Conversation on ‘REJECTION’

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Joanna Cleary: Rejection: it’s awful. Unfortunately, however, artists– regardless of medium, experience, and to a large event, even talent– have to face rejection on a continual basis, which is why I’m so excited to have a conversation about it. Since we live in an increasingly progress-oriented world, rejection has become equated with failure and failure with shame. However, when I received my first rejection letter at the age of twelve or thirteen, I felt proud. Even though my poem wasn’t accepted by the magazine I’d submitted to (and for good reason– it was terrible), I was thrilled that somebody other than me, literary editors no less, had actually read what I’d written. I’d given something – a perspective, perhaps, or a story – to somebody else. I learned that being an artist is about giving; as long as you try to do that, you’re on the right path. Even though rejection is undeniably discouraging, I’ve learned to never be ashamed of offering my work to others. Now over to you– tell me about your first rejection.

Maria Prudente: I didn’t get a part I wanted in my high school musical. I was a sophomore, and I had my heart set on playing Velma in “Chicago,” but this senior who was known for doing beauty pageants and had never done theatre before walked in and nailed her audition. It was between the two of us in callbacks, but the director loved her; and the next day when the cast list went up I was, as expected, devastated. I think it’s common to compare and self-loathe in the first moments of rejection. I kept thinking, “If only I was older and sexier and more tan and had longer legs…” the list kept going but it was all superficial. Within a couple of hours of feeling sad about it, I realized what I had that this senior didn’t have was experience, knowledge, and a deep curiosity and love for performing.

Consequently, I ended up not only taking a small part like Mona in the “Cell Block Tango” and making my monologue land a big laugh every performance, but I ended up being an assistant director for the show. Deciding to turn the pain of that particular rejection of that role into a new role where I could contribute to the theatre in a new way was incredibly empowering. But, as you stated earlier, experiencing rejection is ongoing for artists. How do you cope?

JC: I think the key to coping with rejection is not letting it define you as a person and artist.

Whenever I receive a particularly difficult rejection, I make an effort to do something I enjoy, such as having a cup of hot chocolate or going for a run. By investing energy into who I am as a person, I don’t feel as if my self-worth relies on who I am as an artist. However, I also use rejection as a motivator when it comes to my identity as a writer – for every rejection I receive, I try to send out one or more submissions into the world so that there will always be a glimmer of possibility for me to aspire towards. Again, over to you – how do you cope with rejection?

MP: I think you have a really healthy outlook. Creating routines to feel connected to our sense of self or reciting positive self-talk is an ideal way to deal with rejection. It’s also a really hard thing to practice. There have been days where I have found out from several publications that my work hasn’t been accepted. Sometimes I’ll read that my work was being considered but wasn’t quite right for their issue and I obsess over what thing it was that kept them from putting my piece in the “yes” pile. I think tailoring work for certain publications is important for writers to improve their chances especially if they are trying to build a body of work. Submitting work and finding out what people like is so subjective and completely out of our control. All we can do is revise, rewrite and re-wire the way we accept rejections and instead use them to, as you say, motivate us. When I’m looking for a win, I write something that I feel really good about and I save it to my documents for my eyes only. I think sometimes having something in my back pocket helps me to feel confident. Returning to a piece and cutting it or building on it can be really satisfying because it isn’t being judged by anyone but you, the writer. I can tell a story and chip away at the truth the way I want to. What’s important for writers to remember is why they write and for whom they write. This helps me keep a grip on reality and reminds me of what I love about writing in the first place.

An acting teacher of mine always said: “tell the story simply and clearly”. The same can be said for writing. I often remember this phrase when I feel caught up on using flowery language or I’m inside an overly stylized piece and I fall away from what I’m trying to say. Have any mentors from your past or present given you advice that you’ve found valuable in your writing?

JC: A creative writing mentor of mine once told me not to think of rejection as a lost opportunity, but as an opportunity to give meaning to hardship through growth. Like you say, we need to revise the way we accept rejections so they enhance our ambition instead of draining it. It’s all about finding a balance between controlling our stories and accepting that, oftentimes, we can’t control everything in our lives. I’ve learned to tell myself that I can control what happens to me, but I do have more say over what I make happen.  


155113583331125364MARIA PRUDENTE has written about feminist ethics for Manifest-Station and is featured in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s upcoming anthology of nonfiction short stories. Maria is a professional stage and film actress. She received her training from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy with a concentration in Musical Theatre performance. Maria is the Content Editor at CountrySkyline, LLC and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. She lives in NYC where she studies Creative Writing at Columbia University.

149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is a college student double majoring in English Literature and Drama. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cicada MagazineInkletteGlass Kite AnthologyParallel Ink, Phosphene Literary Journal, HIV Here and Now, and On the Rusk. Poetry has been a long-time passion of hers. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, eating various forms of chocolate, and, of course, thinking about writing.

