Finalist Interview: Ashlyn Rebel

Ashlyn Rebel is a student at Mercer University and a finalist in Fiction. We caught up with her this week to ask her a few questions about her life and her craft. Her piece, “Vapor Waves,” will be published in the 46th annual ASC Writers’ Festival magazine.

The Writer

ashlynrebel
Photo Courtesy of Ashlyn Rebel

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently in the middle of a collection of English novels, including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Once I finish those, however, I plan to reread Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, which happens to be my absolute favorite book.

In what spaces do you like to write?

When writing fiction, I typically feel most comfortable simply typing away at my laptop in my room because I know it so well that I don’t have to worry about any distractions and can get the story out much more easily. However, when I’m just working out the details of what I want to include in the story, I like to be out and about, especially in a car or walking around on campus.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your next steps?

Ideally, I would like to keep writing short stories and poetry, but I also want get started on a screenplay and have that completed and revised in a couple years’ time so that I can hopefully begin a career as a screenplay writer. I’m not a highly organized person so all I can say for sure about the future is that I want to keep writing; other than that, I’d just like to keep taking baby steps towards having more short stories published and eventually finishing the screenplays and musical I’ve been wanting to write for years.

What’s a source of inspiration for you?

I like to draw my inspiration from the little artful things in life; I feel that there is so much to be appreciated in the minutiae of life and so much beauty in the way things are, so when I go through life, I try to pay attention and pick up on the beautiful little moments that capture someone so perfectly in half a second and then write about that. There is so much to be noticed in the little things and I love taking those and trying to paint a picture of it all in my writing.

 

The Work

Why this genre?

Typically, when I sit down and write, it just so happens that I end up writing realistic fiction; it isn’t necessarily that I like that genre better, but I think most of my ideas are geared towards capturing life as I see it, and it also seems to come more naturally to me. That being said, I think that for this particular piece, the agonizing and emotional reality of war and the people dragged into it that I wanted to show could only have been properly conveyed in a realistic setting where nothing is exaggerated or distracting, so I had to deliberately keep everything well within the realistic fiction genre from the start.

What do you want readers to take away from your piece?

If I had to choose one thing, it’d probably be the fact that nothing in life is permanent. Youth is not a shelter, love is not a shield, and hope is not a defense. We live in a world and a climate that is constantly changing, and eventually everything that has meaning to us is going to change in some way or another. At the end of the day, all we have are memories, and even those change over time, so all we can do is take in every moment and live with our eyes wide open. Hopefully I’ve captured that appropriately in the short story.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

Honestly, the most difficult part would have to have been writing the postwar scenes and trying to channel the amount of raw emotion that comes with losing someone you love into simple words and sentences for the sake of the story. I feel that pain like that exists almost wholly in the realm without words, and it’s all a writer can really do to try to grab onto the coattails of anything they can get and hope that that will lead the reader where they want them to go, so writing those incredibly emotional scenes in a way that conveyed the emotion the way I wanted to would probably have to be the most challenging part of writing the story.

What are you most proud of in your piece?

I think I’d have to say that I’m most proud of the resolution of the story. I know that sounds like a pretty broad section to be proud of, but after having brought the story to a fairly emotional climax, I really like the way it recedes into a resolution that doesn’t quite resolve anything but instead leaves the story somewhat “open” in a way. In general, I feel like a story isn’t worth much without a powerful ending, so I may be a bit biased; however, I would say I’m fairly proud of the way everything came together in the end.

Finalist Interview: Stachia Natalee Diehl

Stachia Diehl is a student at Young Harris College and a finalist in Fiction. We caught up with her this week to ask her a few questions about her life and her craft. Her fiction piece, “Francis Jones Public Library,” will be published in the 46th annual ASC Writers’ Festival magazine.

The Writer

Diehl Photograph
Photo Courtesy of Stachia Diehl

What are you reading right now?

I started In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders, this week. But I also found a couple of random short fiction anthologies that I have been digging through, so I’m jumping around authors. Also, one of my professors just lent me “To Begin Where I Am,” by Czeslaw Milosz. I’ve only read three or four essays so far, but they’re written so beautifully and I’m looking forward to reading the rest. Prioritizing free reading becomes more difficult as the semester picks up steam—but it’s never impossible.

In what spaces do you like to write?

I wish I had a lovelier answer, but I usually have to be completely alone in my room. I don’t know what it is, but that’s where my best energy is circulated—like an enclosure. I’ve tried writing outside or in coffee shops, but I always end up too distracted and self-conscious. And that applies to the physical act of sitting down to write, not necessarily what gets mentally written.

