The COVID-19 Series: Interview with Michele Filgate


TRANSCRIPT

Devanshi Khetarpal: Hello everyone! So I am Devanshi Khetarpal, the editor-in-chief and founder of Inklette Magazine. And this is the second blog in the COVID-19 Blog Series of Inklette Magazine. Joining me today is Michele Filgate. Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and the editor of a critically-acclaimed anthology based on her Longreads essay, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About. So let’s get right into it! Hey Michele!

Michele Filgate: Hello! How are you?

DK: Good. And so firstly, Michele, I just wanted to ask you how you are doing today and you know, how these past few months have been for you with this pandemic and how you have been holding up throughout all of this.

MF: Yeah, so, I was actually in Italy when the pandemic started. I was there from early January and I was supposed to be there until April 1st. But we left– my boyfriend was with me– and we left when the country went into complete lockdown and Trump had issued the travel ban. So I think that we flew home on Friday, March 13th. And it was really weird to come from, to go from Italy where the pandemic had been seeming to slowly unfold and then really escalate, to coming back to New York where, obviously, you know, New York city has been like an epicenter of the outbreak as well. So it’s been really weird. Time is doing something different for me now, like folding in on itself, you know? I feel like a lot of the days feel the same and then some days seem really short and some days seem really long. And I think that having the nicer weather out is helping. But the weather is getting a lot nicer. Today, particularly in New York, it’s going to be a high of eighty-four. So I went out for a run. And that definitely helps. But there are so many surreal moments where stuff almost has become normalised. It really feels normal to go out and wear a mask now where I can see other people in masks. But I still can’t get over some of the changes in the city, you know, like just the idea that now we have to keep six feet apart from people and New York is a place where, as you know from having lived here, people don’t really usually do that when they are walking down the small sidewalks. And you can’t smile at strangers, you know. Your face is hidden behind a mask which is kind of weird. Yesterday, I went for a long walk and it was really weird because I walked past the hospital on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. And I saw a refrigerated truck there which obviously is being used for a makeshift morgue. And it was…I have seen photos of those trucks in, you know, news articles. But it’s another thing seeing it in front of you. And it just really hit home like, oh god, you know, like this is real. This is not a bad movie. Like this is actually happening and it was really really hard to see.

Refrigerated trucks lined up on Randalls Island, New York.

Refrigerated trucks lined up on Randalls Island, New York. Source: The Washington Post.

So there are moments like that that are really sobering and horrifying. And then there are moments where you see people coming together and it makes me proud to be a New Yorker in those moments. Like, you know, just even the seven o’clock everyday when people are cheering for essential workers and, you know, leaning out their windows or using pots and pans and being creative to make noise. You know, some people play New York, New York in some of the neighbourhoods that I have walked around in. So that, moments like that, it feels like, okay we’re all in this together. You know? And I keep having to remind myself that this isn’t just something that we all individually are going through. It’s something we’re collectively going through. So, yeah.

DK: And, yeah, I mean I thought that it was interesting you said that “time is folding in on itself” because it definitely is. Like, I had to manage this semester in kind of two timezones, you know? And it was challenging and it kind of makes me, kind of lose all notions of time that I had but also, I think as a writer or as, you know, readers, we’re constantly seeing this in novels, like you know going back and forth in time. And you write a lot about, or at least I think, you know, there’s a lot of the past that comes in, and a lot of like, you know, loneliness, memory.

MF: Yeah.

DK: I am thinking of how that maybe has changed for you as a writer or as a reader. You know, those notions.

MF: Yeah. I have been thinking a lot about time and the body. Particularly with one of my favourite books of the year that comes out next week. It’s called Drifts by Kate Zambreno. Have you read anything by her before?

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Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts (Credit: Heather Sten). Source: Poets & Writers

DK: No, but I saw your interview with her on your website.

MF: Yeah, I interviewed her several years ago for The Paris Review Daily but her new book is a book that is about…it’s a novel, right, but it’s semi-autobiographical and it’s about a writer living in Brooklyn– Kate lives in Brooklyn– working on a book called Drifts, which is the name of this book, keeping notebooks and trying to kind of be able to…she’s attempting to replicate what it’s like to move through the world as a writer, and the way a writer thinks and the way a writer makes connections between everything that they can and so she folds in a lot of other artists and not just writers, you know. She does talk a lot about Rilke and his work habits but she also talks about, you know, a bunch of artists too and filmmakers, Agnès Varda being one of them. And so I really love the way she writes it because it is written in these fragmented bursts and it’s mimicking like writing in a notebook, which is what the narrator is doing and there are just so many incredible moments in this. I really feel like it’s a book of our moment because this narrator is feeling incredibly isolated, right? She’s in her home a lot of the time and she’s trying to work on this project. She’s walking around her neighbourhood and taking photos of the same trees everyday, noticing how one of them looks like the famous painting, The Scream. You know she’ll walk around and see her neighbours like that.

the-scream

The Scream (1895) by Edvard Munch.

At one point, when it’s during Halloween and there’s cobwebs that are up as decorations and she connects that to a famous philosopher. So she’s always jumping from one thing to another. And I just, I really really love how she does that. But she’s also…this is a novel for our moment because it’s about isolation in many ways and the ways that writers can feel that solitude a lot but there’s also a lot about being in communion with other artists, with other minds and that’s something that we can do in this moment, right? Like we’re not socially distanced from the art that we need right now. And many people, I’ve noticed, are, you know, actually like reading a lot, and watching a lot of movies and in a way that they couldn’t during the first month of this because we were all like, what is happening, you know, constantly checking the news and I feel like now that it’s been normalised a little bit, everyone I know is kind of trying to turn to something that can feed them, nourish them during this time. I actually saw, I forget who wrote it, but I just saw a few weeks ago an article  about how watching foreign films is the perfect thing to do during this moment because you can’t be looking at your phone and at social media and the news because you have to read the captions, the subtitles, and so I was like, yeah that’s actually kind of brilliant. I’ve been watching a few French films which I really love. So yeah, I think that the moment we’re in, while it’s incredibly depressing in a lot of ways, it’s also, it can be intellectually stimulating for those of us who are lucky enough to not have to be out working on the frontlines of this right now.

DK: Yeah. Yeah, and I think what you said kind of brought me back to… I was reading one of your essays, which I think, I really love, you wrote for Lit Hub, which is ‘Writers, The Loneliest Artists of All.’ And you know, you have this one line there which really kind of stuck with me: “We are ourselves before we are actually ourselves.” And I have been thinking about that a lot because it’s kind of like, like I am still able to write at home even though I was so used to going out for walks and you know, sitting in cafes and writing at public places, and listening to conversations. But I am still able to imagine people in a sense or imagine characters, imagine language or what happens. And it’s interesting, you know, like, how there’s this kind of…how I think that we kind of knew this as writers about the practice of writing but we are being reintroduced to it in a radically different way. Or we kind of knew all these things about literature. But they’re just coming to light in such drastic, dramatic ways. And there was a really interesting webinar with Olivia Laing where she kind of said the same thing. Like, you know, she’s going back to all the artists that she had been thinking of and kind of, you know, seeing like, “oh there was rage here” that she didn’t see or maybe there was… like, she said we have to use it to save ourselves from this crisis of imagination. And yeah, I mean, I was just wondering how your writing practices have changed at home. Like, do you write at a different place now or do you have a different method of writing or conceiving a writing project?