 

Interview with Mihir Vatsa

Our Blog Editors interviewed Mihir Vatsa, an Indian poet and the editor of Vayavya, for this week’s blog. In this interview, we ask him about the practice of writing and the habits that pertain to it in some way or another. We also ask Mihir about not only staying committed to writing, but also staying committed to writing about Hazaribagh.


Blog Editors: Ernest Hemingway wrote first thing in the morning. Maya Angelou reserved hotel rooms just to write. Stephen King forced himself to write six pages every day. Susan Sontag instructed people when not to call. Have you developed any specific methods for writing?

Mihir Vatsa: I wish I could reserve hotel rooms to write. Someday, perhaps, I will. I usually write at night– the darkness sorts relevance from distraction. When I am writing to meet a deadline, I set a target. With prose, it is thousand words. Poetry is more malleable that way– just three lines could be a poem too, as long as they are good three lines. I am more relaxed with poetry, less so with prose. The latter demands some discipline, I have learned recently.  

BE: Do you journal? And how well do you work with or meet deadlines?

MV: Unfortunately, no, I don’t maintain a journal. I do have some romantic affinity towards the process though, and I like to hear stories that involve journal writing. I have tried it before, but have stopped midway. Trivial things begin to annoy me– is the notebook cover journalish enough, what if I wrote something and someone read it, if I am doing it on my PC then what should be the password, do I really want it personal or do I secretly want it read? I think of these clearly pressing thoughts and defer it.

I think I can work with deadlines, though I procrastinate a lot. So if the deadline is tomorrow, I would get working today, not sleeping, not eating, a bit possessed. It’s not a healthy practice for a writer, but then writers are not really known for their exemplary health.

BE:Do you outline ideas before or do you let the form teach you what kind of story you are writing?

MV: I do outline, but mostly in mind. I prefer having some ideas, some thoughts about what I should write once I start the computer. Often a poem is left hanging for a few days: one stanza emerges, then there is the wait, then another line comes up. When I am not writing, I am working with collages– cut here, paste there. When I think I have enough to go with, I start typing. With longer poems, I take it slow, filling in the blanks first, then tying the content up as the form suggests. With prose, and especially essays, I have found that it’s helpful to have some pointers beforehand, a road map, on how to progress from one thought to the other without jarring the flow.  

BE: What do you do when you become stuck while writing?

MV: If the deadline is far, I give in to the block. I switch to Netflix or Youtube, or take up a book which I had been meaning to read. You can only watch something for so long. When saturation hits, writing becomes a needed retreat. Sometimes I get stuck because I don’t want to put an idea into a form that I have already done before. Then, reading helps. I go to the internet and read whatever poetry I can find, preferably by poets who are alive. That way, I get to see what other poets in the world are doing, how they are managing language, how they are working with form, and so on. The last time I got stuck, the deadline was close. So I ordered a book and told myself not to touch it before I finished writing. It kind of worked.

BE: How do you stay committed to Hazaribagh? Is there a different lens or observation you require in order to practice the writing of something so close when you want it to reach far?

MV: This is a really good question, actually. My upcoming book A Highland in the East (Speaking Tiger Books 2019) is a memoir about living and travelling in the Hazaribagh plateau, and though I had a great time writing it, I was also often conflicted about my loyalty to Hazaribagh. I am not talking about the town per se– Hazaribagh is like any other small Indian town. It has its half-finished buildings with exposed brickwork, it has its temples and mosques and narrow streets. Somehow these things haven’t appealed to me yet. I am more attached to Hazaribagh’s landscape. Therefore, the hills, the trees, the rivers, etc are my points of affect. I remember, this one time, my friend Raza Kazmi and I were staying for a few days at Palamu Tiger Reserve in Latehar. The place is about a six-hour drive from Hazaribagh. There, I was surrounded by taller hills, denser forests, reliable waterfalls, and it made me sad. What if I outgrow Hazaribagh? “You can be committed to Hazaribagh and still enjoy Palamu,” Raza said something along this line, and though I understood him, I was still uncertain. What I fear is that one day there will be nothing wonderful about Hazaribagh for me. No waterfall will excite me. Been there, done that– that kind of boredom, you know, and so I try to modify perspectives. There is a lot in Hazaribagh, things that I still don’t know, so maybe one day I will enjoy the roads, or the history, or engage with the place in a more direct, participatory way. At the moment, I am gripped by the plateau; later, it might be some other aspect of the town.

Perception is universal– the way I perceive Hazaribagh may be similar or different to people who perceive other places, but the act is not uniquely mine. As writers, we work in and with shared cultures, so I think while Hazaribagh may be a little-known, “niche” place to write about, the things I feel when I am in Hazaribagh do resonate with people outside. When I post a photo of a hill range and see the reactions on it, I know I am doing something right. I try to understand the relevance of Hazaribagh for other people, and this is a conjecture at best, but I think that in Hazaribagh, I work through a dual-gaze. I am both an insider and the outsider, insider to the town, outsider to the plateau. When I look for information on, say, how the lake came about, or how the hill was fashioned earlier to appear the way it does now, I am being a hopeless local historian; on the other hand, when I venture into the forest, trailing a stream and not knowing where it would take me, I feel more like a tourist. Perhaps this duality works, though I am not sure yet.

