Conversations with Contributors: Tiana Clark (Issue Fourteen, Poetry) by Peter LaBerge


We're over-the-moon excited for the release of Equilibrium, Tiana Clark's debut collection of poetry coming from Bull City Press. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tiana and ask her some questions—about her Adroit poem, about early inspirations, about exciting voices on the horizon, and lots in between.


  Tiana Clark.

Tiana Clark.

EH: To start: Growing up, what were your specific literary influences that inspired you to pursue writing?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a seminal book for me when I was a preteen. It was the first time a black female writer was talking to me, and I saw myself on the page. I was enthralled by Dr. Maya Angelou’s personal story, how she regained her voice through reciting poetry out loud, while I was an adolescent trying to figure out my own changing body and identity. I remember writing a speech about the book for class. I actually got in trouble, because my teacher thought my topic was not age-appropriate, because I discussed Maya’s recovery from sexual assault. Even then, I remember that I liked making an audience uncomfortable with the truth. Even then I witnessed the power of poetry as I recited “Phenomenal Women” at the end of my speech. I remember feeling a sense of pride and power seeing the shock on their faces: here I was, twelve years old, talking about the power of my hips and breasts—unashamed and at full volume! I still recite this poem in my head before a reading. I still have to claim that power continually, there are too many voices that tell me that I am not worthy, and this poem helps me shout back to that specific brand of darkness.


EH: Why and how did poetry become of interest to you?

I grew up the only child to a single mother who worked several jobs—IHOP, Red Lobster, Rainforest Café, Shoney’s—so I was alone with my imagination most of the time. Creating worlds within this world, and creating the characters to place inside those worlds, became an escape hatch for me. My childhood was spent speaking back into the silences that filled our apartment, imbuing them with language. I spoke to myself often—still do. That was my coping mechanism, a way to imbue my life with language. In a way, this impulse to create, to dream, and to express myself vocally was grasping towards poetry before I ever put pen to paper. I still like to think of creative writing as a form of a play, a way to re-access that childlike sense of spontaneous improvisation. It helps me self-soothe.


EH: Religious imagery seems to be an occurring theme in your poetry—your piece from our fourteenth issue, for example, warps a biblical psalm into a raw, powerful lyric about longing and loss. What do you think has led to the consistent incorporation of these images into your own work?

I am obsessed with the intersection between the sacred and sexual, because I’m obsessed with the body—the nexus: the communion I took in church, the juice and crackers, all symbols I ingested every Sunday. Conflating holy and profane images creates a kind of seduction that I like to manipulate through verse. Rilke said it best, “… the artist’s experience lies so unbelievably close to the sexual, to its pain and its pleasure, that the two phenomena are really just different forms of one and the same longing and bliss.”


EH: Much of your work also deals with systematic racism and, more specifically, police brutality. What do you think we as allies can do to ensure that important work like this continues to be given increasing attention?

Honestly, I don’t know. I truly mean that, especially after the recent news about Terrence Crutcher. I’m still trying to metabolize my anger (now and for the next story). We all know the answers: listen, do your homework, read, support, share, provide platforms and opportunities, etc. But right now—all of that just seems useless if people can’t police their imaginations as Claudia Rankine illuminated in Citizen.


EH: Let’s talk about your stunning chapbook Equilibrium, which won the 2016 Frost Place Chapbook Competition (!), for a second. How did the chapbook come together—did you have the set idea in mind for the program, or did it develop as the poems came along?

Thank you! I’m still buzzing from the recent release via Bull City Press!

Charles Baxter came to visit Vanderbilt last semester and I asked him how to order a book of poems. To paraphrase, he told us a good book should begin with unanswerable question, which wrestles with this inquiry throughout the narrative arc. That was my “A-Ha!” moment and soon afterward the chapbook clicked into formation. I began the collection with the titular poem because it ends with this unanswerable question:

                                                 What is left

whispering                   in us, once we have

stopped trying            to become the other? 

This interrogation of self becomes the catalyst for the bi-racial speaker in the poems, confronting opposing forces inside and outside of her body, history, place, faith, family, and race. This question is at the seam of every poem in the chapbook.

  Bull City Press.

Bull City Press.


