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The Intersection of Grief and Art: An Interview with Aisha Sabatini Sloan

SloanAisha Sabatini Sloan’s “Ocean Park No 6” appeared in the 2015 issue of the Sierra Nevada Review, and was one of our nominees for the Pushcart Prize. The essay explores the grief of Juliette, a friend of Sloan’s, after the death of Juliette’s son Ramin. The essay weaves the exploration of her grief with an exploration of artists such as Joan Didion, Michael Ondaatje, Richard Diebenkorn, and others, creating a tapestry that explores how art and grief collide.

Sloan is based in Tuscon. Her book, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White, was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. Her work has been or will be featured in Ninth Letter, Identity Theory, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, Guernica, The Offing and Ecotone. 

A contributing editor for Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics, she has taught creative writing and literature at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, Carleton College and the University of Michigan’s New England Literature Program. 



Brandon Dudley: I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the creative process behind your essay, “Ocean Park No. 6.”


Aisha Sabatini Sloan: It was a long time coming. I had an idea for a project, a broader project, that got sparked when Anne Waldman came to speak at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. She had this really moving description of coming up with an idea for a poem while being in a place in Paris where a young child had been discovered and taken to a concentration camp. I was moved by the idea of visiting locations where something devastating had happened.

Then, I was on the phone with my mom when she was at our friend Juliette’s house, and I was talking about the project, and I just sort of imagined she [Juliette] would be a part of it. That’s where it started, with this almost spiritual beginning, of wanting to visit places of, not trauma exactly, but loss, intentionally, in the web of my life, and she was a really obvious one.

And I also wanted to have a more extensive, intimate research process. I didn’t want it to just be about reading and making connections in the comfort of my own living room. I liked the idea of spending a lot of time thinking about something with someone. And it was interesting to work on something over so long a period of time that was both a creative project and a personal project. We had conversations over the course of a few years, and they weren’t any different than conversations that we had before that, I was just intentionally curious about making sense of something with her. In some ways the creative process was based on her, because she had this curiosity about the connection between Michael Ondaatje and Richard Diebenkorn, but also Wallace Stegner.

In some ways it was a failed project, because I didn’t fully investigate all angles of it, but the creative process was based on following her [Juliette’s] own lines of inquiry and where her grief intersected with her creative interests and the things that resonated with her artistically. She mapped it out for me and I was trying to look into these overlaps where her own experience of say, Diebenkorn intersected with Ondaatje, and it was interesting to map that and actually discover whether or not they made any sense together.


BD: That’s interesting because the structure of your piece was one of the things that I really loved about it. I was wondering how you came up with the different elements that you braided together, and it sounds like you didn’t actually come up with them, it was created through following Juliette.

So, that sort of braided structure with all these different topics seems to be one that’s fairly popular in nonfiction lately. I was wondering if you could talk a little about why that might be.


AS: Most of my essays, the ones in my book especially, follow that kind of pattern. One of the ways that I learned to trust in the magical intersectionality of the world was from growing up listening to Juliette make sense of things, so obviously I would use a structure that honored her particular brand of seeing, or intelligence. But braiding essays is a structural approach that I’ve been fascinated by for awhile—or collaging, lyric—following associative leaps and finding ways that these riffs are actually less tangential than you’d originally thought.

But braiding isn’t new. Joan Didion has been weaving personal narrative and politics and current events for years. I notice that now that everyone’s doing it, I have started to feel resistance. In fact, I was part of a reading in March called: “Don’t Call it Lyric: Inquiry, the Essay and Independence” with Amarnath Ravva, Brian Blanchfield and Maggie Nelson. It sounds more militant than I think it actually was, in spirit, but the title was informed by a desire to push back against the presumption that as soon as a certain approach becomes fashionable, we forget that there are still a million ways to approach the page.

So I have started to really question, at the start of a piece, whether braiding is what an essay is actually calling for. You still have to synthesize things and find your voice. I think that nonfiction allows for so much formal play because the concept of truth telling is so inherently political, so psychologically fraught. So the way you prevent yourself from lying or warping or censoring the truth might look different from day to day.


BD: I was wondering if weaving all those different elements together made it easier to access the emotional core of the essay, which is the death of Ramin, Juliette’s son, because it seemed like a fairly emotional topic.