BE: Do you think your editorial practice, or editorial ethics, have impacted your practice as a writer?

MV: Maybe? I don’t really know. Earlier I used to get irritated at the long wait to get a response, but as someone who has also been on the other side of things, I realise now that such delays happen, especially if you are working as a small, un- or underpaid team. One thing that I loved doing as an editor was to really edit– and not just select– a poem for publication, you know, the old-fashioned way. I would chance upon a poem which was almost ready, except that it didn’t work in some parts and patches. Whenever it was the case, I offered detailed feedback, putting the ball in the poet’s court. Here is what I think. If you agree, we can go ahead with the publication. With my own writing too, I am not averse to feedback or revision. I appreciate it if someone devotes a chunk of their time to offer comments on my work. This is something that I cherish with respect to writing, mine or someone else’s.


155727205559673739MIHIR VATSA is the author of the poetry collections Painting That Red Circle White (Authors Press 2014) and Wingman (Aainanagar & Vayavya 2017). A former Charles Wallace Fellow of Writing at University of Stirling, UK, Mihir is the winner of Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and a Toto Funds the Arts Award in Writing. Mihir lives in the plateau-town of Hazaribagh, India, where he works across the disciplines of literature, writing and human geography.

On Shakespeare’s 455th Birthday

BY JOANNA CLEARY AND MARIA PRUDENTE

Joanna Cleary: I’m so excited that we’ve agreed to have a conversation on the best-known playwright in the history of English literature– William Shakespeare — in honour of his birthday. As an English and Theatre major, it probably comes as no great shock to hear that I love his plays and sonnets. However, it might come a surprise to find out that I didn’t consider myself a fan of his work until I saw it performed in the theatre. My first exposure to Shakespeare came when my ninth grade English Literature class studied Romeo and Juliet. While I loved the rich images Shakespeare created, I struggled with the unfamiliar language and often grew frustrated because I read the script much more slowly than I read contemporary works. When my class when to see a live performance of Romeo and Juliet, however, I found myself absolutely immersed in the world being created in front of me. I grew to deeply appreciate Shakespeare as one who not only writes about the human condition but does so in a way that allows everything he focuses on – from emotional character development to philosophical questions – to take on an ephemeral life of itself. Now over to you – when did you first learn about Shakespeare?

Maria Prudente: Romeo and Juliet was my first experience too. My first monologue class was a Shakespeare workshop. I began, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks” and I remember the creative director of the theatre looking utterly confused. In retrospect, I love that at twelve I didn’t bother to gender the monologue, but in actuality, I just liked it best. I thought it was elegant and beautiful, I didn’t care that a man said it. In my freshman year of high school, I was cast as Rosaline for our production of R&J. I was gutted. I had no lines though I got to wear a special floral head-piece. For a character who never speaks, it was easy to create an interpretation of her because Shakespeare offers us information on “fair Rosaline” through other characters: Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio. I am not surprised to hear that you became a fan after seeing his work in the theatre. I support the notion that Shakespeare should be seen, not just read. In terms of writing, what I’ve always liked about Shakespeare is that there is no subtext; the language does the work for you and that, in essence, is the brilliance of Shakespeare’s writing. There is a vast legacy of work to choose from — what is your favorite Shakespearean sonnet or play?

JC: I know it’s a bit of a cliché to cite this as my favourite Shakespearean text, but I love Romeo and Juliet. While it’s often dismissed as overly dramatic and unrealistic, I strongly believe that the dramatic tension and spectacular plotline is precisely what captures the feeling of newfound love in the play. My favourite line of the first act is when Romeo first sees Juliet and declares “[o], she doth teach the torches to burn bright” (Act 1.5.42) — the statement is so simple, but also so profound and bursting with emotion. I completely support the contemporary social emphasis on people knowing how to be independent, I also think that love — platonic love, romantic love, and everything in between — has an important place in the human condition and deserves to be recognized in poetic expressions such as this. Speaking of how Shakespeare relates to the modern world, what do you think are the best contemporary adaptations of his work?

MP: I agree with you that the universal themes of love are why Romeo & Juliet is so captivating. We understand it as kids because they, too, are impulsive, impassioned kids and we nostalgically, sympathetically relate as adults. For me, I measure the best contemporary adaptations of his work by what is most relatable. Whether we are consciously aware or not, what we connect to when we watch The Lion King is what we connect to in Hamlet, and, what we connect to when we watch My Own Private Idaho (a classic Gus Van Zant film) is what we connect to in Henry IV. My favorite is Ten Things I Hate About You as a modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. At theatre conservatory, I was selected to perform Kate’s monologue for several hours over several days for prospective students and I resented the fact that Kate wasn’t more like her modern adaptation in 10 Things I Hate About You. In the movie, we see Kat as a feminist figure, and in Shrew, Shakespeare characterizes Katherine as a fiery female turned anti-feminine, submissive wife. Would Kat have said to Patrick, “Humble your pride, then, since it’s useless, and place your hand beneath your husband’s foot? As a gesture of my loyalty, my hand is ready if he cares to use it”? I don’t think so. That’s why I think modern adaptations are important because they spark a bigger conversation. Was Shakespeare commenting on misogyny and feminity in Taming of the Shrew? Do we believe this was his point of view? Did 10 Things I Hate About You try to deconstruct gender and female oppression and correct the characterization of Katherine through Kat? Shakespeare is still challenging us in the 21st century. Aside from comparing modern adaptations, what do you suggest people do if they want to understand and enjoy Shakespeare’s work?

