Keep reading to find out more about them, their relationship to writing, what they look for when evaluating pieces, and more!
Lisa Zou, Poetry Editor
Name: Lisa Zou
Hometown: Chandler, AZ
School/Grade: Hamilton High/Grade 12
Favorite Writer(s): Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates
Current favorite song: Gone by Kina Grannis
Recent weird dream you've had: Being chased by lions in the woods
1. Though obvious and cliché, we feel like these are necessary questions: What/who introduced you to the literary world, what do you love about it, and how do you find your inspiration?
Anne of Green Gables introduced me to the literary world. Her story, along with dozens of other classics, grasped my attention at a young age. I really enjoy learning about the lives of other people (both fictional and real) and these tales have instilled a sense of empathy in me. It is impossible to live so many experiences in a lifetime, and books have allowed me to explore thousands of time periods and places. There are life lessons in every corner of the literary world. Novels, plays, and poetry succinctly illustrate how love and hate have evolved over the centuries. Although these authors (Louisa May Alcott, the Bronte sisters, Lucy Montgomery) lived over a century ago, I still connect with their writings about loss, despair, and happiness. I have never felt lonely because of these characters--they have been my support, my friends in a way. I feel inspired by these classic authors and I use events from my own life as inspiration as well.
2. As poetry editor, you're able to shape the way you evaluate and pick the poetry that goes into our issues. Do you have any goals you have for the poetry genre in GKA? What kind of pieces would you like to see more of? What do you look for most in a poem? Any advice you have for writers submitting poetry to GKA?
I am invested in improving the quality of pieces in the poetry genre of GKA. Of course, poetry is very subjective but every poem should speak to the reader. One of the things I look for in poetry is originality. While themes like friendship, broken hearts, and nature are common topics to write about, it is important to write about them in a fresh way through specific anecdotes or novel language. Once in awhile, I'll come across a piece that is so wonderful, I'll feel the need to write down a few of the lines. I can't exactly say what I want to see more of--surprise me! In a poem, I look for varied structure; all the sentences shouldn't be "noun-verb" unless it is the author's intent. The point of every poem is for the reader to understand. Quite a few young writers have the misconception that using obscure words elevates their writing. But poetry shouldn't come off as pretentious! The reader shouldn't need a dictionary to understand what you are trying to say. Use the more "specific" word instead of the more "difficult" word.
3. You recently won an honorable mention for poetry in the YoungArts competition, which is a HUGE deal. Congratulations! Could you talk a little bit about your experience? Why you applied, how the process went, what happens now that you've won?
Throughout high school, I was involved in Poetry Interpretation (which is an event in Speech and Debate). I've watched pretty much every slam poetry video on Youtube. Originally, I was interested in entering in the new Spoken Word category of YoungArts. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera, so that was not possible and I had to submit poetry! I applied because YoungArts offers unique opportunities and cash awards. I knew the previous winners were incredible writers, so I really didn't expect to win anything. I'm headed to YoungArts Miami program in a few weeks and I'm excited!
4. MAJOR congratulations on getting into UPenn! What are you excited about? Nervous about? What made you decide on UPenn? Any college application advice for younger people?
Thanks! I chose UPenn for its location. Being from a Southwestern suburb, I knew I wanted to spend the next few years in a big city on the east coast. I was especially attracted to UPenn's pre-professional atmosphere. Although I'm not an English major, UPenn has a wonderful writing program! I am excited to meet new people and explore the northeast. Meeting new people is also pretty nerve wracking, as well as parting ways with the friends who have been with me for a decade. As for college application advice, I'd recommend not procrastinating and keeping options open by applying to a variety of different places. My full college app list only contained six schools, and in retrospect, should have been longer.
5. Now that you are a semester away from college, do you see yourself writing in the future? What are some of your own long-term plans (if any) both in and out of the literary scene?
Of course, writing is in my future! While I don't think I'm quite brilliant enough to make a career out of writing, I will continue to write because I find solace in writing. Having a book published is definitely on my bucket list. I think it's hard for me to really break into writing professionally because there's a fine line between writing for others and writing for myself, and currently, I just write for myself. Another item on my bucket list is to be featured on Button Poetry one day. I also do a lot of blogging, which I'd like to continue in the future.
