“Griefers” and “Pretty Thing” have won a Hopwood!

This news is overdue at this point, but still worth sharing! I submitted two of my short stories, “Griefers” and “Pretty Thing,” to the Hopwood Graduate & Undergraduate Contest as a joint manuscript, and recently I was pleased to learn that I’d received the Arthur Miller Award!

This news was incredibly exciting, partly because the award involves a scholarship for this coming fall (my final semester of college, ahh!!), and partly because there were so many other amazing winners. The contest covers long and short fiction, poetry, and drama, with a ton of different categories, and it was an honor to receive an award alongside so many MEGA-talented writers, some of whom are even my friends or former classmates. I’ve written a lot here before about the incredible literary community of Ann Arbor, so I won’t go off on any long love-rants, but I do consider myself so lucky to live and attend school here and to be able to participate in things like this.

I got to chat with some of these friends at the award ceremony last week, where screenwriter and producer Janet Leahy was a guest speaker. Ms. Leahy shared some really interesting advice about the importance of understanding characters’ fears, the unlikely and always-different path to success, and how breaking up one’s routine, even in really small ways, can help to bolster creativity. I’ve been too swamped with finals for the last week or so to get much writing done, but now that my schedule is finally clearing up, I can’t wait to try out these tips in my own work.

That’s pretty much it for now. I’m still waiting to find homes for both of those stories. (“Griefers” is a romance/drama story set in an arcade, and “Pretty Thing” is about two cousins road tripping to Fallingwater 20-30 years in the future.) But I’m crossing my fingers for publication so that hopefully I can share them with the world sometime soon!

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Readings, more readings, and how much I love readings

All right. I’m bubbling down from my I SAW LORDE AND MITSKI LIVE LAST NIGHT euphoria to write a sort of March update—although first, really quick—

I SAW LORDE AND MITSKI LIVE LAST NIGHT!!!!!!

Mitski is one of my absolute role models in so many ways, and I basically fainted when she played “Townie”. She is a rock star in every sense of those two words. And Lorde was so genuinely amazing and talented and kind, and the fact that she talked about writing and played “Writer in the Dark” is enough to power me through at least a thousand words today.

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That photo is of Mitski, rocking her own heart out and mine.

Anyway—that soul-enlivening, fulfilling, overwhelming concert was only the most recent in a long string of cool events I’ve gone to this month! Luckily for this writing-related blog, most of them have been readings.

The first event I went to was with TOMI ADEYEMI!!! (And yeah, I was basically as excited to see her as I was to see Lorde and Mitski.)

A couple of Saturdays ago, my friend and I spent the entire day in Barnes & Noble, reading Children of Blood and Bone (which has now reached its third—I think?—consecutive week at the top of the NYT Bestseller List). I’d never done this before, and it was weirdly a lot of fun. If you have anyone you can do that with, I’d definitely recommend it—you can pick out a book you’re both excited about and sit in the Starbucks for hours, drinking hot chocolate and stopping every once in a while to freak out when something exciting has happened.

Then we drove to Detroit, where we got to hear Tomi speak a little and read an excerpt from the book. We also got to meet her briefly, and she signed our books and even took a picture with us!!! Here it is:

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I don’t think a day will ever come when I won’t smile when I look at this picture. Tomi Adeyemi is such an inspiration—she makes me want to keep writing all of the time and to dedicate myself to my ideas, even though seeing them through is a lot of hard work. I would highly recommend checking out her website because she posts a ton of helpful writing advice. (Plus, she was seriously just so nice.) I wrote an article about the event here for the Daily in case you’d like to hear me geek out about her a little more.

More recently, I went to an event that was a lot smaller but still very exciting: the annual Caldwell Poetry Competition performance through U of M’s Lloyd Hall Scholars Program. I think I’ve said before here that LHSP played a big part in helping me find a community and a lot of avenues for writing and the arts when I first got to college, and this was my third year participating in Caldwell. There’s a written category and a performance category; written poetry is definitely where I feel more comfortable, but I entered the performance contest too, because why not, right? Performing scares me a little, and I think doing things that scare you is good.

Last year, I did an interpretation of “Pretty,” by Katie Makkai, which is a poem I’ve loved deeply since high school. This year I did “B (If I Should Have a Daughter),” by the wonderful Sarah Kay. I won’t lie—my performance last year was a lot better, I think because I was a lot more passionate about that poem. But even though I didn’t do very well personally this year, I’m still so glad I got to go, because it gave me the chance to hear so many talented people performing both original and interpreted work. This year was definitely the all-around strongest Caldwell competition I’ve ever attended (even though we had a surprise evacuation in the middle after a fire alarm was pulled). It went on for about two hours and I wasn’t bored for any of it.

This year, I’d like to try writing a little spoken word poetry. Just as an experiment—I know it’s not my forte, but I wrote a little of my own in high school, and I remember it giving me this great feeling of release. I wasn’t just sharing my words with the world, I was showing the world what they meant with my voice, with my body. That’s not an opportunity I give myself very often. Poetry in general is difficult for me, let alone a type of poetry that’s meant to be performed—but I’d still like to try it, for the sense of ownership and confidence that I know it offers when you can pull it off successfully. Plus, I think poetry is just a fun community to engage with in general. I love the exchange of ideas and the bold sharing that happens at events like this.

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Finally, last Sunday, I attended the annual reading of the Prison Creative Arts Project’s literary journal, The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing. This is my third year involved with the lit review, and my first working as one of the assistant editors, so I got to help out a lot with organizing the event. To be involved with this was such a privilege, and I was glad for the chance to hear so many great pieces read aloud. This is the lit review’s 10-year anniversary, so we published a “Greatest Hits” compilation, and we also had a bunch of signs and flyers individually designed and handmade by Sierra Brown, like the beautiful poster above.