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The Lonely City by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2016)

MF: Yeah. Well, first, before I answer that, I just want to say that I am glad you brought up Olivia Laing because she’s another writer for this moment that we’re in. Her book, in particular, The Lonely City, which looks at different artists through the lens of loneliness is another great book for everyone who’s feeling isolated right now. But yeah, in terms of my writing, I am mostly writing in my journal right now. I am really trying, there’s some essays that I want to be writing and I have been taking some notes. And I’ve been really trying to kind of, when I go on walks, observe as much as I can because I feel like I am going to want to remember the moment that we’re in right now and be able to process it months from now when I can see things clearly that I couldn’t necessarily see right now. So I am really thinking a lot, trying to pay attention as I am walking, what’s around me. And I’m trying to think of what else. I mean, for the first, like, six weeks that I got back from Italy, I couldn’t write at all. It was just total mayhem and just like me in survival mode and I couldn’t even read at first which is not like me at all. Books are always things that kind of keep me grounded. Then finally what I did was I tried reading a favorite book of mine from when I was a kid because I thought, okay, what I really need right now is some kind of comfort, right? So I re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I hadn’t read since I was twelve or something, I don’t even remember. I still remembered so many of the scenes so vividly even though I hadn’t read this book in several decades. And it was so…it was like seeing an old friend again in a way that some characters just live inside of us. So that really brought me back to like reading in my normal way and thinking in my normal way.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Harper Perennial, 2018)

But yeah, right now, I would say the biggest thing I am doing for my practice is writing by hand in my notebook. I started doing a thing that my former professor, Hannah Tinti, taught me which has been so helpful. And it actually, it comes from Lynda Barry who is a fantastic graphic novelist, and it’s called ‘the five-minute journal.’ And what you do is you divide a page into four quadrants and in the first quadrant, you put seven things that you did that day. So it can be anything from like, eating a bagel to taking a shower to whatever, you know, very basic things. And the second quadrant and that’s…this one is the most important one to me, is seven things that you noticed so it’s really about practising the art of observation. And for me, what has really hit home for me is how when you’re in the same space everyday, day after day, especially in quarantine, when you are walking around your neighbourhood, your eyes glaze over things that you’re just used to seeing all the time. You just, like, it’s the same as if you’re reading something that you just wrote, right? Your eyes will skip over certain sentences maybe. So this is to me, the second quadrant where you write the seven things down that you noticed, is all about training yourself to really see the world through a pair of curious eyes that might be looking at things that you see all the time in a new way. And also just noticing the gradual changes of things too, you know, like trees change in our neighbourhood. You know, there might be a different piece of garbage on the sidewalk in front of somebody’s house, you know, there might be something that someone put out on their stoop. So practising that kind of, like, deep observation is key. And then, in the third quadrant– and this is easier to do when we’re not quarantined– but you can, you know, at least here in New York you can still hear people talk when you’re walking past them, but it’s to eavesdrop and write down one piece of dialogue that you overhear. I used to really love to do that on the subway, in particular, because… and in cafes because you just are always surprised at what people might say and they don’t realize people are listening. And in the fourth quadrant, you doodle something and I suck at drawing but the whole idea of that is just that doodling is all creativity. And so you can really have fun with it and, you know, I bought, like, glitter crayons, like, you know, and coloured pencils and stickers and stuff. So you can really just make this journal your own and the thing that Hannah Tinti said about it when she taught this to my class is that it serves as a memory palace for you so that when you’re stuck with your writing, you can go back and flip it open to any day. And these things that you wrote down that didn’t take a long time to do can open up all kinds of associations and memories for you for things to write about. So, I love that.

What My Mother And I Don't Talk About

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, edited by Michele Filgate (Simon & Schuster, 2019). Source: NPR

DK: And kind of speaking on that note I think that, you know, your essay What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, was kind of a generative project and a writing prompt for so many other writers that, you know, initially made that anthology. And it’s kind of interesting and fascinating to me not just because it was, you know, just one of those things that I, you know, you never think about writing or telling anyone, but it was also interesting because I think we’re living in a culture where we’re so…we’re so used to like taking ownership of our ideas and kind of not having them open to others for adaptation, for experimentation. So I think that it was really interesting that there was an entire anthology that was shaped around this one, you know, idea, this essay, this one piece of writing. But at the same time, it was so different for every writer. And I think that, I kind of must have briefly said it, but it was, you know, it was just so…it was so fascinating to see that everyone had a different story to tell. Like,I remember being at the event at McNally Jackson and it was like, you know, the whole panel just had…you know, some had this perfect relationship and some had…which is you know, again, very hard to write about but it was interesting. And so did you ever feel, um, did you ever think or reflect on this culture that asks you to take ownership of your ideas or were you… I mean, obviously you must’ve been very happy with everyone taking to it in different ways but yeah, what do you think about this, in general?

MF: Well, I think it’s just really interesting that everyone did have a really different story in that anthology but yet they’re people with completely different backgrounds and relationships with their moms. There were also some common threads that could be found throughout some of these pieces as well so I found that fascinating too. But I think it’s a universal thing that our relationship to our mother, even if we never knew her or if she’s no longer here, especially like from people who I’ve talked to who’ve lost their mothers, you know, whose mothers passed away, they’re still in an involving relationship even though the person is no longer here. There’s still that relationship there, right? And our relationships change over time and the stories that we tell change, they might change over time depending on where we are in our life. Something we focus on now might be different ten years from now, so if I went and asked all those writers a decade from now to write about what they don’t talk about with their moms, again, it could be a very, very different thing and that’s fascinating to me. So I am really glad about all the differences that emerged in that book too though, I think that it’s, it’s a testament to all the different kinds of stories that can be told about one of the most significant relationships in a lot of people’s lives. And so, yeah, I was really, really pleased with all the different stories that came in for that book and to me, it was very important from the get-go to have them be, you know, a variety, to have a wide spectrum because… especially my editor felt this way too. We didn’t want it to be just like, “here are a bunch of abuse essays,” or, you know, depressing pieces. We wanted to have different emotions that came up while people read and we wanted different experiences so that’s why in that book there were some people who are extremely close to their mom and some people who are, you know, not so close. And so, I, I…yeah.

DK: Yeah, and I mean it’s interesting because…I was just thinking like how I am back at home with my mother and you know, some people are away from their mothers and some aren’t close to them. And that’s such a…that’s a different and difficult thing for everyone because, you know, your relationships are tinged by loss in a very different way now. You know, with this pandemic where everyone is vulnerable and everyone can make everyone vulnerable in a different way and at the same time, it’s interesting being unexpectedly in these closed spaces with, you know, your parents or anyone really, or even no one. And so I wondered if, you know, this is just out of curiosity, if you’ve been in touch with the writers or the writers’ whose relationships to their mothers have changed, or relationships with others has changed in this time or what my mother and I don’t talk about has changed for any of them.

MF: I don’t know actually about the writers who are in the book right now who…I think a lot of them are probably not with their moms but yeah, I’ve heard more from friends who are, you know, quarantined with their significant others and the challenges with that. I think that no matter who you are quarantined with, the fact is that it’s hard to spend a long amount of time with anyone no matter how much you love them, so. But I am sure that people who are staying with their family right now, that brings up its own challenges. Yeah, I’d be curious how is it for you being back with your mom right now. I mean, is it good?