Because I’m a new creative writer, which is still fun to say, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of writing daily. Even if it sounds dumb or embarrassing. I haven’t met one person who regrets writing every day, whether it’s a journal or just some collection of thought. Not only does this make it easier for words to process, but it’s also relieving to dump everything in a therapeutic way.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your next steps?

I ask myself that question daily, and I still haven’t discovered the correct answer. All I hope is that in my next step contains lots of reading and writing, and people to talk about reading and writing with.

What’s a source of inspiration for you?

Every single person has such an intricate story or piece of their life, and this is very inspirational to me. I don’t like writing about anything too big, because I can barely focus on what’s right in front of me. Being able to study the complexity behind simplicity stretches out infinite possibilities for stories. You can do so much with just one snippet of someone else’s life. Also, I have professors encouraging me to read and write with every second of my free time. Without them I wouldn’t have the confidence to write in the first place, so knowing that there are wonderful people thinking I have something to say is definitely an inspiration.

 

The Work

Why this genre?

I fell in love with fiction only about five months ago. I never even tried writing it until then, I assumed I hated it and that I would have a horrible time adjusting. I also hated the idea of becoming vulnerable, or having people look straight inside your brain. But I took a workshop and fell absolutely in love. Now it’s one of those things that I find myself doing constantly, just asking questions and trying to see a resemblance of an answer. I get excited thinking about challenging myself further and seeing where I’ll be in a year with my writing. Essentially, I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, fiction kind of just slapped me in the face. Lovingly.

What do you want readers to take away from your piece?

I hope readers take away the simplicity of the situation I write about. It’s so much fun to try and squeeze all the life out of boring circumstances and play with people and places. I don’t intend any profoundness or life altering circumstances, but I did intend for a rather dull situation to be described as life changing to the characters. So maybe an outward examination on how people interact and perceive each other.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

Getting it written in the first place. Not that there’s anything terribly difficult to handle in the story, but it’s hard to write anything knowing people are going to pick it apart in some way. I’m still very uncomfortable with the idea of someone reading what I write, because it’s so intimate and bare. But there’s so much energy after improvements are suggested, because you get to realize someone actually cares about something I wrote, and then they helped make it even better! It’s still uncomfortable, but I’m not sure anyone ever adjusts completely.

What are you most proud of in your piece?

I’m proud that it exists. And that it came from my own voice and not what I thought other people wanted to read, which is difficult.

Kamilah Aisha Moon: Former Contest Winner, New Agnes Scott Professor

Kamilah Aisha Moon won the 25th Annual Agnes Scott Writers’ Festival contest in Poetry in 1997. Since then, she’s established herself as a serious and published poet, and now is returning to Agnes Scott this fall as an instructor. Kamilah will join the ASC English Department as an Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing. She looks forward to “working with amazing young women and contributing to the vibrant intellectual and creative community of the college.” Congratulations, Professor, and we look forward to seeing you in the fall!

What is your history with Agnes Scott?

I did not attend Agnes Scott as a student. I completed my B.A. in English at Paine College in Augusta, GA. I saw an advertisement about the statewide creative writing competition held yearly at Agnes Scott for undergraduate students and sent a poetry application for consideration. I received news that I was a finalist and drove to this beautiful, stately campus for the awards ceremony. It was a wonderful surprise to win! Not only did it bolster my confidence as a young writer, the award money allowed me to attend my first international writing conference at NYU two months later. This formative experience in 1997 gave me permission to pursue my writing fully and explore the ideas of scholarship and teaching literature as a profession. It feels like a full circle moment to return to this campus as a poetry professor exactly 20 years later.

What has been your experience with the Festival? Which piece did you win with? 

The first place win at Agnes Scott was the first major recognition for my writing. I had published a few poems in college and community literary journals, but to receive a cash award and expert advice from judges who were established writers inspired me to seriously continue in the discipline. I won for a set of three poems. “Tough Love” was a poem about two close roommates of different backgrounds having a hard conversation about the phrase ‘I don’t see color.’ “Me and My Friends Circa 1981” was a fond recollection of an inner city neighborhood and the innocence of its children before crime took over. “An Afternoon at the Mall” was about a store clerk profiling shoppers of color as they shopped. These poems were definitely rough around the edges, so I’m grateful that the judges saw through the coal dust and recognized the diamond potential in a young writer.

What parts of the writing process do you most enjoy?