AS: I don’t know that it was hard to write about because it was emotional, necessarily. I cry almost every time that I write. I write toward, or out of, emotion most of the time. For this essay, though, I was trying to figure something out about what Juliette taught me, and part of what she taught me was about loss, but the other half of it was she taught me about beauty. She’s been an artistic mentor my whole life and I think touching that vulnerable place of grief with her while also wondering about how she relates to beauty gave the whole inquiry a foundation or intentionality.


BD: One of the elements that came up frequently in the essay was Joan Didion. Is she a major influence on you? Who are some other influences?


AS: Ever since I was in high school Joan Didion was the person who got me interested in nonfiction. Reading Blue Nights was a huge influence on my experience of talking with Juliette. Michael Ondaatje was formative for me—just holding Coming Through Slaughter in my hands makes me so inspired I can barely stand it. Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and The Argonauts and The Red Parts were all pivotal reads. I practically dissociated when I finished Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss years ago. Fanny Howe’s Winter Sun. Anne Carson’s Decreation. I love Photocopies by John Berger. Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag. James Baldwin’s essay collection Price of the Ticket was a bible for me for many years.


BD: What are some projects that you’re working on now?


AS: I share my father’s paranoia about talking about a project too early, I feel like it jinxes it.


BD: Is your father a writer, too?


AS: Yeah, he’s a writer, and he worked for many years as a photojournalist. The whole sort of associative thing, talking about different threads, he was my first influence in terms of that. He’s always connecting things and interviewing people and has twelve books that he’s reading, and a movie on, and all that. I feel like in a lot of ways that that formal influence was pretty significant.


BD: You said you’re teaching as well. Where do you teach, and how do you think teaching influences the writing, and how does your writing influence your teaching?


AS: I’ve been teaching for the past nine and a half years or so. I think I learned a lot about my writing by trying to explain how to do it on a pretty basic level to other people. I taught a creative writing and a literature class at my alma mater, Carleton College, this time last year. And then right before that, the University of Michigan has this program, the New England Literature Program, where you go out into the woods for a couple months and read and write in a journal and there’s no technology. I’ll be doing that again next year. Right now I teach fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders in a residency program that the University of Arizona Poetry Center facilitates in middle schools and elementary schools in Tucson. It has been a huge heart opener. I absolutely love it. Many of my students are refugees and I feel so honored to even share space with them, they are such incredible human beings.


BD: That’s interesting. I teach high schoolers, mostly sophomores, and I don’t know how I’d handle teaching middle schoolers. Those younger ages seem pretty tough. But high schoolers are pretty tough. Who knows, maybe they’re the same.


AS: I wonder if college freshman and high school sophomores are that different. Well, that’s not fair. Some of my students have been far more mature than I’ll ever be. But teaching freshman composition can feel a bit like recess.


BD: I hope, when I’m done my MFA, to at least teach at the college level part-time. So I’m curious how different they really are. I’m hoping they’re at least a little more motivated than high school sophomores.


AS: I think it depends. I think it’s always amazing to remember that you actually have some control over that. I get so jaded that I forget that my own interest in something could open something for them. You know, I might give up before I’ve started, but they’ll read something and become sort of entranced by the language and I remember, oh, yeah, we get to try every time to get them as excited as we are.


BD: Could you recommend one writer or one essay that, if you could recommend them or it and say “You have to read this,” who would it be?


AS: I just finished Wendy S. Walters’ Multiply/Divide, I think that book is doing something remarkable to the question of nonfiction. I just started reading Dodie Bellamy’s When the Sick Rule the World, Patti Smith’s M Train, and Eileen Myles’ Chelsea Girls and I’m loving them all. White Girls by Hilton Als sort of rocked my world. I am a huge fan of Fred Moten, Jen Hofer, Eunsong Kim, Bhanu Kapil and Claudia Rankine. And my friends are pretty amazing, too: Arianne Zwartjes’ Detailing Trauma and Beth Alvarado’s Anthropologies were really influential for me. Brian Blanchfield just published an amazing essay in Harper’s called “There’s the Rub.”


BD: Is there anything you wanted to talk about, or that you hoped I would ask about but didn’t?


AS: I’ve been seeing these conversations about the literary world through Facebook, and I was feeling pretty disenchanted for a little while just about the sense of deflation and frustration that a lot of writers of color are feeling right now in the world of publishing, but there was this great conversation on the Poetry Foundation web site called “Talking About What We Don’t Talk About: Roundtable with Eunsong Kim, Amy King, Lucas de Lima, Hoa Nguyen, Hector Ramirez, Metta Sama, Nikki Wallschlaeger.” And Metta Sama says, “What happens if more of us use our positions of power to not stabilize and uphold and invest in the white masculinity of these academic institutions, but use our positions to challenge and, as Grace Lee Boggs implores us to do, REIMAGINE EVERYTHING?” It was a call to action to re-create these systems that we sort of assume are our only choices, you know MFA vs NYC, another false binary.