JC: I definitely agree that contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare’s work often help make the material more relatable to people who aren’t familiar with the language or the era in which he was writing. However, I also think that people should also experience performances of his original scripts in order to fully appreciate the nuanced worlds Shakespeare creates through his language; after all, he’s known for being a poet just as much as he is for being a playwright. If there are no performances of Shakespeare’s work playing, I’d recommend listening to his work via audiobook to hear his words being said aloud, which is how they are intended to be heard. I had to listen to an audiobook recording of Othello when I studied the play in my Gr. 10 English Literature class. Initially, I hated that audiobook because it moved too fast for me to keep up, as I wanted to stop every time I came across a word I didn’t understand (which was often) and look it up. However, I gradually came to understand that it didn’t matter if I didn’t understand every word because hearing the play aloud helped me more deeply emotionally connect to the world being created before me. Anyways, going back to your acting background, what Shakespeare character (regardless of sex or gender) have you always wanted to play?

MP: I’m jealous of those boys playing Hamlet. There’s even a play by William Missouri Downs called, Women Playing Hamlet where a woman cast as Hamlet has a massive existential crisis during the whole process. Because Hamlet is so consumed by his masculinity (or lack thereof), it would be fun and challenging maybe to regender him; to flip his questioning his bravery “am I coward?” and the insult of “unmanly grief” on its head. What role would you like to play?

JC: I’ve always wanted to play one of the three witches in Macbeth. Like all delightfully grotesque characters, I think it takes skill to not overdo their persona or characterize them in a predictable way that’s been already been done. Personally, I’m interested in looking at the witches as characters who raise questions on class and status in the play – what does it mean for Macbeth, a member of the upper class, to talk with witches and, later in the play, go as far as to seek them out? What does that say about class corruption? And, if one looks at the witches as symbols of femininity, what do they say about gender roles and dynamics? What does it mean for them to, in a way, seduce Macbeth? I would love to take on a role rich with the potential to explore topics such as these. I also greatly enjoy ensemble work and would relish the opportunity to work with two other actors playing my fellow witches, as it has been my experience that a show is strongest when members of the cast are united. Moving onto Shakespeare himself, however, what’s one question that you’d ask him if you two were somehow able to have a conversation?

MP: I think I would ask how much politics during the Elizabethan era influence him. I think his work verges on the political by way of his characters and it would be interesting if there were specific issues that felt so pressing he needed to write about them. We are living at a time of extreme political polarization so I would be interested to know what he would write about today.  What would you ask?

JC: Hmm, interestingly, I don’t know if I would ask him anything. I thought I’d have lots of questions ready in response to you, but nothing seems to be coming to mind. I think perhaps I don’t want Shakespeare himself to influence my perception of his work, as so many insightful and creative relationships between us and him have been built precisely because of the fact that there are huge gaps in our knowledge of his life. That said, I think today is a wonderful opportunity to spend some time pondering the many mysteries of William Shakespeare and re-read some of his poetry, be it his sonnets or his plays. And now over to you, dear readers – we hope that you too can spend some time reading Shakespeare on his 455th birthday!


149460297287447

JOANNA CLEARY is an undergraduate student double majoring in English Literature and Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The /tƐmz/ Review, The Hunger, Pulp Poets Press, Every Pigeon, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Subterranean Blue Poetry, among others.

155113583331125364MARIA PRUDENTE has written about feminist ethics for Manifest-Station and is featured in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s upcoming anthology of nonfiction short stories. Maria is a professional stage and film actress. She received her training from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy with a concentration in Musical Theatre performance. Maria is the Content Editor at CountrySkyline, LLC and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. She lives in NYC where she studies Creative Writing at Columbia University.

On Writing and Memory

Our blog editors interviewed SMRITI VERMA, a poetry editor for Inklette about her relationship with memory, and its relationship to her writing. The interview traces the way we navigate writing from or about memory, and how we trust it if we do.


Blog Editors: When you write, do you rely on memories as sources of inspiration? What are your favourite memories to write about?

Smriti Verma: I feel that almost all art is embedded in memory and impressions – the kind of experiences we hold near to us generally come to bear on the kind of writing we do or its thematic concerns. There really is no escape from it, given that emotions are rooted in memory itself. I feel that mine have more or less commanded not only what I write, but also how I negotiate with these memories, whether these are traumatic or otherwise. I won’t say I have favourite memories to write about as such, because those are actually to write of, but I feel my childhood and experiences in university are some of the places I draw inspiration from.