DK: I mean, I think that… I’m living with my parents and my grandparents, so it’s kind of…it’s difficult because, it’s kind of, I have to keep them patient and not have them be agitated. Like ,my grandparents really want to go out, they really want to meet their friends and…

MF: Yeah.

DK: …they lead lonely lives and they don’t have work. But I think that, I think everything’s fine with my parents so far, so right now I’ve just kind of been in my own space being like, ‘I have to write this essay or get this thing out, or I have to read.’ So I think it’s kind of, I have enough to occupy me at the moment but I don’t know how it’s going to be when, you know, things ease and I just have more time and, but…

MF: Right. It is interesting because you can kind of, you know, lose yourself in your work it sounds like. Which is great that you can carve out the space for that.

DK: Yeah, and it’s definitely a privilege. But I think it’s also changed like a lot of things that… I do notice my mom and I are not talking about this breakup I had which I am over with but I know she wants to talk about it or something, you know, so it’s interesting and I was thinking about that. Like there…and I can only think of all these funny things that we don’t talk about at the moment, you know. Like, who made better banana bread or something. But it’s definitely been interesting to think about how, I mean, even just being with our bodies in different ways is so…I mean I think that I was, I mean, speaking of New York, it’s kind of this place where you interact with so many bodies or your body becomes so porous in a certain sense like, I was thinking of the feeling of being on the subway and you don’t really have a choice and you need a certain abandon moving in New York. And it’s difficult now to be in a space where I think that a lot of my, in my writing too, it’s like the sensory part that has been limited to a certain extent where, you know, there is not enough touch or not the full spectrum of it, or there’s not enough sight and sound or the full spectrum of it. So I have to rely on my memory of my senses and I wondered how you are dealing with this sensory limitation.

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An empty subway train in New York City, March 17, 2020. Source: Reuters

MF: That’s a great question, yeah. Um, well part of the journalling that I talked about really relies on focusing on sensory details so that helps a lot. But I think by going outside for walks, I still feel like, yes, the world has changed, but I still see it around me. It’s still the world. It’s a different world but it’s still the world. So there are still so many things happening around you, unfolding around you. But I often, when I am writing, I am writing about past experiences anyway typically. So I usually have to rely on the memories of those senses. And sometimes something like a smell can bring that back or listening to a song from that time can bring it back, or looking at a photo or reading emails from…you know. There are certain things that can jolt a memory but yeah, I think right now people do feel kind of confined and trapped and you’re experiencing kind of the same sensory things over and over if you are stuck in a house or apartment, in my case, a tiny one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, you know. I think, yeah, I just think that like the world is still going and we have to remind ourselves of the importance of writing too. I think that I heard a lot of writers saying in the beginning, and I kind of felt this way too, when we were kind of hitting the peak, people, a lot of writers were kind of like, what…why? What does it matter what we do compared to someone who can save someone’s life, you know. A medical professional or somebody who working in a grocery store and letting people, enabling people to still eat right now. It was kind of hard to grapple with the role of the writer in what all of this means. But for me, it’s become abundantly clear what matters over even the past several weeks, which is that stories have always been what have saved me and how I have made sense of the world. And people are turning to stories and art right now to understand what’s happening and they will really need to keep doing that in the years to come after this, trying to understand this moment. So another thing I have been doing to help my writing is listening to a lot of like, creative, ‘self-helpy’ podcasts while I am on these walks. So Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Sugar Calling,’ which is a new podcast where she calls writers who are over sixty and talks to them about the moment we’re in and their creative process. I absolutely love that podcast. She just interviewed Billy Collins, the poet, recently. And she had a great one with Amy Tan. So, and then another favorite podcast of mine is Krista Tippett’s ‘On Being.’ Do you listen to that podcast at all? Have you ever listened to that?

 

DK: No, I haven’t but I’ve listened to Cheryl Strayed’s.

MF: I love Cheryl. Well, Krista Tippett does, so it’s a spirituality podcast but I don’t consider myself a religious person at all and she, I’m just more interested in, like, the fact that she interviews a bunch of poets and writers on this show as well. And recently they had a book club about Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart, because I think that some Buddhist principles are really going to help me through this moment right now. So that’s, yeah, so those podcasts. Dani Shapiro also has a podcast called, I think it’s called ‘The Way We Live Now,’ that she just started where she’s interviewing different people about how their lives have changed since the pandemic began and there’s a great one with the writer Esmé Weijun Wang on mental health and writing through this time period. Yeah, so all of those things have kind of helped me stay grounded and stay inspired and are good reminders of what matters the most.

DK: Yeah, and I think that’s really helpful. And thank you for those podcast recommendations. I have been, like, looking forward to listening to more, especially now that I am not. I think all the places where I listened to music or podcasts are also just like boiled down, like it was the subway or it was at other public places or just walking around and now at least in India, our, like, walking or running is still restricted at this point so it’s kind of, like, you know, it’s like, okay, I have to do this while I am cleaning, I guess, or sorting something. But I think just to end, I was wondering if you would have any book or film or, I mean, you gave us many podcast recommendations so that’s nice, but do you have any music recommendations?

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When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams (Picador, 2013)

MF: Yeah. I just read When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams, which is a fascinating book about…Terry’s mother leaves her journals to her and tells her not to look at them until after she’s gone and so after her mother dies, she looks at all of these journals and every single journal is blank. And so this book is really a meditation on why did my mother leave me all of her blank journals? And what does that mean? And what does a woman’s voice mean? And what does silence mean? And so, it’s this beautiful meditation on her relationship with her mom but also on trying to give her mother a story and to understand why her mother made the choice she did. So I loved it and it’s written in very short chapters so it’s kind of a good book for our moment. Like, it’s easy to read a couple at a time and then put it down if you need to, if you feel distracted. For movies, I just want to make sure I get the name right. Hold on. I think it’s called ‘Cleo from 5 to 7.’ Have you seen this before?

DK: I haven’t, no.

MF: I’m just googling. I just want to make sure I have the name right.

DK: The 1962 film?

MF: Yeah, so ‘Cleo from 5 to 7′ is an Agnès Varda film and it’s a woman who is walking around Paris while she’s waiting to get the results of a biopsy back. And so there are, first of all, I love it ’cause it’s a female director and Paris and it’s 1960s and it really has this sort of sense of being a flaneur walking, you know, going around the city and seeing so much of a city from that era. And for…it’s kind of a good thing to watch in isolation because if you’re really confined, it’ll make you feel like you’re walking around Paris with her. So I’d recommend that, haha. I also watched ‘Rear Window’ for the first time which I had never seen– the Alfred Hitchcock movie. And with James Stewart being stuck in an apartment in New York and witnessing a potential murder and so that was really a great movie to watch. And then I watched ‘Outbreak’ which probably wasn’t a smart thing to do because watching a pandemic movie maybe during a pandemic is probably not the best choice. But I am the kind of person who likes watching stuff about what I am going through so that movie was just entertaining in a cheesy 90s way. Those are some…

DK: These are some good recommendations. I was actually reading, or revisiting too, like, [Elena] Ferrante and started this book club. And it’s interesting because I am writing my entire thesis on cities and how women dissolve into cities and everything, so I think that it’s certainly interesting to imagine and watch it even in films and the TV series that are based on her works. Because it’s just such– and it’s Italy and it’s the south of Italy, it’s places I love and it’s interesting to feel…it’s interesting to feel both close and distant to those cities and to that language.