I got to interview Kwame Dawes for Guernica a while back about the African Poetry Book fund, and he just talked about getting this idea to collaborate with other writers to start these libraries in different African countries and publish work of African poets because he didn’t notice that anyone was doing that. I think the idea of creating programs, whether they are MFA programs or just sort of literary outreach programs, beyond what’s already available, that kind of thing really excites me. I’m curious to see where that goes, that sort of frustration mixed with concern, Maybe ten years from now things could be pretty innovative and exciting if all of this energy gets transformed into something.


BD: Thinking of that frustration and that energy, are there any projects you have in the back of your mind that you feel like you might pursue, either your original ideas or maybe other projects that you’ve heard of that you might be interested in taking part in?


AS: I’ve definitely been on the verge for a while now of wanting to start something that involves a reading series, maybe an international writer-in-residence program, possibly in Detroit, where my family is and where I’ve been headed. But I’m not sure when that’s going to click, because I keep having the idea and not knowing when to go for it.

I’m a yoga teacher and I like the idea of combining healing practices with writing, because I think when writing is in the service of figuring things out on a personal but also global scale, trying to figure out how you can actually contribute to yourself or the world healing, I think it’s kind of an exciting thing.

I’m not sure how that will manifest, but I definitely hope that at some point it will turn into something beyond just private brainstorming.

B Dudley

Brandon Dudley is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, where he is assistant fiction editor of the Sierra Nevada Review. His fiction has been a finalist in the Slice Literary Writers Conference Bridging the Gap Competition and a Million Writers Award nominee. He has had interviews and criticism published in storySouth and Fiction Advocate. He lives in Maine with his wife and two sons.

Crisp Days and Blue Skies: An Interview with Christine Lasek

christine lasekChristine Lasek’s “Precious Blood” is, on one level, a short story about a grandfather purchasing a pickup truck in which a man committed suicide. But the story, which appeared in the 2014 issue of the Sierra Nevada Review, is also about memory, war, loss and the bonds of family.

Lasek’s debut collection, Love Letters to Michigan, will be published in April 2016 by ELJ Publications. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of South Florida, where she served as the managing editor of Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art. She currently teaches creative and technical writing as a visiting instructor at USF and serves as the assistant to the creative writing program director.

Lasek is originally from Troy, Michigan, and graduated from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor in 2003. Prior to pursuing a degree in creative writing, she worked as a web editor and public relations official for companies in and around Detroit.

Lasek’s fiction and nonfiction have been published in Coal City Review, Tampa Review Online, and VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, among others.


Brandon Dudley: What was the initial spark for “Precious Blood”?

Christine Lasek: That’s an easy one.  A friend and I were discussing Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index, a book I was reading as part of a Craft of Nonfiction class.  In the middle of the conversation, my friend said, “You know, my grandfather once bought a truck some dude killed himself in.  He got it cheap because he had to clean it out himself.”  What WHAT?!  And the seed of the story was planted.

BD: Wow. I often wonder about parts of stories, whether they’re based in reality or not, if they’re something that the author really experienced. I can safely say that part of your story was not on my radar, though.

Is that a common way that stories start for you? Is the seed usually some real life event that you just run with? Or is it more often something else, like an image or a specific line of the story that comes to you first?

CL: It depends on the piece.  Sometimes it’s an image, sometimes more.  For me, though, it always has to do with people—how they interact, how they hurt or love each other, how we make sense of it.  I find myself most inspired when I have the chance to meet new people—while I’m getting to know them, my brain is busy creating their back story. Characters in my work often come from that.

BD: I’m curious about the non-linear structure of your piece. Why do you think that was the best way to tell this particular story?

CL: I didn’t start out with that intention.  This story started out as Eric’s story—his section (the first) was in first person, while the other sections were written in third. I wanted to give the reader his thoughts/impressions, then show what led up to the exchange between Eric and his mother in the first section.

But when the piece went through workshop, my classmates felt the story would be better told if all sections were written in third person, in order to illustrate the differences between the three characters. Once I rewrote the first part, I agreed–that change made the piece stronger. So that’s how it came to be in its current form.

