I originally moved to Los Angeles to study film at USC. I would be the greatest storyteller in all of Hollywood! (So I said.) But after about three weeks, I found myself pulled in a different direction. Arriving from a small town in the northern suburbs of California, Los Angeles was like nothing I’d seen. The streets were pulsing. The people were diverse. The traffic was always heavy. I loved it. I never felt uncomfortable or out of place. Instead, I explored. I watched. I listened. I wrote things down. I met students from various cultures and places who shared their stories and experiences with me. We came from different places, we looked different, we were all brought up in very different ways, but we connected despite those things. Their stories inspired me, and so, I began to write my own. I would carry around a notebook and jot down words with beautiful cadence. I fell in love with language—the voices, the gestures, the simple music of private speech. I decided that writing was something I wanted to pursue seriously.
Since then I have participated in workshops lead by writers: Dana Johnson, Marianne Wiggins, Percival Everett, Molly Bendall, Carol Muske-Dukes, and T.C. Boyle. I was also given the opportunity to teach fiction writing to a group of incredibly creative fifth graders at the 32nd Street School through The Writer in the Community, a course taught by Aimee Bender. Each of these experiences has further validated my passion for the arts. My peers and professors have really pushed me in terms of my own writing. They’ve taught me a great deal, and for that, I am most grateful.
This coming fall I’m headed off to New York where I’ll be pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at The New School. My goal is to explore all areas of literature. The beautiful thing about reading is discovering that you are never alone, that other people share your experiences, emotions, and even your private thoughts. I truly believe the arts are one medium that allow people to connect with one another, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. They have had a tremendous impact on my own character. For now, I hope to continue learning and one day teach so I may inspire students in the same manner that I have been inspired. I am honored to have been a recipient of an award that represents this.
“For me, it started with a single story: a brief, overwritten work of fantasy fan-fiction that I suspected was awful even while I wrote it, back in the sixth grade. Remarkably though, the teacher to whom I showed my first story was generous enough to humor me — she took the time to read it, and she actually encouraged me to write more. I followed her advice and continued to write creatively, independent of the classroom, but it wasn’t until I studied with the professors here at USC that I discovered the passion to pursue reading and writing as a true concentration.
At USC, I did my best to take full advantage of the wide breadth of opportunities afforded me, serving as co-editor-in-chief of Palaver (with fellow Gauntt Award winner Lauren Perez), captaining USC’s men’s club water polo team, and studying English literature abroad at a summer program at the University of Cambridge. I have also been fortunate enough to earn recognition for my writing during my time at USC, winning the Edward W. Moses Prize for Creative Writing in 2009 and the Undergraduate Writing Conference in Analytical Writing in 2011. In the fall, I plan to study for my Master’s in English literature at Georgetown University as the Lannan Center Graduate Student Fellow.
However, I readily admit that any success I’ve managed in the past four years can be directly attributed to the inspiration and dedication of the teachers who have so influenced my passions — from sixth grade to the present. To repeat a sentiment that I voiced at the Gauntt Award reception: if I am reluctant to leave this school which has given me so much, and if I am prepared for the life that lies beyond, I owe it all to the wonderful relationships that I have shared with my professors.”
While at USC I began work on a chapbook entitled “Bending Buttons” which is written in imitation of and in response to Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons,” a collection of short poems. When I began imitating Stein’s style I felt like a copycat or a thief and was terrified to bring my manuscript in for my workshop peers to read. However, the same day that I brought in my first draft, Professor Cecilia Woloch read aloud a poem by Lynn Emanuel entitled “inside of gertrude stein”. In the poem, Emanuel imitates Stein’s style while also creating something entirely her own. I cannot explain how relieved I was to hear Emanuel’s words read aloud that day, what a comfort it was to know that I wasn’t alone in picking up Stein’s secret poetic frequency. From that workshop forward I have been fascinated with putting my work into conversation with various other literary heroes.
In about a month I’ll be attending the University of Pittsburgh where I will begin work on my Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry. I am delighted to say that I will be studying under the one-and-only Lynn Emanuel this fall at Pitt. The thing that has always excited me about the arts is that the lives of others can powerfully intersect my own, as in the case of Gertrude Stein and Lynn Emanuel. When engaging in any creative process, we are all casting our lines out into murky waters with the simple hope that someone will find them there and get hooked. It is that idea, the connection of people across time, which sits not only at the heart of my passion, but also at the heart of this award. I feel exceedingly privileged to join the legacy of Jimmy Gauntt and the scholars who have previously been honored in his name.
I started writing when it occurred to me that I could write a much better mystery for the Boxcar Children than their author Gertrude Chandler Warner. My story involved vengeful ghosts and a near fatal fall from a cliff, and sadly remains unfinished. I started writing because I love reading, and I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. I think I was mainly encouraged to continue reading and writing because it kept me quiet; nevertheless, I’ve kept at it.
I didn’t think I was going to be a writer until I got to USC. I’d been involved in the arts before that—I built stages, wrote one acts, and put together the high school literary magazine—but I didn’t really take it seriously. I only ever said I was going to be a writer when I didn’t know what else I was going to do. It was a fill in ambition, between marine biologist and civil rights lawyer. But then I was picking my classes, and I realized I was an English major. Once that step was taken, the rest fell into place.
It helped that I had wonderful professors, who were kind enough (or cruel enough) to encourage me to pursue writing, to take it seriously. In return, I want to encourage others to do the same; while at USC I was co editor in chief of the campus literary magazine (with Colin Dwyer, another recipient of the Gauntt Award), an activity that often felt like an uphill battle to convince people to take the arts seriously. Someday I’d like to teach, to convince another poor fool who might otherwise have been the next Jacques Cousteau to give this writing thing a try. In the meantime I’m going to give this writing thing a try. It is an honor to be offered the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award, and I can only hope I have the grit to pursue writing in the same spirit he did.