I love when inspiration compels me to stop what I’m doing and write. Over the years, I’ve learned to surrender to play, to write with abandon and turn off the internal editor for the initial draft so that I allow everything to make it to the page uncensored. So many gems are found within those first impulses to articulate experience, to experiment with language in ways that get us closer to meaning and illuminate the ineffable. I am grateful to be seized by an idea—to look up and realize that I haven’t moved for hours, need a meal and day has turned into night.

What parts do you still struggle with?

I think most emerging writers struggle with refining work. But I truly appreciate the revision process now more than ever. I think the key is patience. I will put a poem or an essay away for an extended period of time so that I can return to it with new eyes. Sometimes I have to live more life to know what a piece needs. I will say a line out loud over and over again until the rhythm and meter feel effortless. I will employ syntax in unconventional ways for greater impact; or scale down a diatribe to its essential concern or question unadorned so that a reader can’t turn away from it.

What advice do you have for emerging writers and artists?

Strive to be an endless apprentice and stay open to new ideas, but also trust your instincts and take risks. When someone else’s advice is germane to your project’s vision, deeply consider it. Run toward the projects and opportunities that scare you the most; turn fear into fuel and welcome challenges.

 

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Finalist Interview: Marlo Starr

Marlo Starr is a student at Emory University and a finalist in Poetry. We caught up with Marlo to talk about his life and craft. Marlo’s poetry will be published in the 46th annual ASC Writers’ Festival magazine.

The Writer

What are you reading right now?

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Jennifer Cheng’s House A is up next.

In what spaces do you like to write?

I like to write at my kitchen table in the early morning. It doesn’t always work out that way, but when I manage to wake up even before my dog, I feel like I have the world all to myself.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your next steps?

I’m still in the weeds with my dissertation. Ask me when I get to the other side?

What’s a source of inspiration for you?

I tend to get a lot of ideas when I’m not actively trying to write, when I’m reading or watching a movie. Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women is one I keep going back to you lately. It wrecks me every time.

 

The Work

Why this genre?

I really like Jonathan Culler’s idea of the lyric as “an event” in itself rather than “the representation of an event.” I also write short fiction, but poetry allows me to shake off some of my loyalties to narrative truth or needing to tell things as they happened. Fiction can subvert narrative, too, but I think something about poetic time can take us out of re-imagining the past and thrust us into the present.

What do you want readers to take away from your piece?

When I wrote “The Metric System,” “normalization” was a buzzword in the news, and I was thinking about how systems work to either downplay or hide violence, especially family systems that protect behaviors by keeping them secret. From the inside, the behavior is accepted as normal, except for the shared understanding that it wouldn’t be perceived that way from the outside. I think larger social systems can also work in a similar way by refusing to recognize what’s right on the surface—there’s no big reveal because we all knew it was there all along.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

Like a lot of writers, I wasn’t able to produce anything in the weeks after the 2016 Presidential election. “The Metric System” was one of the few things I managed to write. Growing up in the desert, our house was often infested with black widows. I remembered how my family got used to it, and somehow, that became an apt metaphor for the current cultural and political climate.

 

Finalist Interview: Morgan Bilicki

Morgan Bilicki is a student at Young Harris College and a finalist in Poetry. We caught up with her this week to ask her a few questions about her life and her craft. Her poem, “Madame Clofullia,” will be published in the 46th annual ASC Writers’ Festival magazine.

The Writer

20170301_180340_0What are you reading right now?

MB: Rarely do I read just one thing, and currently I’m working through three. First is Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures. I’ve been reading more nonfiction lately and Shetterly’s researching skills just blow me away – I mean, she’s phenomenally thorough and dedicated to detailing this huge area of history that’s previously been ignored. Second, I’m reading James May’s Unquiet Things. Imagery is one of the aspects of poetry that I think all genres of writing should utilize, and May treats the image as the cornerstone of each piece, thereby adding to its strength in a way I want to emulate. Finally, the third book I’m digging through is Green Greener Greenest by Lori Bongiorno. I’ve been trying to implement more eco-friendly habits into my life, and this book helps spell everything out in an obtainable manner.

In what spaces do you like to write?

MB: I like to picture myself sitting in my room at my big, lovely desk. My posture is healthy and comfortable for working at my laptop, and I’m concentrated but still enjoying the process. I’ve got organized notes beside me, and maybe I’ve even got a cup of tea. In reality, though, I slouch on my bed (usually in pajamas) with my laptop slowly burning my leg through my lap desk. I take random Google-breaks to search random things which tend to have nothing to do with what I’m writing, and while the tea sometimes exists, the organized notes do not! It’s not pretty, but it works. (I think.)