EH: As a young writer yourself, do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

·      Always be reading

·      Trust your imagination

·      Start wherever you are

·      Do it scared

·      Memorize poems

·      Find a writing community (local or online)

·      Let failure make you better, not bitter

·      Submit, Submit, Submit, Submit

·      Be nice to everyone

·      Trace your aesthetic genealogy

·      Take risks in your poems

·      Treat yo’ self/practice self-care

·      Criticism: learn how to digest it and when to reject it

·      Remember everyone is scared and lonely and weird

·      Find trusted readers

·      Read inside and outside the “canon”

·      Make your own canon

·      Join a workshop or create your own

·      Be yourself, unapologetically, on the page and stage

·      It’s okay to say, “No, I haven’t read that book yet. Please tell me about it.”

·      “It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud. / Nevertheless, live. / Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.” - Gwendolyn Brooks) 


EH: Some say that poetry is a dying art form, yet 2016 has (so far) been an incredible year of strong poetry releases. What’s one recently released title you’re excited about (other than your own!), and what’s one forthcoming title you eagerly await?  

Poetry is alive and well, my friend, especially in Nashville. My music city is becoming a Lit City! 

One recent 2016 title that I am excited about:

·      My Dinner with Ron Jeremy by Kendra DeColo. Buy it and bask in all its juiciness!

I can’t freaking wait for these forthcoming titles in 2017:

·      Calling a Wolf a Wolf  by Kaveh Akbar

·      The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown

·      Telepathologies by Cortney Lamar Charleston

·      Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing by Charif Shanahan

·      Rail by Kai Carlson-Wee


EH:  Give us a question, if you would, to ask during our next Conversation with a Contributor.

Explain a favorite quote or epigraph that has helped articulate or unlock your poetics.


* * *


For more information on Tiana and her recent work, visit


Eileen Huang is a junior at High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. She served as the 2015-2016 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. She interviews for The Adroit Journal.

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Sixteen Adroit Students Featured in The Best Teen Writing of 2016! by Peter LaBerge

  The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.

The Best Teen Writing of 2016 (ed. Madeleine LeCesne) features selected stories, essays, and poems from the body of writing nationally recognized through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. We're so excited that sixteen students affiliated with the journal makeup nearly one-third of contributors this year, after eleven students were selected for inclusion in last year's The Best Teen Writing of 2015. Congratulations to the following sixteen students included in The Best Teen Writing of 2016

Aidan Forster (SC), Poetry, Blog Editor

Alex Zhang (MI), Poetry, Contributor

Aline Dolinh (VA), Poetry, Staff (Poetry Reader)

Alisha Yi (NV), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Angelo Hernandez-Sias (MI), Flash Fiction, Summer Mentee (Fiction)

Ashley Gong (CT), Poetry, Contributor

Ava Goga (NV), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Carissa Chen (NH), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Daniel Blokh (AL), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Nonfiction)

Jessica Zhang (MA), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Madeline Kim (CA), Personal Essay/Memoir, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Margot Armbruster (WI), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Maya Eashwaran (GA), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Noel Peng (CA), Poetry, Summer Mentee (Poetry)

Parisa Thepmankorn (NJ), Poetry, Staff (Poetry Reader)

Rachel Page (DC), Short Story, Contributor


RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Meets the 2016 Ruth Lilly Fellowship & 2016 National Student Poets Program! by Peter LaBerge

Congratulations to the newly appointed 2016 Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellows, and congratulations to the 2016-2017 class of National Student Poets! 

  The Poetry Foundation/National Student Poets Program.

The Poetry Foundation/National Student Poets Program.

We're thrilled to share that Adroit contributors Kaveh Akbar (whose poem "Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Inpatient)" appears in our seventeenth issue) and Javier Zamora (whose poem "There's So Much Room Underneath an Upturned Boat" appears in our fourteenth issue) are among the five poets selected to receive 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowships from the Poetry Foundation. They are joined by poets Jos CharlesAngel Nafis, and Alison C. Rollins.

Established in 1989 by Ruth Lilly to encourage the further writing and study of poetry, the prestigious fellowship program is open to all U.S. poets between 21 and 31 years of age. Each selected poet receives a fellowship of $25,800 to "to encourage the further study and writing of poetry."

Click here for more information on the fellowship and this year's awardees.

   The Poetry Foundation.

The Poetry Foundation.

Each year, The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers select five poets—one from each geographic region of the United States—to serve as literary ambassadors to broaden the role poetry and literature play in local and national communities. According to the National Student Poets Program website, "by elevating and showcasing their work for a national audience, the program strives to inspire other young people to achieve excellence in their own creative endeavors and promote the essential role of writing and the arts in academic and personal success."

  National Student Poets Program.

National Student Poets Program.

