp where received a Fine Arts Award. His poetry and prose has been recognized by the Alabama Writers’ Forum and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. His work can be found in Best Teen Writing of 2015.
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.
In popular literature and songs, women’s bodies or sexualities are often compared to animals. Take, for example, “I want to fuck you like an animal/Iwant to feel you from the inside” in Closer by Nine Inch Nails. Or the incessant comparison of pretty girls to Bambi, or women’s bodies to racehorses. Women’s fear is often compared to that of a deer in the headlights. This form of zoomorphism in our culture is extremely common, and, while often women being compared to animals is a typical literary tactic, it’s interesting to think of the underlying dehumanization: a woman is not a woman with big eyes, she’s a virginal baby deer; a woman afraid is not a woman who is afraid, she is soon to be road kill. The simultaneous romanticizing and dehumanization of female beauty is common: when you are beautiful, you are an ideal, viewed as someone almost holy or above others, and simultaneously seen as something not human, as in you’re not a person, you’re a body part, a commodity.
In almost every YA novel, girls are compared to burning fires, birds of paradise, deer, horses, roses, lions, tigresses, parrots, and so on, and in this way, beauty and womanhood are turned feral. I’m sure if you Googled me, you could find multiple poems and stories and novel excerpts where I compare bodies to oceans or fires or sick animals or burning buildings, so I’m not necessarily saying that there’s anything wrong with doing so, or using Zoomorphism as a literary device. However, the concept of beauty or womanhood or desire for girls, or a girl’s desire or fear as something animalistic, un-human, is a disturbing topic. In our culture, girls and women’s bodies are used as commodities or warfare or advertisements, and in this way, it’s like beauty and womanhood negate your personhood, turns you into something usable, something animal, that can be consumed.
The music video for Animals by Maroon 5 consists of a man breaking into a woman’s apartment repeatedly, photographing her half naked and sleeping, and then, in a meat bunker, smearing himself in animal’s blood, like he’s preparing himself for the hunt. He then follows her to a club and presumably takes her home, as they can next be seen entwined and dripping in dark red blood. Their desire has turned them into the hunter and the hunted, and, apparently, the prey has been caught.
Older women who date younger men are referred to as “cougars” (I have yet to find the lesbian equivalent for this, but I assume it would involve some kind of large cat as well). Virgins are compared to pure flowers, petals that have not yet crumpled or withered or dried out which is apparently what happens when a girl loses her virginity: she withers, her petals fall off. In this context a woman’s desire both punishes her and gives her power (a dying flower, a threatening hunting cat). In most of the literature I’ve read, men are never flowers or road kill deer, they’re usually portrayed as either primitive hunters or predatory creatures, and, on the brief occasion that women in literature are referred to as predatory animals, it’s derogatory (“she’s a cougar, watch out,” “she’s a shark” etc).
The question in this article, is why are girls dying fires or withering roses or Bambi-eyed ingénues or helpless but decorative birds? Why are we always the prey?
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.
Summer's in high gear, and so is the 2016 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship! To kick things off, we interviewed two of our mentees: Jaclyn Grimm (fiction) and Joey Reisberg (poetry). Read on to learn more about these stellar young writers!
The Adroit Journal: Introduce yourselves, if you would, in a rhyming couplet.
Jaclyn Grimm, Fiction Mentee: I only write prose / because my poetry blows.
Joey Reisberg, Poetry Mentee: He came from outer space— / scribbling poems, shoving snacks in his face.
J: Here's a perhaps deceivingly complicated question: why do you write?
JG: Because it’s something I can do in my pajamas. Actually, I’d like to say the reason is something fantastic or inspiring, but it really stems from my desire to control things. Life is unpredictable and chaotic and my writing is a way to make sense of it. Although the pajama thing is pretty great, too.
JR: I write because I feel an urgent need to communicate using the power and beauty of words. I write because my brain gets too busy. I write as therapy and as a way of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I write as discovery, escape, resolution, empathy, riddle, magnifying glass, telescope, retribution, surprise, jigsaw puzzle, confrontation, synthesis, and contradiction. I write because finding an answer to the question “Why do you write?” is so impossibly hard and I never want it to be easy.
AJ: Three writers who have inspired you thus far?
JG: Lorrie Moore, Junot Díaz, and Kevin Wilson. There are so many other writers I adore, but I feel that these three have influenced my work the most.
JR: Emily Dickinson for the wonder and revelation she brings to our world. Mark Doty for his lush, layered language and deep emotion. Frank O’Hara for the exuberance and passion that shine through his poems.
AJ: How did you find out about The Adroit Journal? Often we find hesitance among some of the strongest young writers—what led you to take that leap and first get involved?
JG: One of my best friends told me about The Adroit Prizes and encouraged me to submit a couple of my stories! At that point I knew nothing about Adroit, which was definitely for the best because I doubt I would’ve submitted if I’d realized how talented everyone here is. After I heard I was being recognized, I read just about everything in the journal, absolutely fell in love with it, and wanted to be in the mentorship program more than anything.
JR: An important mentor in my life, Ms. Shirley Brewer (literal poetry goddess), first told me about the mentorship. I got even more excited when I read back issues of The Adroit Journal and saw “bizarre” listed on the “About” page. I had been craving to be part of a community of writers for so long. Meeting other people who are nerds for words has been thrilling and inspiring. So that’s why I dove headfirst into the Wacky World of Adroit.
AJ: Let’s pretend, for a second, we’re on the Bachelor/Bachelorette (this can’t end well). You’ve narrowed it down to your two favorite literary characters—who are they, and which one do you pick?
JG: This can only end well. I’d narrow it down to Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) and Joe Kavalier (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), although I think I’d end up picking Joe because artists are #nextlevel.