All right, I think that’s pretty much all of the amazing things I’ve had the opportunity to attend lately. Engage with the arts! Attend local readings!!! They’re basically always free, and they offer such a great chance to meet other writers and readers and to get a look at what other people are working on and experimenting with.

(And listen to Mitski!!)

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Caldwell Update– Winning Pieces

I already wrote about this a while ago, but this spring I was lucky enough to win the Alumni/Written Category of LHSP’s Caldwell Poetry Competition, although I submitted five poems and wasn’t sure which had won. Last week I got an email letting me know that two pieces of mine are going to be published in the LHSP Arts & Literary Journal! The poems are “Winter in Oz” (which reimagines Dorothy’s journey through Oz as something actually difficult) and “How Was Your Trip?” (a poem I wrote for my mom after babysitting my younger siblings alone for a week). I’ve had “Winter in Oz” sitting around for a particularly long while, so it’s good to have somewhere to put it finally. I’ve thought before about adapting it into a short story (mostly just because I got bored one time and wrote the first paragraph on my phone), but we’ll see if I’m ever in a dreary enough mood.

Caldwell Results!

Today was LHSP’s End-of-Year Festival, which meant performances by all of the clubs, free dessert food, and the announcement of this year’s Caldwell Poetry Competition winners!

The Caldwell winners were announced first. Caldwell is split up into written and performance categories, as well as into an alumni category and a category for current students. As an alumna, I submitted to both categories, written and performance, and I found out today that I won first place in both! This was surprising and exciting, and it was a huge honor to be recognized alongside so many talented poets. In particular, my friend Rhea Cheeti got first place for performance in the current students category (which was no surprise, because I saw her performance and it was amazing).

The event was so much fun in general because I love getting to do anything that helps me reconnect with friends and professors from LHSP. Not to mention the dessert food was spot-on (brownies, cake, and little cheesecake cups), and it was great to see the performances by all of the clubs. Creative Writing Club wrote a Mad Libs and had the audience work together to fill it out, so they were my favorite, although I may have been a little biased. (It is Creative Writing, after all.)

All in all, this made for a really great end of the day. I also got an email earlier today letting me know that the hard copies of the Café Shapiro Anthology have arrived, which is another exciting thing to look forward to this week. I’m not sure which of the poems I submitted to Caldwell won the written category (I sent in five), but I’ll probably post again here whenever I find out.

Poetry Slams & 80s Shakespeare

Hi! Two awesome things happened the other week, and I didn’t have time to write about either of them!

I’m going to take them one by one and in order. First, last Wednesday night (or maybe it was the Wednesday before last — I need to get my life together) was 2017’s annual Lloyd Hall Scholars Program poetry performance!!!

For the sake of a little background, LHSP is a first-year learning community at U of M that specializes in writing and the arts. I did it last year as a freshman, and it’s how I met pretty much all of my friends that whole year. It’s a really great experience, and I’m used to talking about it this way because I work as an LHSP Student Recruiter! I recruited for them last year, when I was still actually in the program, and now I’m just kind of hanging around anyway, the ghost of LHSP Recruitment’s past, because I love the program so much and because the candy that we hand out on Campus Day is usually really good.

One of the really cool things LHSP does is the Caldwell Poetry Competition, which has a written category and a performance category, as well as an alumni category and a current-LHSP-student category. Last year I was lucky enough to win the written category, and this year, as an alumna, I thought I’d try out both written and performance. I didn’t do performance last year, but I went to the event and saw all of the amazing performances (I know I just said “performance” three times in a row, but I was too lazy to think of a way around it), and I thought it was awesome enough that it made me want to try myself.

To put it simply, this year was awesome, too. Even though I’ve been out of the program for almost a year, I still recognized a lot of the alumni, as well as current Student Assistants who were freshmen with me last year. Some people did memorizations of pieces out of poetry books, others did interpretations of slam poems or even performances of original pieces. I did “Pretty,” by Katie Makkai, which has been one of my slam pieces ever since my junior year of high school, when I went on a slam poetry kick and bounced around YouTube videos for just about a straight week. I always show “Pretty” to my friends because I think everyone should see it (so watch it, by the way, if you’re reading this), and I was really excited to get to perform it myself.

I had only done slam poetry twice before this. The first was at a high school talent show, when I did an original poem called “Neon Signs” (which went well, but I was scared out of my wits), and the second was at a summer writing camp, where I did some much-less-good original pieces that I’d written pretty much on the spot. Those were both in my distant, high school past, so I was really nervous to perform “Pretty,” but it ended up being ridiculously fun. After knowing the poem for years, I was so comfortable with it that I slipped up very minimally in terms of memorization, and pretty much as soon as I started, I got too carried away with the feeling of the poem to even remember how nervous I’d been.

Poetry slamming also did WONDERS for my confidence levels. It feels like a really outgoing thing while you’re doing it, which is refreshing in an interest area like poetry, which is more often associated with quiet reflection and introversion than with excitement. I’d recommend the experience to anybody — there’s no excuse for not trying it, since you don’t even need to write your own poem (case in point: me).

The weekend after that, I was also able to go to the reading and release party for Xylem, a campus literary magazine that published one of my poems this year. It’s a strange poem I wrote back in high school — I basically took the Don Henley song, “The Boys of Summer,” and rewrote it as a Shakespearean sonnet. It felt a little weird reading that aloud to a roomful of people, but I was really glad I went. I got to hear a lot of great pieces from other writers published in the magazine, not to mention they had free dumplings and little plastic clappers you could shake during the applause after each reading!

That should be about it in terms of outdated updates — except I’m also just going to leave “Pretty” here, in case the rest of this post was too subtle about the fact that I think you should watch it.