This year, we're thrilled to report that Joey Reisberg (Northeast), a junior at the Carver Center for Arts & Technology in Towson, Maryland, and Maya Eashwaran (Southeast), a senior at Milton HIgh School in Milton, Georgia, have been selected as two of the five National Student Poets. Joey and Maya participated in the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, an entirely free & online program that pairs students in high school with established writing mentors, to study poetry with Cody Ernst and Michelle Donahue respectively. They join  previous Adroit-affiliated student poets Eileen Huang (2015), Julia Falkner (2014), Ashley Gong (2014), Michaela Coplen (2013), Nathan Cummings (2013), Aline Dolinh (2013), Luisa Banchoff (2012), Miles Hewitt (2012), and Claire Lee (2012). 

A ceremony welcoming Joey and Maya hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama was held today at the White House, They join fellow appointed poets Stella Binion (Midwest), Gopal Raman (Southwest), and Maya Salameh (West). To learn more about the program, check out the video below.

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Meets the 2016 Teen Sequins! by Peter LaBerge

Congratulations to the summer mentorship students and staff members recognized by Gigantic Sequins' 2016 Teen Sequins feature! We're so thrilled to work together with Gigantic Sequins to support teen writers and facilitate mentorship and dialogue between established and emerging writers. 

We're over the moon for this year's batch of Teen Sequins! We're especially thrilled that all winners are members of the Adroit community. 

Carrie Zhang, New Jersey, Age 14 - "Home"

Aidan Forster, South Carolina, Age 15 - "Cistern"

Ben Read, Washington, Age 16 - "Barium"

Margaret Zhang, California, Age 17 - "Straw Theory"

Talia Flores, Minnesota, Age 18 - "& soil"

Brad Trumpfheller, Massachusetts, Age 19 - "Scene from a Western


Carrie Zhang and Aidan Forster studied poetry with Cody Ernst in the 2015 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, alongside Ben Read, who studied poetry with Jackson Holbert. Margaret Zhang studied poetry with Chen Chen in the 2016 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, while Talia Flores studied fiction with Alexander Cendrowski in 2015. And we're so pleased to have Brad Trumpfheller on staff.


Additional congratulations to this year's Adroit-affiliated honorable mentions!

Margot Armbruster, Wisconsin

Ariella Carmell, California

Annabelle Crowe, North Carolina

Farah Ghafoor, Canada

Allison Huang, New Jersey

Christina Im, Oregon

Emmi Mack, Chicago

Nicole Seah, Singapore

Elizabeth Seri, California

Eloise Sims, Australia

Oriana Tang, New Jersey

Caroline Tsai, Indiana

Eli Winter, Texas

Alisha Yi, Nevada

Emily Yin, Massachusetts

Lisa Zou, Arizona

Announcing our 2016 Best of the Net Nominees! by Peter LaBerge

 Blythe King, Issue Seventeen.

Blythe King, Issue Seventeen.

The editors of The Adroit Journal are thrilled to share our nominees for this year's Best of the Net Anthology


Fatimah Asghar, "Mother"
Alex Dimitrov, "Cocaine
Muriel Leung, "World's Tiniest Human
Randall Mann, "Fiscal
Hieu Minh Nguyen, "Apology, Sort Of
sam sax, "fraternity


Shane Jones, "Off Days
Jenny Xie, "Bone Meal"


Patrick Chambers, "Please Return Bottle for Deposit
Barrett Warner, "Three Men and One Dead Animal

Meet the Mentees: Rhiannon McGavin (Poetry) & Reuben Gelley Newman (Poetry)! by Peter LaBerge

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.

Meet the Mentees: Scott Stevens (Poetry), Charity Young (Fiction), and Jordan Harper (Fiction)! by Peter LaBerge

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. 

JHAs 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.

CYIncestuous twins stab each other debating reincarnation. 

JHMan 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.

CYThis 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. 

JHMy 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.

CYI 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?

CYOh, 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.

JHI’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.

CYWe 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.” 

JHGetting 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.

Meet the Mentees: Katherine Liu (Poetry), Lizzy Lemieux (Fiction), & Daniel Blokh (Nonfiction) by Peter LaBerge

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.

Feminist Fridays: "Girls & Other Animals" by Brynne Rebele-Henry by Aidan Forster

  " Horse"  by Adam Amram (Adroit   Journal, Issue 9)

"Horse" by Adam Amram (Adroit Journal, Issue 9)

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?


Meet the Mentees: Eileen Huang (Poetry) and Angelo Hernandez-Sias (Fiction)! by Aidan Forster

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

Meet the Mentees: Jaclyn Grimm (Fiction) and Joey Reisberg (Poetry) by Aidan Forster

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.