Where do you want to go from here? What are your next steps?

MB: I like to plan ahead in little steps – life tends to be pretty unpredictable, so I try to keep my options open! Currently, I’m planning on writing all summer long, then graduating next year. From there, I’ll decide on whether or not grad school is for me. Eventually, I think it’d be pretty cool to share everything I’ve learned and experienced, so maybe I’ll follow the professor’s path. Ultimately, though, I just want to pursue the things I love – like reading and writing!

What’s a source of inspiration for you?

Feminism actually leads me to a lot of the things I end up writing, whether directly or indirectly. There’s a huge gap in literature where women are either nonexistent or mistreated – or worse, stereotyped cookie cutters of an idea– so I feel that it’s important for me to address this as often as possible. Women’s lives are incredibly diverse and packed with stories. I just want to help spread them.

The Work

Why this genre?

It’s funny to think about it now, but I used to never consider myself a poet; I was simply someone who wrote poetry. Because I was home-schooled, I had the freedom to explore my interests, so when a friend’s mother decided to teach a poetry class, I wanted to see if it was for me. One class turned into many, and I spent a good deal of my high school years composing poems in every form I could. When I got to college, though, I just assumed that I was destined for fiction, that poetry would just be a hobby. One, however, does not simply walk away from poetry. Since my high school days, I’ve become obsessed with what a poem can do in such a short amount of space, and how each element of craft plays a role in how the reader digests what’s written. I want to say that I’m attracted to poetry because it’s magical, but really, “magical” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

What do you want readers to take away from your piece?

That anyone can rock a beard.

What was the most challenging part of writing your piece?

Since “Madame Clofullia” is based on a real woman, it was important to me to be accurate to her story while also presenting truths that modern readers could relate to and understand. This balance of historical research and poetic technique was something I hadn’t really attempted before, so keeping everything organized was a challenge. In the end, though, incorporating all of these different elements helped me to orient my focus on condensing and ordering information so as to present the reader with the clearest image possible while also layering in those poetic truths that make for those unforgettable connections between reader and written word.

What are you most proud of in your piece?

I’m totally a line nerd, so I’m pretty proud of the lines in this piece! Lines are so integral to a poem’s make up – they really act as the backbone to the other elements. There’s always a lot of criteria I consider when crafting lines: How do they look in proportion to each other? Is their information organized in a way that makes sense? How long should they be – and should they all be similar in length or does it make sense to have variation? What words end each line, and are they strong? I keep high standards for my lines, and the ones in this piece were a pleasure to craft.

2017 Guest Writers

Three distinguished authors will be on campus April 4-7, 2017, for Agnes Scott College’s 45th Annual Writers’ Festival, the oldest continuous literary event in Georgia. The 2017 visiting authors are poet Claudia Rankine, writer and poet Patrick Phillips, and Agnes Scott alumna writer, poet Kayla Miller ’11.

Claudia Rankine

CLAUDIA RANKINE

Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. For Citizen, Rankine won the Forward Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was also nominated in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award’s history to be a double nominee), the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the NAACP Image Award. A finalist for the National Book Award, Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. She lives in New York City and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

photo of writer Patrick PhillipsPATRICK PHILLIPS

Patrick Phillips is the author of a book of nonfiction, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (W. W. Norton 2016), and three poetry collections. His most recent, Elegy for a Broken Machine was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry; his two earlier collections are Boy and Chattahoochee. He is also the translator of When We Leave Each Other: Selected Poems of Henrik Nordbrandt. A Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Phillips’ work has appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Nation, and his honors include the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America. Phillips lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Drew University. Phillips will teach the one-credit, one-week creative writing seminar associated with the Writers’ Festival.

 

photo of writer Kayla Miller

KAYLA MILLER
Kayla Miller earned her BA in English Literature-Creative Writing from Agnes Scott College in 2011 and her MFA in Fiction from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2016. She is the author of the chapbook See & Be Seen & Be Scene, winner of Five [Quarterly] ’s chapbook competition, and a recipient of the Talbot International Award to write in Spain. Her work has appeared in the journals The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg ReviewTahoma Literary Review, and HOLD: a journal, among others.

2017 Writers’ Festival Events

We are very excited about this year’s distinguished guests, and we hope that you join us for one or more of the public events listed below.
Please note that each of these events are free and open to the public, with no ticket required.