JR: First option is Rochester from Jane Eyre. He’s dark, he’s brooding, and he’s rich. Perfect! Next we have Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Beautiful bisexual prince! He challenges Rochester to a duel, promptly slays him, and then whisks me away to his Dornish vineyard where we eat tropical fruit and watch “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”
AJ: In seven words, describe your most recently penned piece of writing.
JG: Chicken factory needs safety regulations and feminism.
JR: This persona poem gets hella angsty. Wow!
AJ: What’s something you’re interested in besides writing?
JG: Sometimes I like to pretend I’m good at acting even though I’m mostly in it for the pretty costumes. I’m really interested in politics—not in a potential career sort of way, but I think it’s interesting/important to learn about. I also enjoy random dance breaks, watching too much television, and reading crappy novels (along great ones, of course).
JR: I love drag! Big hair, glitter, pounds of makeup, rhinestones, stilettos, lip-syncing to ‘80’s divas. I love the element of rebellion (breaking outside of gender norms) as well as the fun and kitsch and camp of a drag performance.
AJ: And finally, what’s one goal (hopefully there are many!) that you have for your time in the mentorship program?
JG: To stretch my writing ability as far as I can, learn to incorporate feedback into my editing process, and join a community of awesome people/writers. That’s more than one goal, but another goal of mine is to break rules so it seems fitting.
JR: One goal would definitely be to build up a strong body of work that I can start sending out to places. I would also love to keep the connections between fellow writers strong. A support system like this is incredible to have. (I realize that this is two goals but I have a #rebelheart, just like Madonna.)
Jaclyn Grimm lives in Orlando, Florida and is a rising senior at Lake Highland Preparatory School. Her writing has appeared in The Adroit Journal and is forthcoming in decomP and CHEAP POP. She likes using lower case letters way too much and thinks she's funnier than she actually is.
Joey Reisberg studies creative writing at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, where he is on the editorial staff for the school's literary magazine Synergy. His poetry has been recognized with a Gold Medal from the 2016 National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. He lives near Baltimore, MD with some plants and an adorable schnauzer named Stella.
Lesbian representation in television could at best be compared to one of the reality shows (Naked and Afraid, Out of the Wild, and so on) in which normal civilian people face near death experiences for the gratification of the viewers, only, in this analogy, the lesbians don’t survive, however the civilians in such shows do.
A count recently released by Autostraddle lists the number of all 155 LGBT women on various television programs (dating back to 1976) who have been killed, and their various causes of death (car accident, toxic envelope glue, self inflicted stabbing, beheading, electrocuted in a bathtub, breast cancer, mall bombing, various supernaturally sustained injuries, angry men, mentally unbalanced exes, and so on). The often seemingly random or punish-killing of LGBT women on popular programs has become a trope, or a plot device, that is used by TV writers to the point that it seems that gay women are either strangely susceptible to ridiculously bad luck, or that their writers view them as less important than their deaths.
Such tropes raise the following questions: Why, in television as well as the real world, is it so hard for gay women to stay alive, or at least remain not grievously injured by either angry men, cruel chance, as if in some sort of biblical punishment? Why are queer women’s lives valued less in both spheres? Is this representation (the constant murdering of LGBT women or prominent LGBT women’s partners in popular TV programs) supposed to be a glimpse into the lives of many queer women through out various time periods and areas, or is it merely a homophobic plot device?
I’ve watched almost every title in lesbian Netflix, and the only two pieces that have relatively happy endings are Jenny’s Wedding (a nauseatingly confectionary story of a closeted woman with extremely homophobic family members who may or may not come to her wedding after finding out that—surprise she’s not marrying a man). And The L Word, (an offensive soapy mess of a television show that is difficult to look away from, though even this piece ends with a murder, albeit of a character so supremely unlikable it is difficult to feel anything but relief at her demise). It often seems as if Hollywood is stating that if you are a queer women, specifically, if you are a queer woman who does not fit into the steadily supplied tropes of what a lesbian or bisexual woman should be like, you will be punished, often by some formerly improbable deadly fluke.
Lesbians in film have barely evolved since the fifties pulp novel and, later, movie mandated representation: either you’re a woman so beautiful that a man could never be near her, a woman who has been hurt by a man so beautifully that she can never be near them, a villainous, hyper masculine, often predatory woman, or, a woman so undesirable that the only person who could conceivably desire her would be a similarly unfit for the male gaze woman.
Since this time, lesbian sexuality seems to take three forms: either, an asexual, almost sisterly relationship, in which most of their time is spent knitting, adopting rescue cats, fulfilling various stereotypes, and so on. Or, alternately, their sex is violent, flashy, usually femme/butch, or, alternately, two extremely beautiful women who are so beautiful they are relegated to lesbianism as men cannot handle them, their beauty makes them grotesque, or, maybe they’re just being punished (a maddeningly and unfortunately realistically disproportionate amount of women in the Autostraddle count were killed by angry men).
Alternately, a large number of lesbians portrayed in the media or in literature identify as gay because of trauma, which in itself is perfectly valid, but which is contorted by the media to make the woman in question a martyr, beautiful in her blood and suffering, the general homophobia in regards to her queerness is washed away by her martyrdom, how delicately and almost holy her suffering seems. As standards for conventionally attractive actresses have evolved, it seems almost like the queer woman who are being killed are being punished for their beauty, for being inaccessible to men. Every beautiful woman in the world can recount being compared to Helen of Troy at least once or twice within her life (beauty as suffering, war, casualties, deception, punishment).
The question I keep coming back to, is, why are queer women’s lives and characters seemingly so disposable, both in the real world and in television, and what would it take to change both?