BE: Likewise, what memories are hardest for you to write about?

SV: I feel trauma and joy are really these two binaries which are hard to articulate in words. The expression of extremes become silence, perhaps due to the mountain of effort required, or the simple inability to express what may be too deep (or powerful?) for words. It can be hard to really render a beautiful experience or a painful one onto a page when the writer isn’t able to separate his writer self from his emotional self in this regard.

BE: In your opinion, how do we know if what we remember is true? Do you think that we should use memory to write what it true, or do you think that truth and memory have a more complex relationship?   

SV: Definitely the latter. So much of contemporary literary output has and continues to probe at the illusory boundary between real and imaginary, about the act of remembering as an act of constant re-imagining of the past, and how fragile the concept of truth is. A lot of literature produced since the 20th century has shown how the very idea of an objective material truth might be suspect. I once read somewhere (possibly bad tabloid claim but I found it interesting anyhow) that every time we remember a past experience, we edit one detail in it. I feel that the realms of collective and personal memory are such rich reservoirs for writing, and exploring the subjectivity of truth, the multiplicity of truth or truths, so to say. I also feel this theme holds relevance for the current political crisis going on in different parts of the globe as different versions or interpretations of these truths come into contention.

BE: How do we trust the memories of others? Does it matter?

SV: This question really opens up another area, of trust and where it arises from and whether it has any validity if all of us really are as brutally lonely as we feel sometimes. I feel the nature of memory itself is not to be trusted, but trust also arises from sympathy and compassion, which can really be markers about how “true” (to use the word with certain suspicion) or untrue something is. But it matters. It definitely does. All of our memories constantly define and redefine us and respecting those identities is a major part of being in and with the world.

BE: As a writer, what do you want to be remembered for; what to you want your artistic legacy to say about you?

SV: I’m not sure exactly – not as of now, maybe because I’m too young and also because I haven’t given the idea of being remembered much thought. It is quite a big question, and if I had to think of an answer, I would say that I would want to be remembered for doing something that merges the areas of art and social change. I’ve started questioning perhaps the kind of places art comes from, whether these are sites of privilege, and if yes, then what can we do in our role as writers to redirect these art forms towards something helpful, something that connects.


150126426218111SMRITI VERMA grew up in Delhi, India. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Adroit Journal, B O D Y, Cleaver Magazine, Word Riot, Open Road Review, Alexandria Quarterly, and Yellow Chair Review. Further work is forthcoming in Construction Literary Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2015 Save The Earth Poetry Prize and enjoys working as a Poetry Reader for Inklette and Editorial Intern for The Blueshift Journal.

Interview with Linda Ashok and Jamel Brinkley

Our blog editors, Maria Prudente and Joanna Cleary, were interested in interviewing writers about their obsessions and repulsions and how they influence writing. Scroll down to read their interviews with two writers we love, Linda Ashok and Jamel Brinkley.


LINDA ASHOK

Maria Prudente: I find that writers need to return to their obsessions in their work. Do you write about your obsessions and, is it challenging to find new ways to write about them?

Linda Ashok: I am not sure about what is implied by obsession. Are you referring to recurring motifs? The thing about my writing is that I never have to think too hard and I mostly go with the flow; writing is quite organic for me as I extract elements from my unsettling dreams. In this process, there are elements that appear quite frequently but they neither demand anything nor dictate. 

MP: Are you ever driven to write about what repulses you? How do you fight the urge to not write around it but through it?

LA: Like anybody else, I am repulsed by any kind of violence but I do write about it because it is therapeutic for me. It helps me to see the underlining of what we perceive as violence. It also builds familiarizes the readers to recognize violences they experience in their personal or public spaces.

Joanna Cleary: As a Communications and Branding professional as well as a writer, how do you think the increasing role of virtual reality and communication in our lives has affected your creativity and creative work? 

LA: Well, virtual reality has built and broken our lives in many ways. In my case, I leveraged virtual reality to expand my creative pursuit; I lived places before I literally travelled to those places. Imagining I am in a certain place, imagining the lives of people local to those places, helped me manifest my desire to live those places in real life through positive affirmations. I experienced their poetry, their struggle, their joys through virtual reality. So yes, it contributed a lot to my writing while also exposing me to a lot of toxicity that affected my mental health in several ways. That I am currently dealing with social anxiety is because of being overwhelmed by the duality of people as seen on social media vs real life. And of course when your life is affected, it does reflect in your work too.

JC: Can you speak to what inspired the title of your 2012 book of poetry, whorelight

LA: My book came out in 2017. I imagined a different name for it and that was whorefrost. But over the four years of its preparation, I found a mention of ‘whorefrost’ somewhere on the net and that really upset me. I wanted to have a unique name to my book. So I continued brainstorming until one day I coined ‘whorelight’ to define how light streams into our darkness, sleeps with it, and leaves everything illuminated. I feel it is akin to those sex-workers who somehow fill in a lot of void in the lives of their customers; and therefore ‘whorelight’ talks about many such moments and experiences that prostituted to fill the many spaces in my life forever inquisitive about meanings.

