When can you call yourself a 'writer'?

When can you call yourself a 'writer'?

There are plenty of stories –fictional or otherwise– that are told about the Washington, D.C. region. But when Washingtonians write their own stories, what do they have to say?

Kojo explores the art of fiction writing by interviewing local fiction writers at all stages. We first hear from the winner and judge of Washington City Paper’s annual fiction issue, then from regional coaches who help emerging writers see their potential.

Produced by Ruth Tam


  • Tayla Burney Judge, Washington City Paper Fiction Contest
  • Danielle Stonehirsch Writer; Winner, Washington City Paper Fiction Contest
  • Zachary Clark Executive Director, 826DC
  • Sushmita Mazumdar Director; Studio Pause

Tips For Young And Emerging Writers

6 Tips For Young And Emerging Writers - The Kojo Nnamdi Show

Writers: how often have you been told to "write what you know"? Generic writing advice is so often repeated it's become a joke in the New Yorker. But do young or emerging writers feel boxed in when they hear the same lessons over and over again that prioritize certain kinds of writing styles?


  • 12:30:02

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThere are plenty of stories about the Washington region, but when Washingtonians write their own stories, what do they have to say? Joining us now is writer Danielle Stonehirsch, the winner of Washington City Paper's short story contest. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:30:17

    MS. DANIELLE STONEHIRSCHThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:30:18

    NNAMDIAlso with us is the judge who helped make this year's selections, Tayla Burney. Tayla Burney is a former producer on this show, and a local literary maven. Tayla Burney, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:30:28

    MS. TAYLA BURNEYThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:30:29

    NNAMDIDid you like that, literary maven?

  • 12:30:29

    BURNEY(overlapping) I loved it.

  • 12:30:30

    NNAMDIYeah. Tayla Burney is also the creator of the Get Lit newsletter. Tayla, Washington City Paper has an annual-ish short story contest, which they asked you to judge this year. It's not often that a news publication devotes its pages to fictions. How long has City Paper run this contest, and why do they do it almost every year?

  • 12:30:48

    STONEHIRSCHYeah, so my understanding is that when City Paper launched in the early '80s, there was some intent around including fiction more regularly, but that, I think, fell by the wayside. And, of course, City Paper went on to earn this incredible reputation as an incubator for well-known national journalists who've gone on to do incredible work, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Katherine Boo, David Carr, just to name a very few. But in 2013, they decided to revisit this idea of including fiction and started an annual fiction issue, soliciting entries from residents and readers.

  • 12:31:19

    STONEHIRSCHAnd I think looking back at that issue recently, I was sort of struck, they were surprised that they got a lot of entries. You know, and I think DC has less of a reputation as a literary city. But I think, as you and I well know, from many years talking about the fact that a lot of people in this town are writers, and a lot of people in this town have creative energy and that's something that's often overlooked. I think City Paper really tapped a vein with launching this. And they've done it almost every year since 2013. They took last year off. The paper's future was looking a little uncertain, and they didn't do one in 2016. But it's -- I'd like to think -- back and better than ever this year (laugh) . Lots of incredible entries.

  • 12:31:56

    NNAMDIFond memories of seeing a shadow across my doorway and looking up and seeing Tayla Burney carrying large numbers of books often written by people living in the Washington area who ended up being guests on this show. This year, you helped to shape the requirements of the short story contest. What was the essential element that you were looking for, that writers were supposed to address?

  • 12:32:15

    BURNEYYeah, so, you know, I talked a lot with Caroline Jones, the managing editor of City Paper, about this. And, you know, we didn't want to include a prompt that was going to be torturous for writers, right. We didn't want to say, oh, you have to include a statue or have smoke in your story, right. That's a little too specific, but we also wanted to give some direction. So, the prompt was to take readers outside of the federal core and into neighborhoods, and to tell stories that were not just about DC, but of it, that were really rooted in this city.

  • 12:32:42

    BURNEYAnd I think that can mean a lot of different things to everybody, right. Like, we all live in the same place, but we all inhabit a very different district of our own. So, we wanted to give direction, but not too heavy-handed. And, you know, Kojo, that goes to the point of why I think this is important to City Paper, is that while this is the nation's capital and it is a federal city in many ways, it's also a city of neighborhoods. And, you know, they cited Edward P. Jones talking about that fact in their 2013 launch. And I think that for those of us who live here, it's really important to remember and to remind people that it's more than the federal city, that it's a place where people live.

  • 12:33:19

    NNAMDIYou write in your introduction, quoting here, "The tales welcomed us into a living room in Benning Ridge, snuck us into a Georgetown mansion, ushered us into a pew in a Petworth church, and offered a glimpse into a classroom in Northeast, all with nary a congressperson in sight. How did you evaluate this year's batch of essays?