BD: I’ve played around with stories that have used a mix of first and third person before, and so far they’ve never quite worked either. What do you think a story needs to make that work, to make that point of view switch necessary?

CL: With POV (and really any style decision you make in a piece), the style element needs to further the theme of the story.  As a fiction writer, when I put pen to paper, it’s more than just telling an interesting story.  I am trying to tell the reader SOMETHING–about what makes us human, about how we relate to each other.  This “something” is the story’s theme.  All of the choices I make in a story need to further that theme, that reason for why the story exists.  When it comes to jumping POVs, the jumps not only have to further the “something,” but their benefits to the story have to outweigh the potential drawbacks (namely, confusing the reader and/or stunting the reader’s ability to form a meaningful connection with a character over time).

BD: How do you think teaching has affected your writing?

CL: This is a giant question.  Let’s just say, as a teacher, I give good advice on writing, and then when I revise my own work, I find that I don’t always follow my own good advice. But the more I teach, the less this happens. Thank you, students.

BD: I saw you have a collection coming out in the spring. Could you tell me a little about that?

CL: My collection is called Love Letters to Michigan and all of the stories take place in my home state.  I didn’t set out to write a series of Michigan-set stories, but when I moved to Florida for my MFA, crisp fall days and blue, blue skies started pervading my work.

The collection is due out in April by ELJ Publications and I couldn’t be more ecstatic!

BD: Besides the location, are there any themes that link the stories in the collection? Are there any themes in general that you feel like you come back to frequently in your work?

CL: The stories in my collection are only linked by place.  The main characters are all ages, both male and female.

But two subjects that I explore again and again in my work include family relationships and “stuff”–the stuff that we own and what it says about us.  I also write a lot of characters who are (or have) single mothers, but I’m not sure why that subject comes up again and again.

BD: Who do you consider influences on your work?

CL: My writing hero is Alice Munro.  The way she creates character, her use of setting, of dialogue–a whole world in a short story, and not just once, but over and over again.  I want my stories to feel like that.  The first collection of hers I read was Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, and I have been hooked ever since.

BD: Where do you see your writing going next? What’s your next writing project?

CL: I am up to my neck in editing the book, but doing revisions always makes me itchy to start something new.  Right now, it looks like the next project will be a second collection of short stories.


B DudleyBrandon Dudley is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, where he is assistant fiction editor of the Sierra Nevada Review. His fiction has been a finalist in the Slice Literary Writers Conference Bridging the Gap Competition and a Million Writers Award nominee. He has had interviews and criticism published in storySouth and Fiction Advocate. He lives in Maine with his wife and two sons.


AWP Conference – A Novice’s Experience


By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez


For my first time ever I had the privilege of attending this year’s AWP Conference and Bookfair in Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC). The conference lasted three days with events beginning at 9:00 a.m. daily. On some days the events were scheduled well into the evening, beginning at 10:00 p.m. and ending at midnight.

In addition to the readings and panels scheduled throughout the day there is the bookfair; this year’s was housed in the MCC’s exhibit hall, a 475,000 square foot area. There were over 500 booths which consisted of colleges advertising their MFA programs, journals and magazines selling their latest editions and announcing calls for submissions, publisher selling books and advertising author signings, and company reps trying to convince beginning writers that they need an agent.

With a considerable selection of events to choose from, setting up my schedule proved to be very difficult. There is an AWP app, however, which can be downloaded to your smart phone prior to the conference and that makes this task a little easier. Most events fell into two2015-04-09 10.32.31categories, panels and readings, and were scheduled to last a little over an hour with fifteen-minute breaks in between giving you time to rush from one to the next. But at any hour there might be 30 or more events to choose from.

One panel I attended, “Fashioning a Text,” discussed how structure in writing is often regarded as secondary to voice and content. However, through readings of their own texts, and that of others, the panel of essayists, journalists, and memoirists demonstrated how structure itself can be artifice. Writers often utilize structure to find meaning in their writing and it is not solely the writer’s voice but also the structure of their writing that is idiosyncratic the panel explained. This called to mind a fascinating memoir I had just read by Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby.

The focus of Solnit’s memoir is the deterioration of her mother’s health. Within its pages is found story upon story, one memory that opens into another. Titles of each section speak to key moments in Solnit’s life and of the relationship between her and her mother. It has often been said that in our last days we return to our former state, to that of a child or infant, our children now the parents, responsible for feedings and toileting. The structure of Solnit’s memoir speaks to this descent, returning to the memories that began the memoir in its final pages. There is also a literal arc structured from the titles of each section that can be seen in the table of contents.