MP: I was so moved by your poem, ‘We Two Women Can Father A Child.’ Can you elaborate on how that particular piece came to be? 

LA: A certain phase of my childhood happened in the company of my biological mother and my step mother. My mother was too courageous to share her family space with my step mother and she did it to help my dad manage his finances better. In the wake of the world being more accomodating of non-binary relationship, that childhood experience of mine acted as a prop wherein I imagined my mothers discussing how they alone can father me without my dad being around. It is also a depiction of my queer sensibilities imagining two women fathering a child with more considerate human values.

JC: When I read “chew my tongue like a cannibal/ eating a red, fleshy berry” from your poem, ‘Tongue-Tied,’ I was  struck by the theatricality of language. Do you ever perform your work live?

LA: I do. But to myself. These poems are not for a listening audience as the kind of patience they have wouldn’t be enough to simulate the interior theatricality of the poem or poems as such. And even if I am given a very patient and perceptive audience, I would still refrain from performing it as these are very intimate pieces. 


JAMEL BRINKLEY

Maria Prudente: Writers seem to write a lot about their obsessions. Maybe that obsession is a place or a type of person. A writer I know constantly writes about going back inside her mother’s womb. Do you write about any of your obsessions?

Jamel Brinkley: I would say I do, but I’m usually not aware of that fact until after after I’ve written and I can retrospectively look at my work to truly see what I have done. For example, only in hindsight did I see that in my book I was writing about, and obsessed with, families, brotherhood and male friendship, masculinity, and love of various kinds.

MP: Are you driven to write about what repulses you? How do you face that challenge head on?

JB: I think I’m driven to write about what fascinates me, about what I have questions about, and perhaps that sometimes means writing about what repulses me. I think the challenge is making sure that what I’m writing about is interesting to me, so if feeling repulsed is the only response I have to a character or action, then I probably won’t write about it. Complicated or even contradictory emotion is key in driving and sustaining my interest in any story.

Joanna Cleary: According to your website’s description of your collection, A Lucky Man, the work “reflects the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class—where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.” Can you speak to what luck means to you? Is it an obsession or a repulsion, or both? 

JB: I wouldn’t say that luck is a repulsion; maybe it’s something like an obsession. On the one hand, luck, or the idea of being lucky, is one that I mean to take seriously in the book. I hope that every story contains at least one moment of genuine joy or pleasure or grace for my characters, the kind of moment that makes one feel lucky to be alive. On the other hand, or at the same time, I do mean my invocation of luck to be seen with some irony. For the protagonist of my title story, for instance, luck comes to mean something painful. His life hasn’t turned out the way he expected. And the idea of being fortunate, of being blessed by fate, means that his sense of deserving good things in his life is a lie. What I’m talking about now isn’t unrelated to the myth of meritocracy, which, for some reason, so many people in this country believe in wholeheartedly.  

JC: According to your website, you have many literary events and workshops coming up. Can you speak to how you find that participating in these events influence your work as a writer?  

JB: It’s a real pleasure to meet with readers of my work and with those who are interested in reading my work, and it’s fun to meet with people who are devoted to the writing life. That said, there is a difference between being an author (a public figure) and a writer (a private figure), and participating in all these events has pulled me away from writing. I’ve felt less like an artist than a promoter of my own work. In response to that feeling, I’m learning to be a little less precious about the conditions I require. For example I’m learning how to write in the sterile environments of hotel rooms and, at times, even on airplanes, instead of always needing my apartment, my desk, my coffee mug.

JC: Can you tell us about your current writing fellowship at Stanford?

JB: The Stegner Fellowship is a two-year gift of time and money for which I am very grateful. I benefit from the amazing writing and insights of my peers, the other fiction fellows, when we meet for workshop every week. And we all benefit from working with the Stanford creative writing faculty, with incredible people like Elizabeth Tallent and Chang-rae Lee.


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Author of whorelight, LINDA ASHOK is the 2017 Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Chichester, UK. She is the publisher of RLFPA Editions, Founder/President of RædLeaf Foundation for Poetry & Allied Arts that funds the annual RL Poetry Award (since 2013), and the founding editor of the Best Indian Poetry series. For features, press coverage, published works and more, visit lindaashok.com

 

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Photo credit: Arash Saedinia

 

JAMEL BRINKLEY is a graduate of Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has received fellowships from Kimbilio Fiction, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and Stanford University. A Lucky Man is his first book. He lives in California.

Conversation between Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Blog editors, Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente, talk about their writing lives and its challenges, writers who inspire them, the importance of an artistic community, and, of course, blogging and their plans for the Inklette blog!