6. The young adult community of writers is a unique one. Often, there can be a lot of pressure and stress that comes with being part of this community. Do you consider yourself to be a part of the community? When/how did you first find out about this network? Has being part of it shaped you as a writer or a person in any way?
I had my first poem published in a local magazine when I was a freshman, and I was hooked. I have enjoyed receiving feedback on my writing as well as reading the writing of other young adults. I've made friends through this network and it's crazy considering I haven't seen most of these people in person. I don't necessarily know how to define the community of young writers...I just know that I love writing and sharing my work--as do thousands of other teens across the nation. I've read for Polyphony HS, and a few other places that first introduced me to this community. Being part of this has helped me gain confidence in my writing abilities and faith in my ability to contribute something to society. I definitely do realize that there is pressure and stress in the writing community; I try to avoid the competitive aspect of it by reminding myself that I am constantly evolving and improving my work.
7. Where/when/other do you write? Do you prefer to write under certain conditions (for example, complete silence)?
I usually write better if I'm in an emotional state. So I write the most when I'm extremely happy or sad. I find music distracting, so I do write in silence. When I was younger, I would carry a notebook with me to the park. Nowadays, I don't actually write anything down--I go straight to the computer. In the past couple years, I did most of my writing while lying down on the floor of my basement. Sometimes I can be rather cheesy by turning on audios of storms or heavy rain.
8. Favorite piece of work from a writer who is approximately the same age as you?
How do I even answer this question? There are so many! I read a lot of incredible pieces when I edited for Canvas Literary Journal. I especially enjoy the works of Audrey Spensley and Allie Spensley--I think they are really talented. I also like the work of a writer featured previously in GKA--Rona Wang. I recently read one of Rona's creative non-fiction pieces and my immediate reaction was to reread because it was so good!
9. Do you have a piece of your own writing are you most proud of? (You can link it, attach it, put it in the body of the email, etc.) If so, why is this piece of writing important to you?
The piece of writing I am most proud of is always my last piece of work. I like to say "write and never look back" because I constantly find mistakes in my old writing and can't really handle rereading them without mentally changing lines in my head. (I don't edit my work as much as I should.) The last thing I wrote was last night, Although it's still really rough, here's the poem that I still don't have a title for.
Of course, he meant nothing to me
alive, why would he, a boy
in the neighborhood I’d only ever
glimpse slumped in the black bench
or hunched behind the circle of fifths.
The only thing that passed between us
was a look—when I asked him for music
theory workbooks—with his faint scrawls
in D minor and the way the trophies decorated
the wallpaper. He hurled them as if I wasn’t there.
The day before he died I drove back to Dallas
and saw his shadow on the concrete for the first time,
cigarette anchored to his pearly teeth. Yes,
I remember the teacher’s incessant praise, the way
all mothers prayed for genius sons like David.
And in the rear view mirror, the golden
line from the sun pierced through his hair, as if he
had already become an angel or a madman.
A few hours later, the sidewalk was reportedly bare.
I didn’t think much of it. Days stretched by
and I stumbled over a stack of theory books
at the thrift store, my quarter notes
on top of his erased rests. God, I could almost
hear him singing Caruso. The night he swam
in the infested river and became oxygen-free,
he must have drowned the jealousy behind
the melodies or all the years I spent aching
to be a prodigy, still wondering how
we forgive ourselves for all the better lives
we were only almost good enough for.
10. Anything else you want to say? Anything at all! :)
Whenever you feel stressed or unhappy, just write down your thoughts. It's therapeutic and you become a better writer in the process. Also, don't be afraid to take risks when creating characters and plot.
Andy Tu, Prose Editor
Name: Andy Tu
Hometown: Chino Hills, CA
Favorite Writer(s): Alexandre Dumas
Favorite song: Lose Yourself by Eminem
Recent weird dream you've had: Not really sure, but I do have a recurring one where my teeth start falling out.
1. The most obvious and cliché, but necessary questions: What/who introduced you to the literary world, what do you love about it, and how do you find your inspiration?
