By Maya Johnson - October 17, 2023

What is the purpose of the Interview for you?

I suppose interviews are something reserved for people we find fascinating, a way to pick apart their brains. But I don’t think I’m particularly interesting, or at least well-known. Most smaller, more unknown artists never get the chance to explain their process or their personhood, but those are the ones I want to know the most about. The way that publishing works today, there are a million unknown writers with a million small publications scattered across the industry, but little to know record of who they are besides a short blurb. I want to get to know more artists before they get big, or get to know them if they never do, and I want more artists to get to intimately know themselves.

How do you relate the concepts of personhood and writing?

I think that unless you are famous, most writers do not have a personhood outside of their art. At least as writers. It is interesting, as you continue in this industry you start to get the feeling that who you are as a person can only be important if it's publishable, and that your personal experiences are only fodder for your writing. Oftentimes, through fiction we express our personal feelings and urges through character, but my characters are not me and my fiction is not my life. It’s very difficult to convince people of that. They think that if they read my writing they know me, but I think that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

How did you get into writing?

I always use this anecdote about my grandmother when someone asks about how I got into writing, about how when she was growing up in Mississippi, her mother had to make the choice to send her and her siblings to school or have work in the fields to feed the family. My grandma left home very young, and she’s lived such a rich, wise existence, but the shame she felt for her lack of education followed her. She always tells me that she wanted to be a writer.

In my family education was always situated in a place of high importance because of what my grandmother couldn't have. I love my grandmother, I’ve always revered her. I want to be what she could not.

One time I got upset with my older sister for being mean to me or something else that kid sisters do to each other, and instead of telling my parents I wrote them a letter. Put it in a sealed envelope and everything. This was in first grade and my parents still love telling that story. God only knows what compelled me to write them a whole fucking letter at like seven years old. I don’t know. I’m not very good at speaking. Maybe it was the only way I could communicate.

Is there a book or author that greatly inspired you to write?

Yes actually! There were so many books I loved when I was younger but they were mostly children's books, you know the kind you get from a scholastic catalog at school? Dear Dumb Diary, Harry Potter, that kind of thing. But my grandmother was—is—really into old British stuff. By middle school I’d seen Pride and Prejudice (the mini series not the movie, it has a lot more detail) enough times to memorize the lines. Grandma also really likes reading, you know she didn’t get to finish her schooling so she likes to educate herself in other ways. Anyways, she had a copy of Pride and Prejudice on her bedside table where I’d sleep when we spent the night and one night I started reading it to my sister. I guess because I’d seen the series it was a lot easier to get into Austen at a young age. She inspired me to write in a way I’d never considered before.

Is there a genre that you tend to write in?

Fiction would be the simple answer. Realistic fiction maybe? My older stuff was always very fantastical but lately I’ve been drawing more from my own life, trying to communicate the things that I’m seeing and experiencing rather than playing around in some imaginary world.

Do you feel as though your gender, ethnic, race, class or other affiliated identity influences your writing? If so, how?

Oh absolutely. I think about writers I’ve read recently across the African Diaspora like Toni Morrison or Brit Bennet or Nicole Dennis Bett. Yeah it’s fiction, but the content directly has to do with issues within the black community or that black women face, it's about making the reader see through your eyes. Same with queer writers. I think there are some writers who get the liberty to write without having to worry about how their identity influences their works in that sense. I am not one of them. When I write about my world I’m writing about systems of oppression without even trying, you know? All the things that I’ve experienced, all the things I’ve read and learned about just bleed into my writing, so the struggle is getting someone who is not me to care about what I, or people like me, go through. Sometimes writing becomes an act of activism without even trying. 

What is the most difficult aspect of writing?

Finishing a story. Making all the little working pieces fit together and feeling confident that you did it right. That it flows perfectly. That doesn’t need one more edit.

What is the best and worst writing advice that you have received?

“It’s hard to be creative. It’s so much easier to render.” This came from my fiction professor on the first day of class this quarter. That day I wrote one of the best stories I’ve written in a long time, effortlessly, and my writing since has transformed in a way that I think is really beautiful, so I’m grateful for this piece of advice. But, he literally tells us this every class, without fail, sometimes multiple times. 

Do I think rendering experience is useful? Yes. But that can’t be all you do, can it? For me it’s about balancing that with creativity and imagination. I’d feel like a fraud if I called myself a fiction writer but only wrote like someone like Dan Humphrey or Jenny Schecter, compiling tales of my closest relations, changing the names slightly, and passing it off as “fiction”. Besides, the friends and family of both those characters turned against them when they read their books. I’d hate for anybody in my life to feel exposed through my writing.

Is there a type of writing that you absolutely cannot stand?

I have no patience for writers who spend paragraphs or pages wandering around descriptions that add nothing substantial to the piece. When I write description or imagery I try to only write things that mean something to me. A random character’s intimate physical description, for example, usually means nothing to me. Too many writers nowadays will write things like “I was wearing a red, raw-hem Fall Out Boy t-shirt, a pair of ripped mom jeans, and black Doc Martens. My long brown hair was braided over my shoulder in a way that drew attention to my hazel eyes, light brown with specks of yellow that turned green in the light”—I can’t take it. Does that not read as so vain? And like self important? Like I don’t want the reader’s eyes inside my closet for half a page, I want them focused on the plot, you know? I feel like, as a writer, you should have more to show for than aesthetics.

What is the point of all this?

What is the point of writing, really? I’ve spent the last few years drowning in rejection and feelings of unworthiness surrounding my writing. We writers must put ourselves up for judgment again and again, defining our worth by the tastes of an industry we know is held in the palm of a white, patriarchal, archaic structure. We all begin writing for ourselves, about ourselves, and at some point end up endlessly trying to appease people we don’t even know. So what is the point? There is none.

Theoretically, I wrote this all for you, my imaginary audience. But really, I just wrote it for myself. I think that’s true for all that I write, and I hope it stays that way.

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