Maria Prudente: Hi, Joanna. I’m going to start us off here and begin with sharing a little about me. I grew up in the suburbs of a tiny university town in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I tacked up pictures of New York City behind my bed. I always knew I wanted to be an actress, so I moved a few weeks after I graduated high school to begin my conservatory program in musical theatre. It was super intense. I barely remember eating, sleeping or talking to people, really, but it helped me get started on my career at 19 and, I never looked back. When I was younger I made everything so romantic and that included how I viewed my life as a performer but being an actor is tough. Your dreams build and break within an instant. A couple of years ago, I found myself emotionally and creatively depleted. I wanted to create myself all over again. My brain was hungry and I longed to fulfill the academic in me. Now, I’m at Columbia in my second year studying Creative Writing. Before I go more into detail on that, I want to know about you and your life at the University of Waterloo where you are studying English and Theatre, correct?

Joanna Cleary: Correct! I grew up in Toronto, Ontario (that’s in Canada, eh) and, much like you always knew you wanted to act, I somehow always knew that I wanted to write. Even though I didn’t start to write creatively until I was a teenager, my childhood was consumed with books and visits to the library. I found there was a specific sense of peace within the worlds that the written word created, one which I couldn’t always find in real life. Because I spent multiple periods in my childhood struggling with anxiety, retreating to these worlds offered me a break from my own problems. I found that reading, and later, writing, helped me understand myself and the world around me more deeply. As I began to branch out into writing plays as well as poetry and the occasional rambling short story, I realized I want to create worlds that do for other people what the written word did for me growing up; I want to help people escape, reflect on who they are, and find the strength to return to reality more prepared to cope with it. This brings me to a question I have for you, Maria – how did you first get into writing?  

MP: I started writing as a kid. It offered me a sense of relief. You mentioned struggling with anxiety which I can completely identify with and it all began in my childhood. Growing up I could put on this face of being very normal and, you know, playing flashlight tag with the other kids in the neighborhood, but, I also felt like an outsider. I was the only kid with a single parent who also happened to be sick. I spent an unusual amount of time worrying. I was alone a lot. We didn’t have as much money as the other families. When you are a kid, your imagination is what keeps you company but, I found that writing was a more immediate way to express myself. I could create the worlds of other people and writing allowed me to consistently return to those worlds.

JC: I completely agree that your imagination keeps you company when you’re a child, but, especially as you grow up, writing can offer a more direct way to create the worlds you want to make real. Having always been an introvert, I also felt like a bit of an outsider many times during my childhood. I often felt as though there was something about other people that I didn’t quite understand, or that I was afraid of. Reading and writing helped me cope with this, as I didn’t need the people in books to understand me; I was happy just to co-exist in their worlds. Growing up, I often became extremely irritated when watching book-to-movie adaptations that didn’t create the exact world I had imagined for the book in question (which was most of the time, if not always). However, as I continued to grow older (and realized that I may have a slightly obsessive need for control), I realized that subjectivity is one of the most empowering aspects of art. Nobody can ever completely control how another person writes, as we all have unique writing styles, as well as writing ideas, that can’t ever be truly micromanaged by others. With this in mind, I began to delve into writing as a form of emotional expression that created the worlds I knew I imagined and nobody else did, at least not in the same way. Do you find writing to be an immediate form of expression for you as well?

MP: Absolutely. Today, it’s still a great relief to put a word to a feeling. The writing program at Columbia has challenged me in such a wonderful way. It’s humbling to sit in a workshop and listen to people read your work aloud without you, the writer, being able to explain it or justify your choices. I admit I am hypersensitive. I have all but cried when a piece gets gutted because one tiny moment in the story doesn’t click with them. I try not to sit and self-loathe. I’m getting better but some days can be harder than others. I do care a lot but I try to pick what’s necessary to think about for revision and what isn’t. I try to stay focused on improving content and less on perceptions of my work over all. Some things will resonate deeply with people and some things won’t. How do you deal with workshops and critiques of your work? How do you move forward?

JC: I can be extremely sensitive to feedback if I feel that my work is misinterpreted. For instance, if I write a piece that specifically intends to play with the conventions of typical narrative structure and people spend all their time talking about how they don’t understand the lack of a proper beginning/middle/end, I’ll struggle not to dismiss feedback as having missed the entire point of what I was trying to do. My childhood desire for control clearly has not diminished in the slightest. However, the creative writing and play development workshops I’ve participated in throughout my university education have taught me that everyone has something useful to say, even if I may not agree with it. For instance, comments made by people talking about the lack of a conventional narrative arc in a piece without a clearly defined beginning/middle/end may help me understand that I need to be clearer about my aesthetic intentions. As a creative writing professor once told me, we’re usually the most defensive about criticism we know is true. Hence, I always try to keep an open mind when listening to feedback, even if my gut reaction is to shut down. If I succeed, I often find that people offering feedback can help me as much as my initial sources of writing inspiration. Speaking of which, can you speak to which writers influence you?