Another panel I attended “Life After the MFA,” discussed the employment opportunities available to those with an MFA in creative writing. Each of the three members of the panel briefly mentioned the possibility of writing internships, editing journals, and publishing. However, all three found their way to a teaching position. This wasn’t surprising as all three had started off as teachers, working in the K-12 system prior to their degree, but it was a little disconcerting for me because I had attended the event with the anticipation that the panel would present many more opportunities other than teaching. That seems like a pretty obvious option and I wanted to know what more there is.

Overall the event was a wonderful experience. Learning to navigate the venue can prove to be difficult as well managing your schedule efficiently but it is definitely worth attending. The wealth of information you’ll come away with and the opportunity to meet one of your favorite writers is invaluable. I will certainly attend next year’s conference.


For more information about next year’s AWP, scheduled at the convention center in Los Angeles, California, please visit:

Show Me The Money:

Tell It Like A Woman


By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

In honor of the recent Mother’s Day holiday, I thought it would be nice to highlight some publishing opportunities that focus on women and mothers. As a mother myself, I can say firsthand that being a mother is one of the toughest jobs there is. And being a stay-at-home mom is even more challenging. I left my job two years ago to finish my BA and pursue my MFA, thinking that not working while going to school would be easier than trying to find time around a busy work schedule to squeeze in my coursework.

There’s a great misconception that being a stay-at-home mom is easier than working out of the home. But staying at home means being readily available to attend to everyone’s needs and soon the day can become so overwhelming that writing and coursework gets put on the backburner. But when mothers have a moment to pause, to ponder on the world around them once the busy day has ended, they realize what an immeasurable opportunity it is to raise their young children. It is certainly something I will always cherish. And it’s definitely given me plenty more writing material.


Exploring Motherhood

Brain, Child is accepting submissions for personal essays and short fiction that explore motherhood and the family. Brain, Child will pay from $40 to $150 for pieces selected for publication. For more information please visit:

Married Life

Creative Nonfiction Magazine is currently accepting essay submissions for an upcoming issue dedicated to marriage. They are looking for well-written essays that discuss what married life is all about. The entry fee is $20. Deadline is August 31, 2015. $1,000 will be awarded to the best essay and $500 to the runner-up. For more information please visit:

Single Moms

ESME (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere) is a new website for single parent mothers. Submissions in poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction essays are being accepted for the site’s first annual writing contest. Prizes will be awarded in the amounts of $500, $350, and $150. There is no entry fee. Deadline is May 20, 2015. For more information please visit:

I’m Supposed To Be Writing


By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

Ah. Netflix. Amazon Prime. And my best friend: My red sectional couch. They call to me. Really. Binge watching episodes of Wilfred or Orphan Black. Or those Talking Animals videos on YouTube. Have you seen them?

I have this problem. I have writing to do. Not an assignment really. Well sometimes. But I also have my own writing I should be doing. But these characters in these shows and videos are so engaging that I become distracted from what’s most important – my writing. And I can always make the excuse that I can’t think of anything interesting to write about.

Maybe not having anything to write about is your excuse. You know, writer’s block? Dinty W. Moore won’t let you get by with that excuse. “If you walk away from the keyboard, the notepad, the desk, then yes, you are blocked, but it is of your own making” he states in his book Crafting the Personal Essay. 

15-nothing-to-write-about-life-my-life-is-boreBut what if you really do feel stuck?

What if you truly feel you’ve nothing to write about?

When I was doing my undergrad work I learned about the power of using prompts. The best part is that they are widely accessible: You can find them in craft books. You can find them online. You can make up your own prompts. Or, you can take an essay or book you recently read and write something based on that; perhaps there is a technique or form the writer used that you’d like to try.

The possibilities are truly infinite.

Maybe what you pump out from these prompts won’t be prize-winning pieces but they will get you writing. And that writing could lead to discovery. Right in the middle of what you consider nothing you just might find that something worth pushing forward.

So get your hands on some prompts and get writing!