MF: Absolutely.

DK: Because I just don’t hear Italian now which is strange because I am used to hearing it sometimes or going to places where I can hear it. So yeah it’s been interesting. I can totally see…I am really interested in ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’ for that reason.

MF: Yeah, I think you’d like it. And have you read the Ferrante…I mean, have you watched those TV series based on the Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet?

DK: Yeah, I watched Season 1 and Season 2, I watched a couple of episodes. And so, like, I am gonna go back to it once I get to.

MF: It’s really good. So that was something that I have been watching in quarantine. And so that’s been making me incredibly nostalgic for Italy and it was so hard to leave Italy and not be able to, like it felt, I mean we really did leave at, like, four in the morning without saying goodbye to any of our friends that we had made there and just kind of fleeing the country to get home. And it was just this chaotic, crazy, long trip back where it was very disconcerting because, you know, wearing masks on the plane and kind of travelling at the peak worrying about catching the virus but yeah, so…so I have been watching that show a lot because I am obsessed with Ferrante and with all of Ferrante’s books but especially with the Neapolitan books and I think that the people who have directed the…I am not sure who the director is of the TV show, but whoever did it has really nailed the feelings of those books in so many ways. And he’s really captured– is it a man or a woman who is the director?

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L’Amica Geniale (My Brilliant Friend) dir. Saverio Costanzo. Source: IMDb

DK: It’s a man. And it’s interesting because it’s all in dialect. And yeah, I think, I was actually– I think that only men have so far adapted all of her works for film and TV, and Maggie Gyllenhaal will be the first woman to direct.

MF: Oh! Is she doing something?

DK: She is doing something on The Lost Daughter. And Olivia Colman’s going to be in it. So I am so excited. I…

MF: Oh my gosh!

DK: Yeah, and I, yeah. I think that’s one thing to look forward to.

MF: Oh, you’ve made my day! I had no idea, and I love Maggie Gyllenhaal and I had no idea she was doing this stuff. Wow! That’s very exciting.

DK: Yeah, I hope your day goes well and thank you for this interview.

MF: Of course! And good luck with everything. I hope you are able to get out of your house sometime soon to go for a walk. Is there any end in sight with that? Did they say that you guys will be able to leave anytime soon?

DK: I think they should be lifting restrictions soon and I think there are areas where, you know, one can certainly do that but at limited times obviously. So yeah I think that there is some end in sight to all of this.

MF: Thank goodness.

DK: And yeah, I am just glad that, you know, writers are writing.

MF: Me too.

DK: And they are not this existential crisis , thinking of ‘what are we here to do?’

MF: Right.

DK: Because writing is keeping us all afloat at this point.

MF: Exactly. Absolutely. Well, good luck with your writing.

DK: Thank you.

MF: Thanks.


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Photo Credit: Sylvie Rosokoff

Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and the editor of a critically acclaimed anthology based on her Longreads essayWhat My Mother and I Don’t Talk Aboutpublished by Simon & Schuster. Currently, she is an M.F.A. student at NYU, where she is the recipient of the Stein Fellowship. Her work has appeared in LongreadsThe Washington PostThe Los Angeles TimesThe Boston GlobeRefinery29SliceThe Paris Review DailyTin HouseGulf CoastThe RumpusSalonInterview MagazineBuzzfeedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewPoets & WritersCNN.comTime Out New YorkPeopleThe Daily BeastO, The Oprah MagazineMen’s JournalVultureVol. 1 Brooklyn, The Star TribuneThe Quarterly ConversationThe Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. She teaches creative writing at NYU, The Sackett Street Writers’ WorkshopCatapult, and Stanford Continuing Studies and is the founder of the Red Ink series. In 2016, Brooklyn Magazine named her one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture.” She’s a former board member of the National Book Critics Circle

Our Favorite Writing Prompts

It’s that time of year when the weather is changing, the world is being quarantined and folks are looking for new sources of inspiration and solace. Check out some of Inklette’s favorite writing prompts below to spark your creativity!



PROMPT 1

You’re sitting across the table from a character from your current work in progress. How do you start the conversation? What do you talk about? Are they talkative or reticent, joyous or subdued? Do they answer questions freely? What do they ask you? What do they notice about the world?


PROMPT 2
(Best done in a walkable place)

Pick a number between 1 and 10. Start walking, and when you reach an intersection, flip a coin. Heads, you go right; tails, you go left. Do this for as many times as the number you picked in the beginning. Write a short story set in the location that you end up in.


PROMPT 3

Choose an object near you or in front of you. Do each of these for five minutes: Ask questions to the object. Describe the object in as much detail as possible. Write the origin story of the object. Write a first-person narrative from the point of view of the object. Draw associations with the object– what else does it look like, what does it remind you of, what does it make you think– and talk about it without naming the object, using metaphors or similes. 


PROMPT 4 

Make a list of topics you would never write about, followed by a list of words you would never use. Then, write a poem on one of those topics and use as many of those words as you can.


PROMPT 5

Choose any letter from A-Z. Write the first stanza without using the letter you chose. Now choose a second letter. Write the second stanza without using the second letter as well as the first letter you chose. Keep going for 5-6 stanzas in the same way.



Cooked Meat

I

She could not remember the exact moment she forgot her name, or what time it was, what she was doing, what she was thinking. But she was sure she was running, or thinking of running. In her head, she had covered a thousand miles, even though she had never known the world beyond Balambala, the small, permanent village two hundred miles northwest of Garissa, Kenya, where she had lived all her sixteen years. She was sure too she was crying, wet-crying—with tears, that is—or dry-crying, without. She must have felt fear too, fear forceful enough to wipe out the memory of herself, like a storm that ravages a city into unrecognition.

But she remembered the moment she realised she had in fact forgotten her name: two minutes ago when the woman selling khat asked her the question. She was at the Rahole bus stage, having just landed in Garissa town after a three-hour journey on the back of a speeding Land Cruiser from Balambala. She stood next to the stalls, not knowing what to do, where to go, her face red with dust, like the soil of Saka.

Uhm…my name? She hesitated to drink even though she was dying of thirst. She then took one little sip, wincing as she swallowed.

Yes.

My name is…uhm…my name is…

It’s alright dear I understand if you don’t want to tell me.

She thought she was having a momentary brain freeze that would go away immediately. Of course I know my name, she thought. I’ve known it all my life. Nobody forgets their name. It’ll come to me in a flash.

II

She walked away from the stage down the road, lest someone at the stage might recognise her. The midday azan rung out from the mosques. She walked on, even though every step she took was a step closer to getting lost. There were so many people than she had ever seen. The more she walked the more buildings she saw. Back in Balambala when you walked for two minutes in any direction you ran smack into woods. Here they had no end.

Perhaps the day she forgot her name was the day mom and dad told her about it. It was noon, and she had just come from school with her friends Najma and Ayaan. It was the last day of the school term. The girls stopped at a shop on the way home and bought candy.

They sat on a wooden bench outside.

Why are you grinning like that? Najma said.

I’m not grinning like anything, the girl said.

Is it a boy? said Ayaan. It’s a boy isn’t it? Spill the news girl. I’ll buy you an extra candy if you tell us.

It’s definitely not a boy, Najma said. She’s too shy.

Boys are too boring, the girl said.

Not to mention weird, Ayaan said.

They watched people walking to and from the market centre, crossing the open field in front of the shop.