MP:  When I was eleven, I stole “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides from my brother’s bookshelf and read it over and over. I became obsessed with that story the same way the boys in the book grow obsessed with the Lisbon sisters. I read the
“The Marriage Plot” on a trip to London and had to stop reading because I was irritated I hadn’t written it myself. I like the darkness to Eugenides’ work. I’m a massive fan of playwrights. After getting the chance to put their work into action, it’s hard not to feel creatively committed to them. From Shaw, Strindberg, and Chekhov to John Osborne, Ariel Dorfman, Mamet, Rabe, LaBute. I think Leslie Jamison should be required reading for nonfiction writers on how to master work that combines the personal with research. My list keeps growing as I keep learning. Who are you favorite writers?

JC: I love e.e. cummings, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Lucille Clifton, Sarah Kay, Lauren Groff, and Hanya Yanagihara (in no particular order). One of my favourite hobbies, however, is picking up a writing collection or visiting an online magazine, going to a random page, and reading what’s on there. I love discovering new artists as much as I love revisiting familiar ones. Becoming suddenly acquainted with the unique style of a contemporary artist I have never heard of before often inspires me to continue writing when I feel stuck. It’s important to remember what makes you want to write and what you want to write for. I often find simply being exposed to the sheer desire to write and the energy that the written word can have compels me to write for those moments and emotions in my own life that can’t be expressed in any other way. What about you – what you you write for/against? What compels you to write?

MP: I do feel this urgency to write about what repulses me. I had a professor encourage this notion to our small group of maybe six writers last summer. It’s tougher in non-fiction. In that particular class, I started writing about being a hypochondriac and having contamination OCD. I’d had some distance from it so I understood that I could imbue some humor into it because on some level it is funny. It also feels deeply selfish. I was a nervous wreck to share that with my class but they encouraged me to go even further. That same summer I had this assignment that I didn’t like. We had to do an art review and I was having a tough time picking one piece so, I ended up writing this ultra-cynical meta-critique on several paintings and simulations. It ended up being this dark-humor commentary on corporatized art in Chelsea. I had clearly made a mistake choosing Chelsea Galleries and yet it worked! I would say that I am like most non-fiction writers: I write to understand. I have to ask because we are co-editors for Inklette, do you have any prior experience writing blogs?

JC: Almost none! Aside from a writing a few Inklette blog posts over the past few years, blogging is a new medium for me. This is why, after having been a poetry reader/dditor ever since I joined Inklette, I wanted to try and form of writing with which I have less experience. I’ve always been interested in creative nonfiction and I love reading blogs because they are often intimately related with the idea of knowing writers as people. I believe that is essential to the empathetic interpersonal bonds that writing creates. However, I know that you have a blog because I’ve shamelessly stalked you on it. Tell me more about your blogging experience!    

MP: Oh gosh! Sometimes I forget that it’s out there and I suddenly feel naked. I didn’t know you posted for Inklette before, that’s so cool! My blog, Pink Moon, is a year old. It is a mixture of the political and the poetic. It’s not meant to be polished, it’s messy and honest. I insert my voice in the kinds of work I post there but, for Inklette, I think the work should primarily be about telling the stories of others and exploring shared conversations. Supporting other writers, learning about them and reading what they have to say is so important for our growth as writers.

JC: I agree – community is essential to the life of writing, which is why I’m thrilled to be working on the Inklette blog with you. As for everyone reading, we hope that you’ll stick around for more messiness, opinions, art, and random tidbits coming your way.

MP: Agreed! Stay tuned!


149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is an undergraduate student double majoring in English Literature and Theatre and Performance at the University of Waterloo. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The /tƐmz/ Review, The Hunger, Pulp Poets Press, Every Pigeon, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Subterranean Blue Poetry, among others.

 

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MARIA PRUDENTE has written about feminist ethics for Manifest-Station and is featured in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s upcoming anthology of nonfiction short stories. Maria is a professional stage and film actress. She received her training from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy with a concentration in Musical Theatre performance. Maria is the Content Editor at CountrySkyline, LLC and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. She lives in NYC where she studies Creative Writing at Columbia University.

 

Interview with Cema D’Souza

Read Cema D’Souza’s story here. 


 Inklette: How did your story, “Unseen,” come into being? What was your inspiration?

Cema: Trying to overcome a writer’s block was my inspiration, honestly!

Inklette: What is your relationship to writing? When did you first begin and what do you prefer writing?

Cema: I’ve been writing ever since I began reading at the age of ten. The process of story-writing always fascinated me. I would wonder how an author concocts brilliant plots and characters to bring out stories. So, I tried writing my own. I prefer writing short fiction.

Inklette: Are there any works or authors who have significantly influenced you? 

Cema: Harnidh Kaur’s poetry, definitely.

Inklette: Do you have a writing community around you? What is the writing scene like where you live? 

Cema: I currently reside in Bangalore, India and there is quite a wonderful writing community here. I’m lucky to call some of the best writers I know friends.

Inklette: What is the kind of writing you want to see more of?

Cema: Since it is so hard to find representation in mainstream literature, I would say Indian Writing in English.


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CEMA D’SOUZA, 19, is currently studying in Christ University, Bangalore. She’s happiest when surrounded by books and dogs.