For a great craft essay on prompts visit Brevity Magazine’s website at:

For a list of writing prompts visit the Poets and Writers website at:


Show Me The Money:

Writing About Diversity


By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

In February HBO announced they were looking for emerging writers of diverse backgrounds for its writing fellowship. The call for submissions asked for samples of screenwriting, a resume, and an answer to the question “How has your background influenced the stories you want to tell?” HBO is looking for writers of diverse backgrounds to create new content for their shows and films. But why the need for such diversity?

Perhaps it is because nowadays the headlines are filled with stories of injustices against people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or all of the above. I don’t believe, and many would agree with me, that these injustices are becoming more frequent. But in our age of advancing technology, of the cell phone and social media, we are merely becoming more aware of them. And with this awareness comes the need to understand.

To understand why.

To understand each other.

As writers we search for this understanding of the world through our art. So I thought for today’s “Show Me The Money” it would be fitting to spotlight contests in search of diverse writing.


WNDB Short Story Contest

WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) has launched this contest in the effort to “support diversity and improve exposure for diverse books and writers, with the intention of inspiring a vast array of readers at the same time.” There is no entry fee and the grand prize is $1,000 and publication in an anthology. The deadline is May 8, 2015. For more information visit:

Insanity Prize

Knut House Magazine is sponsoring a contest for short stories that “dramatize the experience of insanity authentically.” There is a $10.00 entry fee and the grand prize is $1,000 and publication in the magazine. The deadline is April 30, 2015. For more information visit:

Wildbilly Fiction Contest

Trajectory Journal 2015 is looking for “realistic stories set in the South or West.”There is a $15.00 entry fee and the grand prize is $100 and publication in the journal. The deadline is September 1, 2015. For more information visit:



HSWC Profiles: Catherine Valdez

Catherine Valdez’s poem “Mami” took second place in the poetry category.

As a child, stories that stuck to me were always those with a magical element.  I became more attached to the fantasies found in stories than to actual people. Whenever I read a novel as a child, the plotline never seemed to vacate my head. My mind would play with the plot and the characters and expand upon their journeys. It overwhelmed me until I began to put words to paper. I can’t remember when exactly I started writing stories, but I first took the initiative to pursue a future in writing when I auditioned for a writing program at my current high school, Miami Arts Charter, as a prospective ninth grader.

I find myself attempting to preserve a sense of innocence, something that is often lacking or overlooked in the real world, in my writing. Although I enjoyed lighter subjects I write about darker subjects in order to bring to light that there is hidden meaning and hope in even the most unfortunate events. Because writing has allowed me to escape the reality of abuses and instability, I like to bring attention to the causes of such things in my work. This includes the topics of cultural uprooting, and the effects of loss on the human mind. I’d like to say that everything inspires me, and that there is always a trail of notes or ideas stuffed into my journal or phone because I want to give things or concepts the voice they deserve, whether it be the poetry in picturesque scenery or a narrative of an immigrant trying to find comfort in unfamiliar lands.

It feels amazing to win an award. My confidence in my writing often fluctuates, and having my work be recognized makes me feel like I am on the right track to attaining mastery of my craft. I am currently finishing my senior year. I will be attending Columbia University in the upcoming fall as a member of the class of 2019. I plan on majoring in creative writing and pursuing a career based heavily in the literary arts.


Catherine Valdez is a first generation Dominican America residing in Miami, Florida. She has had a passion for the written word ever since she read her first book and currently studies creative writing at Miami Arts Charter School.  Her hometown is a large inspiration for her, and she pulls the diverse traditions, languages, folklore, and cultures located in the city into the framework of her writing. Her tone often embodies a feeling of fantasy, her favorite genre being magic realism. She has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her work. Among her awards are multiple Young Arts recognitions, being named a semi finalist for the National Student Poet Program, and being granted first place in Princeton University’s 2014 ten minute playwriting contest. She will be attending Columbia University in the City of New York beginning fall 2015.

HSWC Profiles: Laura Ingram

Laura Ingram’s piece “Absolute Value” won third place in the fiction category.

 When did you know you wanted to write?

Since I learned how to spell words out. My first story was written when I was six and it was about a family of birds who committed tax evasion.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Everything around me–how I feel, how other people feel, something I see, things that I read. A big inspiration for me has been The Book Thief, a novel by Markus Zusak. The extraordinary artistry of his prose blows me away every single time and I go back to that book every time I get stuck. I’ve read it seventeen times.

How does it feel/shape your writing knowing something you created won an award?

This isn’t my first major award, but I was super surprised and very pleased when I found out about it. Getting paid for a piece made me feel like a real member of the writing world. It was like the birthday of my creative abilities and I felt celebrated. I’m so glad my teacher told me to partake in this contest.