What did you score by the way? Najma grabbed the girl’s report card. Let’s see what we have here. Wow you came number two in the whole class?

This is why she’s been grinning like a camel in a plush forest, said Ayaan.

Give it back, the girl said. It’s nothing.

It’s not nothing. It says here you are “a self-driven girl with lots of promise,” Najma said.

Masha Allah, said Ayaan. I don’t know about you but I need to be driven to do anything. I failed so miserably my report card just shrivelled up.

The girls laughed and ate their candy. They talked about the things they would do during the holiday and agreed to meet the following morning at the computer centre of the library. They then went home. When the girl reached home before she dropped her bag her parents asked her to sit down and told her.

But dad, mum I can’t do that.

You are a grown woman, stop behaving like a child!

But I’m not ready for that.

At fourteen you should be a grandmother.

Please.

Do you want blessings or a curse?

Blessings.

Allah says in the Qur’an fear your God and obey your parents if you want to go to heaven. You want to go to heaven don’t you?

Of course.

Then you’ll do as we ask.

She had never known all her life what it means to be torn or helpless until that moment. But what had she known anyway, other than to go to school, play with her friends and help her mother with household chores? What anguish had she known other than worry why some of her friends had nicer dira dress than she did? For this she was not prepared. She could not bring herself to doing what they wanted her to do. Yet she loved her parents and she did not want to disobey them. Could she even? Wouldn’t she go to hell if she did?

III

She wandered through the streets, covering her face with the edge of her hijab to keep off the dust raised by rickshaws and motorbikes. Once a man with a hennaed beard came into her field of vision. She bolted down the road. She only stopped when she could no longer run. When she looked back no one was running after her.

She sat in front of a building to rest.

She considered another possible instance when she might have forgotten her name. It was exactly a month after her parents told her about it. A camel was slain. People flocked to their compound. They ate to their full. Najma and Ayaan walked by on their way home from school. They stood on the edge of the fence and watched. The women dressed her in new clothes, sprayed her with perfume, tattooed her arms and feet and wrapped her head in a black scarf. It was her wedding day, and she was terrified. At the new house on the edge of town the old man waited. The bridal party marched towards the house, the path lit by a glorious moonlight. They beat drums and blew horns and ululated. When they arrived the women circled the men and sang burambur. The men danced saar, clapping, leaping, grunting with ecstasy. They placed glittering corsages on her neck, and sang her praises. As they left, she clung to her sister and mother.

Don’t leave me.

You’ll be fine. Just do as we told you.

I’m afraid.

Just do as he asks.

Perhaps it was when she looked at herself in the mirror and failed to recognise the person looking back at her that she forgot her name. Or it could be the moment he shed her clothes off and she stood naked for the first time in the presence of a man, overcome with the urge to cover herself, though unsure whether it was because she lost her clothes or her name. Perhaps it was when he pushed himself inside her, his hennaed beard shining in the low light, her fragile form body crushed under his weight, her hands pinned down, unable to move, the insides of her thighs burning with pain, the bed sheet clenched between her teeth unable to muffle her gasps and cries, the water from her eyes filling her ears, watching the flickering lamp, the shadows on the mud wall, the lone lizard running along a wooden plank, listening to the sound of men grunting and women singing in the distance.

Or maybe it was when, soon after, all she did was chores all day and got beat at night, even after her stomach started swelling like the bruises on her face and a darkness overcame her and she had to drag herself get out of bed and she would forget what she was doing, half-present, her movements slowed, holding a spoon in mid motion while mixing a soup, forgetting wiping the table, staring into nothing, dry-crying, at night biting the bed sheet, so hard it had more holes than the veil she wore to her wedding, watching the shadows dancing, the lizard gaping, thinking of running.

IV

She came upon a big fork on the road. On the right side was a tarmacked road and on the left a dusty footpath full of holes. She stood there thinking which road to take, even though she didn’t know where neither led to. She felt a strange sensation she had never felt before. A thrill. For the first time in her life, she could choose to do something on her own. She could for instance choose to turn right or left, and no one would tell her otherwise. She could decide to take neither and turn back. All her life she had never done anything she wanted to do. Yet she felt guilty, naughty even, though she did not know why. It was the way she felt when she stole money from her mother or when she allowed her friend to copy an answer from her sheet during an exam.

Looking at both roads her first instinct was to take the dusty footpath because the tarmac road looked like something too clean, too big, something men and boys should take, something she was not worthy of. She felt the same guilt at the thought of picking a new name for herself, and her head still spun at her plan of finding some sort of work to do in this town. At home girls always ate from the bottom of the pot and slept on the older mattresses. They sacrificed their comfort for others and were forbidden to do many things. Having to choose for herself made her feel like she was doing something wrong because she did not know there was a difference between ‘forbidden’ and ‘wrong.’

V

After sunset—lost and tired—she emerged into a busy highway. It was so dark but you could see the dust on her feet, white as flour. On this side where she was were lines of shops and outdoor cafes where men chewed khat. In the distance where trees drooped were the silhouettes of mechanics repairing trucks. She found a makeshift shack that looked like a daytime tea shop made of used blankets and curtains. She was glad to stop walking, and she was glad to find a mat on the ground, though tattered and prickly. The water the woman had given her earlier was still untouched.

Fear filled every crevice of her being like the night filled everything. She had never found herself out at night, alone. Even in Balambala safety was synonymous with ‘home’ and ‘company’ ‘daylight.’ Mother would never let her walk to the edge of the village any time past six in the evening to fetch milk from their camels, even though her six-year-old brother could.

Mother, commenting on the delicate nature of women and predatory nature of men, had explained, A female is cooked meat, don’t you know?

She peeped outside to read all the names she could see written around her on the buildings and the shops. She could recall all the names of the people she knew. Like her baby’s name, Udgoon. She missed it, the baby they took from her the last time she ran away, and could hardly think of anything else since she had left home. At only seven months old she worried whether they might give him the wrong food or ants might enter her cot. She almost died giving birth to it and had passed out from the pain several times, or maybe it was the bleeding that wouldn’t stop. Or perhaps both. As she lay down and used her arms as a pillow she missed how it smiled and cooed—her baby—unaware of all the darkness that engulfed her mother. She felt dejected for bringing another little girl into a world cruel to little girls, another cooked meat into one supremely gifted at devouring, another little light at one that extinguishes so well.

She could not remember her name.

Yet she had not forgotten the names of her mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, villagers. She could remember people from when she was a toddler. She could even remember the names of people she met only once. Gedi, for instance, a man who once sold charcoal to her mother when she was three. Haibo, a distant relative who spent one night at their house when she was five. Yet she could not remember her own name. She tried recalling all the female names she knew, certain she would recognise hers once she heard it. Fatuma. Naima. Khadija. Hawa. Malyun. Zainab. Ambiya. Batula. Rukiya. Ifrah. Quresha… None sounded like the name she would know to be hers. Sometimes she would get this flash across her mind and she knew she had finally remembered her name, but it would turn out to be an incomplete thought, gone faster than the mind could process it, and all that would remain would be a memory of the memory, like an aftertaste whose origin one can’t recall.

She gave up trying to remember it.