I actually spark-noted nearly every book I “read” for my high school classes. It wasn’t until I graduated college that I decided to one day pick up a book and read it for fun… Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight”! I enjoyed the series very much and since then, have been a reader of books! I love it simply because it’s an entertaining story that took me into another world.
My inspiration to write comes from many things- for example: listening to rap music, watching the NBA play offs, watching movies—anything that involves entertainment/excellence/competition.
I love the literary world because it offers infinite character growth for the writer, and because writing is so challenging and humbling. I also love competition.
2. As prose editor, you're able to shape the way you evaluate and pick the prose pieces that go into our issues. What are some goals you have for the prose genre in GKA? What pieces would you like to see more of? What do you look for most in a piece of short fiction? Any advice you have for writers submitting prose to GKA?
Some goals for prose in GKA- I want GKA’s prose to:
- take (well-calculated) risks
- speak OUT in authentic voices on difficult subjects
- be unique
I feel that influential art needs to involve some form of risk from the writer, in terms of—I’m not sure how I’d feel it someone I know sees this. Of course, I’m not going to act like I always do this. I understand the need to withhold and feel safe. But when you’re submitting a story, what you’re sending is a piece of your life, even if it is fiction, so I like it when writers dare to send me that personal, dark, funny, scary side of themselves.
Aside from risk and uniqueness, I look for pieces that make me learn and feel something. Anything.
I also rely heavily on our staff readers, so you really need to just impress them and not me! We do tend to agree on our votes, though.
3. We noticed that you like to travel to obtain inspiration --is there a place that you’ve traveled to that heavily inspired you? What about the place inspired you? How did it manifest in your writing?
I would say that Cambodia offers me much inspiration. Or maybe not inspiration, but subject matter and ideas. It’s just the things that happened to me there, and what I heard and saw, all these mix together and are slowly brewing into a novel which I plan to write when it feels ready.
4. Where/when/other do you write? Do you prefer to write under certain conditions (for example, complete silence)?
I write at home right when I wake up and eat a quick breakfast. I write either in complete silence or, if I’m lucky to have found one to fit a specific story/book, to an instrumental song.
5. What's it like being a full-time writer? What does your schedule typically look like? How long have you been a full-time writer? There are some stereotypes associated with being a writer -- are there any you would like to debunk? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been a full-time writer for about seven months, so I can’t exactly claim success until I’ve published books and can support myself on that income. Right now I’m still in that phase of living off savings and finishing my first novels—I am one of those people who are “going for it”, i.e. foregoing a stable income to completely pursue an artistic career along with all its financial uncertainties.
I am still redefining my schedule as I go along and figuring out what works best for me, but currently, I’ve been setting a to-do list every day and just simply trying to get as much as I can get done.
There are tons of stereotypes with being a writer, especially one who is just starting out. Most non-writers think that writing is more talent than hard work when actually, it’s the opposite. So they don’t really take you seriously or think you have serious work to do, that you’re likely just frolicking at your computer and putting some sentences together in hopes that they magically stick. They also think that success in writing is luck, which I can’t blame them for because they just don’t understand that writing is a skill that can be developed through hard work, like in any other profession!
I knew I wanted to be a writer after I came to terms with what type of person I truly am and what type of environment motivates me to work hard.
8. What's it like living in LA? How has it shaped you as a writer? As a person? If you grew up somewhere else, what are the major differences you notice?
I grew up in an upper, middle-class suburb near LA, so I’ve been able to associate myself with LA culture while living in a safe bubble away from it. Growing up, I had a very romanticized idea of LA since it was just out of my reach, and I often day-dreamed about what life there must be like. Perhaps this made me into a hardcore romantic and daydreamer, which helps me write stories.
9. Is there a piece of your own writing you are most proud of? (You can link it, attach it, put it in the body of the email, etc.) Why is this piece of writing important to you?
I can’t say I’m proud of any work because I believe that all things come from God, because if I didn’t live the life that God set for me then I wouldn’t have the write experiences/tools necessary to write the pieces I have. However, the story that I’m most fond of is one I can’t share because it’s currently being submitted to a magazine, but I like it because I wrote it with no intention of ever sharing it (ironically), and thus it’s completely uninhibited and manages to impress me the most.
10. Anything else you want to say? It can be anything :)
Yes. Go change the world.