I would like to study creative writing and communications and become a writer, college professor, both, or possibly a child life specialist after high school.

HSWC Profiles: Lindsay Emi

Lindsay Emi’s non-fiction piece “Latin Class in Seven (VII) Parts” won first place in the non-fiction category and is included in the 2015 edition of the Sierra Nevada Review.

I’m unfortunately not one of those kids who loved writing since they were very young, knew they wanted to be writers, etc. I was actually very resistant to the idea of creative writing until eighth grade, when I somehow ended up in a Creative Writing elective (not by choice). But I loved the class and by the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to continue writing.

I try to read as often as possible, and so I’m always inspired by what I’m currently reading, whether it’s a news article, a poem in my email inbox, a section of my textbook, pieces I’m reading for a journal, etc. I’m also inspired by the things I learn in my classes and the conversations I have with friends and family. My piece “Latin Class in Seven (VII) Parts” came out of my Latin III class, of course; at the time I was writing it, I was inspired by my hilarious classmates, all four of them, who made me realize that the contrast between the very academic, somewhat pretentious-seeming subject of Latin and the high school environment was a great one to explore.

I remember being at school when I got the email from June Saraceno. The first person I told was my friend whom I was with (and who was actually with me in that same eighth grade Creative Writing elective), and I was just so shocked and thrilled to have been recognized. Validation is great, but there are also plenty of contests in which I don’t place at all, and whether I win or lose, I try to remember that the world of teen contests and awards is so strange and subjective and that I need to keep writing for myself, and not for panels of judges. I’m grateful, though, that I got to attend the reception at SNC in January. It was lovely to see the college and even more so to meet my fellow readers Ava, Catherine, and Gabriel, who I learned were all wonderful writers and people.

Of course, being able to write for a living is the dream, and I would love to pursue writing in college. I’m fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents who encourage me to go down the writing path, but I also feel like I have to plan on majoring in something that’ll keep me out of their house when I’m in my thirties.


Lindsay Emi is sixteen years old and a junior at Viewpoint School, CA. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Sierra Nevada Review, Winter Tangerine Review, National Poetry QuarterlytheEEEL, The Riveter Review, the Young Poets Network, and elsewhere. She is an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop, and the The Adroit Journal Mentorship Program. She currently serves as an editor for Polyphony H.S. and a reader for multiple publications, including The Blueshift Journaland Transcendence Magazine. When not writing, she enjoys playing piano and studying classics.

The Writing Dejection and Fear of Rejection


By Rebecca Victoria Ramirez

As I navigate my MFA program I find myself surrounded by great people with a great talent in writing. Sometimes this can be quite intimidating. Even more so is the news that yet another one of my peers has had one of her pieces published.

When I entered my first semester, I went armed and ready, or so I thought, to take on the literary world. I thought I’d be sending in pieces left and right, to anyone who was accepting them, because, after all, I’m a writer, right? But after my first experience of having a piece of my writing work shopped I decided I was far from ready to submit anything. And what resulted from that experience was a temporary withdrawal from writing due to an overwhelming fear of rejection.

I’ve heard that emerging writers should submit pieces like crazy but to be prepared for rejection. Rejection is good, I’ve heard. On the flip side I’ve heard that new writers should be choosy because it’s quality not quantity that publishers look for when deciding on whom to take a chance.

So which is better?

As a writer of non-fiction I frequently hear how hot the genre is right now. It’s what publishers are yearning for, I’m told. So submit stuff. Get your name out there. And while I believe this is true, 8496338840_83408a459e_zI can’t help but think that as picky as I should be with the pieces I submit, I should pay equal attention to where they’re being sent.

With all the periodicals, online magazines, and journals out there, that might prove to be more difficult than it seems. You’ll want to get familiar with the outfit that you plan to submit to.

What kind of pieces do they tend to publish?

Does your piece seem like a good fit?

Below I’ve provided links to some potential online publishing opportunities. It’s a list I jotted down in a workshop with Roxane Gay so it comes from a great source.

Pieces on Women:


Experimental Essays


9th letter

General Interest:

Missouri Review

And for an excellent source of literary journals that spreads across all genres visit the Poets and Writers Database:





Rebecca Victoria Ramirez resides in Northern California with her partner, children, and an assortment of pets. She earned her BA in English May 2013 and will earn her MFA in Creative Writing January 2016.