VI

The night grew calm. The only sounds she could hear were the faint music coming from the khat shacks, her groaning stomach and her drumming heart when a lone walker shuffled by. She missed her old friends. She missed Najma’s stubbornness and Ayaan’s humour, and wondered what they were doing, whether they would suffer the same fate she did. Then it came to her: the exact moment she had forgotten her name. It was four days ago. She had run again, her baby strapped onto her back. She crossed the river into Hasaaqo on a boat.

Early next morning as she tried to board a car to Garissa, someone pulled her back down. The hennaed beard was the first thing she saw. On the way back, when they crossed the river, he grabbed her by the neck and took her back into the river. He dipped her head into the water. He held her steady, her arms flailing in the air, as the water drowned her lungs and her brain was starved of oxygen. She thought she was going to die. Perhaps she did. Because when he let her back up she could not remember her name.


mohamed aress is a writer, photographer and lawyer from Garissa, Northeastern Kenya. In his free time, he enjoys doing nothing, but when feeling particularly productive, he likes imagining the pleasures of watching camels make out. He binges on Key and Peele with the hope of bringing comic relief to his worryingly morbid fiction, though this has never worked. He currently works as a defender of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Vinifera

The vines grew. Leaves tangled. Fruit burst. The earth cracked in its effort to thrust up more life.

In the spring, people called Maggie lucky. In the summer, they said she was blessed. With autumn, her harvest came in large and radiant, straining the other growers’ smiles with envy. Winter stilled the country, and yet the vines shone a healthy green through a thin dusting of snow, pulsing with life like veins under pale skin. And neighborly eyes grew cold.

Fruit ripened and oozed on the vine. The juice beaded and froze, transforming grapes to glittering diamonds. Maggie wondered if she should harvest them. She worried everything would shrivel and die come spring.

“It’s alright, Auntie,” her niece said, slicing onions with thin precision.

Maggie stood at the kitchen window, frowning at the dark spots where fallen grapes stained the snow.

Her niece and nephew had come to spend their winter holidays. They always did. Becca seemed much older, as if she had done all her growing in one year. She watched the vines rioting in the winter field with practiced nonchalance. While Benjy shied from them, darting down the dirt lane every morning, skates and stick slung over his shoulder.

He came back with the early sundown, sluggish and reeking from a day of pond hockey. Sometimes he came home with bruises, once with a black eye. Maggie never asked if it was the game’s natural play, or if the other boys said things that her nephew had to answer. He had grown distant in the last year, as if concentration could keep him a willow limbed boy with spring colored eyes forever.

“It’s alright, Auntie,” Becca said, again.

“Mhhmm,” Maggie’s low voice hummed off the glass.

“Benjy’s late today. The sun’s almost down.”

“They’ll be at the back porch soon.”

Becca scraped the onions into a pan, they hissed and spat as she stirred them through hot oil. Maggie left the frost-edged window and began piling dishes in the sink. Becca helped herself to what remained of her aunt’s red wine. Maggie raised an eyebrow. Becca raised a shoulder.

“Mom will never know,” she said. “Besides, red wine’s good for your heart.”

“You’re too young for heart trouble.”

“You should grow Syrah.”

“Syrah’s surly. We don’t have the right climate for it.”

“December’s not the right climate for anything.”

And yet the vines grew.

In the year past, Becca had gotten notions of Paris and culinary school and romance under European skies. But Maggie’s sister believed illusions were best shattered early. She told Maggie to take the kids to town, stuff them with burgers and fries, anything salted and greased, rather than let Becca near a stove. But Maggie never had much defiance in her and found it too easy to bow to her niece’s efficiency.

And watching the tall girl at the stove, Maggie knew Becca would run to the Old World. She’d run from her mother’s petty tempers and her own unfinished dreams.

Maggie had made the journey herself, once. But she hadn’t sought oil painted sunsets or velvet accents. She’d gone to Germany, learned about soil, mineral deposits, and microclimates. The only thing that caught her eye with longing was a cottage on an abandoned bit of vineyard, choked by wild hops, untamed vines mingling for as far as she could see under a sky leaded with rain.

When Benjy came home at last, there was a bloody gap where his left eyetooth used to be. He insisted it was a baby tooth, not a big deal. Wasn’t he too big to still have baby teeth? Maggie fretted, thought about warming up the beastly old pick-up and taking him to a doctor? A dentist? She wasn’t sure. And eventually she gave into his thirteen-year-old obstinacy and settled for giving him some ice wrapped in a dishtowel.

“You won’t tell Mom?” he mumbled, through the towel.

“She’ll notice.”

Benjy shrugged his doubt.

“They trapped a bird,” he said.

“The other boys?” Maggie frowned.

“The vines.”

Maggie peered out the window, but in the dusk, she saw no feeble flap of wings.

“It’s probably caught in the wire,” Maggie said. “They’re pests, you know.”

“It’s the vines,” the boy insisted. “They’re mad it tried to eat the grapes.”

Becca clucked her tongue from the stove, but she didn’t tell her little brother he was being stupid. Maggie shrugged on her heavy coat, swamping her in flannel and old- snow musk.

She tramped along the nearest row of vines, listening for any cries from further afield. But the bird must have freed itself. All Maggie found were a few gray feathers twisted in a trellis wire.

Later, ice melting in the sink, bloody towel crumpled by the draining board, Maggie watched the vines in the bluish moonlight. She wondered what had filled them with such unsleeping life, and if they meant to strangle the house. Maybe she could find the answers in their wind raked pattern. Flakes whisked down, catching on the still green leaves, lacing the trellises. The vines seemed to shiver. Maggie blinked, feeling foolish.

She decided Benjy’s jaw needed to recover, so she took the kids to town the next day. On the main street, a gaggle of boys sprayed slush over her shoes, as they chortled past on their fat-tired bikes. Maggie sunk her fingers into Benjy’s puffy coat sleeve when his body jackknifed toward the retreating riders.

“Who wants ice cream?” Maggie asked.

Benjy swore and sucked at the red gap in his teeth.

“Don’t talk like that,” Maggie said. She turned an appealing gaze to Becca, who watched two women lean over strollers and wag pointed chins at Maggie. Becca’s eyes turned to flint.

Maggie repeated the offer of ice cream.

“It’s winter,” Becca said.

Their cheeks were apple bright and stinging, the sun too pale and distant to do more than wring water from last night’s icicles.

“Since when do kids turn down sweets?” Maggie asked. But she thought of Becca sipping the tannin dried wine without a pucker to her lips.

Benjy had slipped three doors ahead, close to the corner where the boys lingered with their bikes.

“It’ll be good for his tooth,” Maggie said.

“It won’t grow back.”

But she caught up with her brother and hustled him across the street. The shop was empty, as Maggie had known it would be. The bell above the door muffled by a wilting sprig of mistletoe. A poison and a bane against witches, her sister had whispered on a far-gone winter eve.

The air was sweet and warm, but the ribbons around the proud chocolate nutcrackers looked defeated. A teddy bear cradled a sign in his coco paws declaring the holidays were now for sale, half-off.

Mr. Peters, white haired and weathered, stood behind the counter in his neat pinstriped apron. He looked like a gnarled tree but he bustled about their order without a creak of arthritis. He gave the children extra scoops and Maggie a wink doubled by his round, wire rimmed glasses.

“Trouble with your vines, I hear,” he said.

“Yes,” Maggie smiled tightly. No one talked to her about the vines anymore.

“They’re getting all grown-up,” Mr. Peters nodded at Benjy and Becca, their faces sticky with black cherry and pistachio. They didn’t look grown-up just then, elbowing giggles out of each other.

