1. Tell us about yourself and how you got into writing.
I’m currently a high school senior at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. When I got into writing— I think it just started with me coming up with make-believe games as a kid and never being able to complete them in one sitting. I remember having this moment where I was like, oh, I can just write down these ideas instead and then these stories won’t be lost. I think it was just my way of processing the world around me. There was something about putting words down on paper that made them seem more real, more concrete. I spent a lot of time on my own, in my room, with my laptop. I didn’t let anyone else see what I wrote. As I got older, the topics changed, eventually became more serious. Then before my junior year of high school I took a summer writing class with Bri Cavallaro at Northwestern University’s CTD program. That’s when I realized that writing wasn’t just a thing you had to do secretly under a blanket in your bedroom with the lights off—that there were writing communities out there, and there were opportunities for young writers, and there were organizations I could submit my work to. Bri honestly changed my life. She told me about Interlochen Arts Academy, an arts boarding school in northern Michigan. I just transferred there for my senior year of high school, and it’s been an amazing experience.
2. What would you want other Offbeaters to know about you?
I’m oddly interested in math? My sophomore year, I took a STEM course. Since then, that’s pushed me to explore how math can be used practically in other areas of life. I’ve recently been using math as a way to structure some of my essays. I’ve found, especially when it comes to exploring concepts that are difficult to put words to, math helps make sense of them.
3. Tell us a bit about how you wrote “Erasure”.
Well, to be honest, it was actually a three-year process. When I was thirteen, in eighth grade, I was in several hospitals. I was gone from school for a month, and— I’m still trying to find the right summary words for this— but there were some really terrible and violating things that happened there. Medical trauma is a very undiscussed but very real type of trauma. When I returned to school, I ended up writing a five-hundred page memoir about life from fourth grade up until then. I don’t know how I did it— a lot of time spent under blankets, a lot of not sleeping, a lot of putting aside homework for writing — but eventually, by the end of eighth grade I had a finished memoir about those experiences. I think when something in life shakes you that much, there is an overpowering urge to write about it. It’s a way of reclaiming authority and control over an experience you had no authority, no control over. It’s a way of making room, physical space on paper, for an experience that attempted to erase both you and your voice. When I went to write “Erasure” three years later, it was actually a series of excerpts from that memoir. In the drafting process, I piled some of the most memorable phrases into a word document and reorganized them under certain headers. I changed a lot of the original thirteen-year-old diction to meet the more authoritative tone of the piece, but the general “plot” of the memoir was kept the same.
4. How did you decide to number your sections? What is the significance of that? How did you choose what words/phrases to place as the ‘headers’?
The numbering was actually a mistake. I wrote “Erasure” during my time at Northwestern University, in Bri’s class. The assignment was to create a 10-entry “dictionary” of terms in alphabetical order. In the process of drafting, I accidently skipped over number seven and ended up only having nine entries. The mistake has been fixed now (no skipped numbers), but I think the piece actually works better with nine. Ten feels final. Nine feels unfinished. Nine gives the sense that, maybe, the speaker’s “erasure” isn’t yet complete.
5. This piece is very visual and emotional. Did this piece come easy to you, or was it difficult to recall these memories?
Writing this piece was more about the structure and placement of memories than recalling them. At the time that I initially wrote these images (right after I was in the hospital), there wasn’t a need to remember. The memories were close and still bleeding. Writing this piece was a process of going back into those five-hundred pages and pulling out images from some of the most emotionally charged passages. My process was one of reduction, identifying patterns, and tightening language. Considering that the memoir took over six months to complete and then 2 years to revise, no. This piece did not come easily. The process of pulling these images together and tightening the language was less difficult, but it couldn’t have existed without that other body of work.
6. Do you have any advice for future submitters/writers wanting to get published?
I think the most important thing is dedication and research. When I first started sending my work out to literary journals, I made a lot of mistakes. I’d type in “10 good journals in the Chicago area” or “10 good journals publishing young writers.” The journals that would pop up under these quick searches were not usually the best options. Now, what I’ve found has helped me a lot is not just reducing that research to the Internet. If you have a university library in your area, ask if they have a literary magazine section. This is a great way to become familiar with the names of reviews and, more importantly, it’s a good way to know what journals are actually being printed and distributed. If you don’t have these resources available, then I’d recommend looking at New Pages, which lists magazines, upcoming contests, and calls for submissions. I’ve also recently stumbled upon a great website called “cliffordgarstang.com” which ranks magazines by the number of pushcart prizes accumulated.
7. What are your future writing plans?
Oh wow. I hope one day I’m able to publish some sort of memoir about those eighth grade experiences, whether that be through poetry or some other format. I’m particularly drawn to nonfiction just because I think the personal narrative is so powerful— to know that someone else, someone real, has experienced something similar to you. For a long time what happened in eighth grade made me feel isolated and alone. In the years since then, I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve listened to a lot of stories. Finding those kernels of shared narrative has really empowered me. It’s allowed me to realize I’m not alone even when I think I am. Even though our stories are all fundamentally unique, there are bits and pieces that all of us share. To be able to read a story and say “oh my god, me too” is a really moving experience. To know that someone else empathizes with you, in times where it seems like you have no allies— it can keep you going. I hope that I can do that for somebody else too one day. I was recently in a nonfiction class and I started wondering to myself, why nonfiction? And why am I drawn to it? I think for me, it has to do with the fact that there are so many stories that already exist and yet so many people who, for whatever reason, want to be able to get their story out there but don’t have that kind of visibility. I hope I can create visibility for people who have none. We’ll never be able to tell everybody’s story, but I think nonfiction writers—we can at least help each other get a little closer to that.