Reading by Agnes Scott Student Finalists in the Writers’ Festival Contest
Tuesday, April 4, 5 p.m.
Luchsinger Lounge, Alston Campus Center

Q&A With Claudia Rankine, Patrick Phillips, and Kayla Miller `11
Thursday, April 6, 1 p.m.
Luchsinger Lounge, Alston Campus Center

Reading by Patrick Phillips
Reception and book signing to follow
Thursday, April 6, 4 p.m.
Winter Theater, Dana Fine Arts

Reading by Claudia Rankine 
Reception and book signing to follow
Thursday, April 6, 8 p.m.
Winter Theater, Dana Fine Arts

Reading by Kayla Miller ’11
Reception and book signing to follow
Friday, April 7, 2 p.m.
Winter Theater, Dana Fine Arts

 

 

Interview with Former Winner Robby Nadler

robby nadler photoIn 2015 Robby Nadler won the Writer’s Festival.
He is a graduate of UCLA and University of Montana, and he is currently a PhD student at University of Georgia.

Interviewer: Why did you decide to enter the Writers’ Festival?

Robby Nadler: The first time I entered the contest was simply based on it being a contest, and I thought to myself, why not. However, after becoming a finalist and experiencing the entire festival, I developed a great affection for it as a whole. The craft talks. The dinner with all the other finalists. In each year that I’ve subsequently participated, I’ve done so less because of the contest and more because the event is a wonderful literary treasure that I’m honored to be a part of.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

None of it? I don’t mean that writing isn’t difficult but that I don’t know if any part is more difficult than another. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to write because I rather not spend the day locked in a room. Other times what I want to write comes out badly, and I can’t figure out how to revise it. Especially when you write across genres, you learn there are unique problems to each form. I have great difficulty carrying on extended narrative in fiction, which isn’t an issue for me in poetry; yet, I have a tendency to indulge in mental haberdashery when composing poetry, but I’m very restrained in that regard in prose. All in all, I find writing something that demands constant endurance.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Pre-writing. I don’t spend a significant amount of time, physically, writing compared to other writers I know because I have usually written the whole piece in my mind several times before I compose it on a computer. That means I spend a great deal of time in my head. When I first develop an idea, there’s a rush of infatuation with possibility: maybe I have a line of dialogue, an image, a wonderful sentence serving as a condensation nucleus. 95% of what I generate doesn’t pan out, which can be disappointing. But I love the moment that possibility dawns. I spend days, sometimes weeks, at times even years revisiting plots and characters and lines. There’s something deeply penetrating about thinking my way through a piece that reveals its facets one mystery after another. In many ways, the saddest part of writing, for me, is pushing out these pieces from their privacy and protean being in my mind onto the public and codified page.

What advice do you have for students interested in writing/publications?

There’s a difference between writing for a living and writing for all other reasons. If it’s the latter, go ahead and do it. The happiest writers I know are the ones who write the way I sing, which is to say with great joy without regard to quality (in my case, poor quality). It’s a whole different game if you’re looking to go down the MFA/professional route. It’s competitive. Chance has a lot to do with it. Most people burn out. I don’t know if that matters at the end of the day in that you should chase the thing you want most in this world; if that’s writing, try. You can be smart about it, though. I put myself through my MFA while becoming a professional baker. I jumped academia tracks from creative writing to rhetoric and composition. The whole time I’ve done the writing game, I’ve made sure to have a plan B (and C). It’s rare for even a well-published author to earn a living from writing only, so developing a life while pursuing writing has always seemed the safest way to proceed in my opinion. As far as publications go, they’re wonderful to have but don’t determine your value as a writer. I never even thought about publishing until I was in an MFA (boy was I late to the game!). I must have submitted to fifty-some journals that year, and I was rejected by all of them. The next year, I had a few dozen acceptances. I wrote a book in three months that took three years for someone to agree to publish. I think my story of publishing is quite average for people who publish: you write a lot, get rejected a lot more, and every now and then some good news. I’m thrilled if 10% of my submissions are accepted for publications. If you’re going to try to publish, you have to learn to be happy with good news, whenever it comes, and not dwell on the everything until then.

What are you doing/working on now?

I direct the Writing Center at the University of Georgia, so a lot of my time goes toward academic and professional writing. Between that and teaching, I’m trying to enjoy where I am in my life right now. I bake a lot. I get home and watch Netflix. I spend time with my partner. I used to think of nothing but writing, but after the publication of my first book, I had all this weight on my shoulders dissolve. I haven’t written much of anything for the last two years, and I’m realizing that’s good for me. I read a lot now. I notice a lot more than I used to from a craft perspective. This summer I plan to sit down and write the opening chapter to a novel that has been incubating in my mind for several years.  I look forward to the flames.