“You can’t do much about it,” Mr. Peters adjusted his glasses with a fluorescent twinkle. “Except stay on your toes. Vinifera’s tricky.”

“Yes,” Maggie agreed.

“Hard to manage on your own.”

“I manage.”

“And no one ought to say otherwise. You been there six years now, haven’t you?”

“Seven.”

“I ought to be minding my own business.”

A sound like ice cracking on a warm winter day silenced Maggie’s next question. Benjy stood amidst glass shards and rolling gumballs.

“I’m sorry,” Maggie said. “I’ll pay for it.”

Mr. Peters waved a papery hand. “Don’t worry. These things happen.”

Still, Maggie tucked some bills under the memo pad beside the register while the old man went for a broom. Benjy apologized and did his best to help with the mess, but his well-intentioned feet sent the rainbow-colored candy spinning into corners. Maggie felt Mr. Peters was better left on his own. She ushered the children back toward the faded mistletoe.

“I’m sorry, again,” she said, over her shoulder.

“It’s nothing. Don’t let it discourage you,” Mr. Peters chuckled. “Not too late to have one of your own.”

He meant it mildly, so Maggie only shook her head and left.

Later, Maggie stood in her kitchen, twirling a long-stemmed wineglass like a flower she meant to pluck the petals from, while the sun flared away in the west. She could hear the children bickering in the next room. Mixed with the hum of the television, their voices sounded scripted and hollow.

The awful truth was they wore on her. She would be relieved when they returned to their mother and Maggie was left alone with the reaching vines. It wasn’t what she should want. She knew that.

The syrup sweet liquid in her glass smelt of strong sun and ripe flowers. It was the first she had pressed from the unlikely grapes and it made her head light.

She wondered again if she should harvest before winter was through. By spring, the crop might be lost. By summer, the town might find an impassable wall of greenery around the house. But Maggie had shears out in the shed, the metal darkened with age still held its edge, and the next autumn might bring grapes bursting with a finer vintage.

The children had subsided. Maggie would call her sister in the morning, tell her to let Becca go to Paris. The girl would have to see things for herself sooner or later. And if she came home with her dreams scattered, well maybe by then Maggie would be ready for an extra hand about the place.

A coyote darted, russet and ragged at the tree line. The sun stained the sky like spilled wine. And the vines grew.


B. B. GARIN is a writer living in Buffalo, NY. She holds a B.F.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in the online journal Embark. Her chapbook New Songs for Old Radios is available from Wordrunner eChapbooks and she has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize. She is a current member of the Grub Street Writing Center, where she has developed a series of short fiction pieces, as well as a novel.

What We Love(d) and Want(ed) More of as Young Writers

The young writers’ community is an ever-growing one and while great resources, networks and programs for young writers do exist, they are not always accessible to everyone. As a magazine run primarily by young writers, we decided to ask Inklette’s staff members what they love(d) and want(ed) more of as young writers and for young writers. 


What We Love(d) As Young Writers

For me, my experience at Iowa was the best experience I had as a young writer. I felt that the schedule of our workshop was conducive to exploring the city and culture of Iowa City. We had some writing jam sessions in the morning and workshops or seminars that would end in the afternoon, leaving us a great deal of time to write, eat and explore or attend readings in Iowa City bookstores and the University of Iowa campus. But apart from that, the readings were very different from the ones I have encountered in other workshops. There were more translated works, more works by writers and writing published by small, independent publishers.

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

I also attended the Iowa Young Writers Workshop, and was captivated by the space and the feeling that there were real people who did what I wanted to do in real life, as opposed to on the side of whatever they did to make real money. I also loved the professors, family members, friends, and occasional random strangers who validated what I was doing with my free time. I find writing as a full-time profession is often looked down upon by others, so having folks around who constantly said “Yes, you are absolutely allowed to spend all your free time creating these wonderful imaginary worlds” did wonders for my passion for creative spaces. Additionally, spaces like PANK magazine that welcomes submissions from folks no matter their age range or backgrounds helped me understand that I didn’t have to have the credentials I saw so many others with — I just had to have my passion for writing!

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

I completely agree with Devanshi’s and Naomi’s description of Iowa, so I won’t add much more to that, but I was lucky enough to also participate in the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in the same summer. In Adroit, I loved the close one-on-one relationship I had with my mentor, the support of all my fellow mentees, and the flexibility of the program. Between traveling and attending other conventions, I was relieved to know the community at Adroit was never more than a text or email away. Throughout the entire month of the program, I thoroughly enjoyed the specially curated reading list and writing prompts my mentor had organized, but I also distinctly remember loving the final project: creating a final portfolio of your work and sharing with another mentee! In reading the collection of another’s work, I felt I had truly understood not only his work, but who he, as a person, stood for. Now, more than anything, I am so so grateful for this little writing community that still keeps in touch.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

When I was around 12-13 and had just developed an interest in creative writing, I spent a lot of time reading and posting on Cicada Magazine’s The Slam, an online forum where readers could post their own work. Not only did I have an outlet for my developing prose and poetry, but I was also able to make several long-distance creative friendships. While I never met any of these fellow young writers in person, I still think of them often and am immensely grateful for the love and trust we had when sharing work with each other. 

-Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

I loved attending writing programs when I was in high school. The summer before my junior year I was accepted into the Missouri Scholars Academy, and while its not strictly writing centered, the classes that I took were. Being around people who were writing and creating because they loved it and not because it was assigned in a classroom was so refreshing and wonderful, and I was so inspired while I was there. I also rediscovered my love of poetry as an added bonus! 

The following summer I attended the Young Women’s Writers Workshop at Smith College and had an incredible time. I made so many friends and discovered so many incredible female writers that I would never have some across in one of my classes in high school, even in the creative writing and advanced placement english classes I had been taking since my freshman year. I very much doubt that I would have gone on to create my own arts centered major in college if I hadn’t had the privilege of surrounding myself with other creative spirits so early on. 

-Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

What We Want(ed) More Of As Young Writers

I wish there were more workshops, programs, avenues for literary translations and learning of regional languages and local dialects, and literatures written in those languages and dialects. My education was a product of colonialism and encouraged a more colonial attitude towards regional languages, dialects and even Hindi. I wish we could break apart and disintegrate the hegemony and glorification of the kind of literacy and literature that privileges colonialism and the process of colonizing today.

-Devanshi Khetarpal , Editor-in-Chief 

I wish there had been more community around the genres I was interested in writing: I did a lot of fantasy writing (think farms with talking wolves and cities with magic stones) but never shared them because I didn’t think young people wrote fantasy like that. Having a greater sense of community and space to share and receive feedback would have helped my sense of belonging.

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

Having always suffered from a drastic drop in creative productivity once the school year hit, I think I would want something that could hold me more accountable. I’m not exactly sure what that would look like, but certainly, I think a long-term program during the school year would help. In other words, I’m hoping the stress of a series of deadlines would encourage me to break through any writer’s block.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

I wish there were more online workshops. It’s expensive and not practical to travel. Most people can’t take large chunks of time off from school or work, and others (like me who is 40 years old) have children who depend on us for care. Even when a retreat or workshop offers daycare options, that only works if one’s child(ren) are not school-age. When I was in high school, I would have loved to have taken a creative writing course or belonged to a creative writing club. Some high schools offer such courses, but mine did not, even years later when I returned to teach at the school. 

-Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff and read their bios, visit our Masthead page by clicking here.

Best Books We Ever Received As Gifts

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate (if any), November and December are often filled with gift-shopping trip after gift-shopping trip. While we all like that special feeling we get when we give someone a gift they adore, it’s no secret that spending hours at the mall is exhausting, time-consuming, and, quite frankly, expensive. However, the Inklette team has compiled a list of the best books we’ve ever received as gifts to remind everybody what the holiday shopping season is about (and, if you’re unsure what gift to get your book-loving friend/family member/significant other, look no further).


The Hat-Stand Union by Caroline Bird

 

51xPRiL2IeL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Those who know me know that I like obscure contemporary poetry (how much people are willing to let me ramble on about it is a different story). My parents gave me this volume of poetry by British poet and playwright Caroline Bird for Christmas when I was about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to become seriously interested in creative writing. Reading poems that covered a bizarre range of topics — from King Arthur to Chekov to suburban life — helped me understand that I had the agency to write about what I found inspiring, rather than what people told me to write about. Even now, in my final year of my undergraduate, I still have The Hat-Stand Union on my shelf and pull it out from time to time when I need inspiration. 

— Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

9780345804327_lI received this novel as a gift from one of my aunts in college, and it’s travelled with me as I’ve moved from one coast to the other, and back again. It was my first introduction to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is a brilliant Black writer living in NYC, and who is also one of my earliest inspirations for the style of writing life I want to achieve. The novel itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. It’s a fascinating depiction that turns the real-life Underground Railroad into a collection of underground trains, safe houses, and secret routes. It’s one of those books that I’ll always have on my bookshelf, and which consistently reminds me to return to Whitehead’s other works to see what other challenges he has in store.

— Naomi Day, Blog Editor

The Professor and The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

 

9780099521341.jpgThis book was gifted to me by Trivarna Hariharan, the former editor-in-chief of Inklette Magazine. I had never heard of Ogawa’s work before and hadn’t read prose that felt so light, so porous. I think Ogawa’s work best reminds me of the kind of cinematic language of Ritesh Batra’s films such as The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019). But this book, in particular, read like that thin line between myth and realism even though the materiality of its story felt like a weight, even a burden at times I had to accept, learn how to carry. Since then, I have read Ogawa’s other works but somehow The Housekeeper and The Professor is one I keep coming back to, because it also incorporates and disguises behind the porosity and poetics of literary language a stunning mathematical language as well as logic, and if you read the book you’ll perfectly understand the role these two levels and anatomies of language play. 

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

9780316133999_l (1).jpgI believe my sister gave me this book a few years ago (for Christmas or my birthday I can’t remember, they both fall in December so they tend to blur together. Both my sister and I are avid readers, so we often gift each other books, but this particular book was definitely one of my favorites.Though it took a while for me to actually open the book, once I began reading it I devoured it. The book is magical, poetic, and wonderfully poetic (I have several notes on my phone filled with pulled quotes from the novels that I use to inspire me, and I used an excerpt from the first book for an erasure assignment I was given in college). The author’s gift for world-building made me eager to get the next books in the trilogy and finish them just as quickly, and I can’t wait until I’ve forgotten enough of the series to reread it—Taylor truly knows how to wield a plot twist, and I can’t wait to experience the shock and delight of piecing the tale together all over again. 

— Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

 

9780486834368_l.jpgAlthough I’ve given lots of books as gifts, I’ve never been gifted a book (other than the ones I personally requested from my parents when I was a kid). Maybe people just don’t know what to gift me because they don’t know what’s already in my collection; I don’t know. My brother, though, frequently gifts books to my 6-year-old daughter. So far, one of her favorites has been The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I avoided reading it when I was a kid because I hated the movie. I read it to my daughter, and we both loved it. My brother is a research scientist, so he often sends her science-y books. Another fun one he gifted her was The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, trans. By Michael Henry Heim). Although I think my daughter needs to age a bit before she can truly appreciate it, I loved The Number Devil.

— Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems by Eunice de Souza

 

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Until the third year of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my poetry reading was either limited to canon, or to snippets and fragments I had read online. Reading Eunice de Souza’s work was formative for me as a poet and as a literature student not only because of the cultural similarities or her engagements with feminism, but because she spoke of the everyday with an almost unfounded sense of ease. There was this comfort in her navigation of language I hadn’t read before, which is what made her work all the more appealing – that poetry could be soft, simple, and yet impactful. 

 

— Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

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NaNoWriMo: Planning and Execution

November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a time of year when writers following the conventional rules challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or at least 1,666 words per day. Others use this month to set time-based intentions (e.g. write 1 hour a day for 30 days). Two members of the Inklette team are doing NaNoWriMo this year. Here we’ve shared a little bit about our preparation processes, and what the month looks like for us.


Naomi Day, Blog Editor

This year I’m doing NaNoWriMo with a friend based on the West Coast. Since we are both relatively susceptible to burnout and didn’t spend enough time preparing our projects, we’ve decided to do a time-based (rather than word-based) month. Every day we both spend at least one full hour writing, and then text the other person a summary of how we spent that time. Since I didn’t have the time to properly prep what I was going to be working on, I spent the first day planning out what projects I’ll be working on. I will be spending the rest of the month alternating between planning the outline of a novel I’ve spent the last four years writing and rewriting, and working on a series of short stories set in a shared world. The buddy system helps keep me accountable and gets me excited to share my work with someone who cares about me independent of my productivity, and the hour system allows me enough time to get immersed in a project but isn’t so long it feels unattainable to do daily. I figure I can always take that time away from scrolling Instagram if it starts to feel like I can’t find it elsewhere!

Thus far the challenge has been in finding inspiration when I am between projects. I tend to write when a line pops into my head, or I overhear a bit of dialog that I decide to put in a short story. I have never challenged myself to write regularly when I am not working on a project. So I’ve been pushing myself to find alternate ways to get to the inspiration that keeps me writing for hours at a time. For example, when I have a vague idea what I want to write about but I’m not sure where to start, I pick up a notepad and hand write a conversation between myself and the character I am interested in. Writing by hand is important because the slower pace helps me think through my words more freely, and the conversational style helps me uncover interesting details about my characters that may give me a clue as to where to begin their stories.


Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

I’ve always wanted to do Nanowrimo, but balancing the act of writing over 1,500 words a day along with an already heavy load of creative writing homework mandated by my classes always proved to be too much. Having graduated in May, I have a lot less motivation to write, so I figured this might be a good year to give Nanowrimo a go. 

The first thing I did was make a bevy of different folders and document so that I could keep my ideas organized. My story idea involves several different groups of people all from the same family, so it’s vital that I keep them separate. After that I divided the characters I know I’ll need into main, secondary and tertiary characters so I know how much detail I need to go into for them (in an ideal world my tertiary characters would be as detailed as my main characters mais c’est la vie).

Strangely enough, I didn’t have a beginning, middle or end plotted out when I started writing. That aligns with my general writing strategy, if you can call it that: I’ll get an idea for a character or plot point, usually in the middle of the night, and the story starts from there. Because this story has a lot of different main characters who won’t necessarily interact with each other (think “This is Us” but everything is happening on the same timeline), I could have started anywhere. And in theory, at least in these early stages, I can change the ordering of the story components so long as I don’t, for example, put a major holiday in one, rendering the ordering stationary.


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