  • 12:33:36

    BURNEYKojo, I had to do math. So, there were 44 entries altogether, and I did an initial read of all of them, and rated them on a scale of one to ten, largely based on just the overall writing style, how well written they were and how much they sort of hit that prompt. And then I went back -- it happened that there were 10 that hit seven or above. So, I went back to those 10 and created four criteria. I looked at plot and pacing. I looked at the character development. I looked at the geography of the stories. And then I looked at what I called stickiness, you know, sort of how much they stuck in my mind, how much I remembered them the second time after reading them the first time, with a little bit of a break between.

  • 12:34:14

    BURNEYSo, I squared again, had to average them out. Again, lots of math for an English major, but, you know, that's how I sort of narrowed it down. And then working in consultation with Caroline Jones at City Paper, we picked our top -- we had a lot of overlap in our picks, and Danielle's was a clear runaway favorite. So...

  • 12:34:32

    NNAMDIDanielle Stonehirsch. She is the winner of the Washington City Paper short story contest. Your story titled, "New Normal," leads today's issue. Can you briefly describe what that story is about?

  • 12:34:45

    STONEHIRSCHSure. So, it imagines the question: what if fish started falling from the sky all over the United States of America, like a plague? And then what happens then? And so I tried to have the story have kind of three layers. What does this mean in America? What does this mean in Washington, DC? And what does it mean to my main character Millie, in her life?

  • 12:35:13

    NNAMDIAnd, you know, in the Caribbean, in Barbados, there is a fish that people love there called flying fish, but I've never heard of falling fish before. So, this was an entirely new idea for me. So, let's hear the opening of your winning story. It's called "New Normal."

  • 12:35:29

    STONEHIRSCHThe fish falling from the sky were more than a rainy Sunday inconvenience. They were a real hazard. Millie had heard from Jenna, who had heard from Greg that a kid in Columbia Heights had had his neck snapped by a black sea bass at terminal velocity just last week. In this day and age, you could do thorough research on car seats, make sure to get all the vaccines for your baby, teach them stranger danger, and still lose your kid to a fish out in the front yard. That was America now.

  • 12:35:56

    NNAMDIThat was the opening of Danielle Stonehirsch's winning story, "New Normal." Danielle, do you write fiction for a living? How did you get your start as a writer?

  • 12:36:05

    STONEHIRSCHI do not do it for a living, although I do try to write as much as possible. I started writing very, very young. I remember my mother, I think, still has this, my first story about a little rabbit who got lost in the woods for probably about five minutes. And then his mother finds him, and it's over. But that was...

  • 12:36:25

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Your mother still has that story.

  • 12:36:26

    STONEHIRSCHShe does. It was my very first novel, stapled together on green paper. But since then, I've done a lot more. I've done a little bit of playwriting, poetry writing, short fiction writing. Right now, I am trying to finish my very first novel manuscript, so watch out for that one day. Still working. But I remember always being fascinated by stories and books. My parents and my grandparents always read to me. My father would tell me bedtime stories.

  • 12:36:57

    STONEHIRSCHBut it wasn't until first grade, I remember the author of my favorite book at the time, "Horrible Harry and the Green Slime," Suzy Kline, came to my first grade classroom and talked about writing the book. And up until that point, this is embarrassing to admit, I had never -- it had never occurred to me that people wrote books, that they didn't just...

  • 12:37:19

    NNAMDIYou thought they dropped like fish from the sky.

  • 12:37:20

    STONEHIRSCHI did. I did think that (laugh) . I really believed that. And the moment I saw her in person and she talked about writing this book and I realized that real people were out there doing this, I knew I wanted to do that one day.

  • 12:37:32

    NNAMDII gotta add that book to my collection. What's the name of it again, "Horrible Harry" and what?

  • 12:37:36

    STONEHIRSCH..."and the Green Slime."

  • 12:37:38

    NNAMDI"Horrible Harry and the...

  • 12:37:38

    STONEHIRSCHIt's a whole series.

  • 12:37:39

    NNAMDI...and the Green Slime." Tayla, Danielle's story was one of your favorites. What did you enjoy about it? How did it gather the sense of the local DC that you were looking for?

  • 12:37:48

    BURNEYYeah, I mean, as Danielle just mentioned, one of the things that she did really well was sort of overlay the fact that, you know, DC isn't immune to the national politics of the day. That there are these stories that are happening that shape what's happening in the District of Columbia. And not unlike the way they shape things that are happening in Kansas or California, but, you know, it is different, as you were just talking in the first part of the show, Kojo. The shutdown affects people's lives here in ways that are different than it does in other places. So, that was one thing that Danielle executed really well, like, you sort of wove that in without being heavy-handed about it. And I think that was one layer of the story that really stuck out to me.

  • 12:38:26

    BURNEYBut the thing that really was an overriding theme in a number of the entries we received, that I think Danielle conveys, really, in a clever way, is this idea that, you know, for those of us who've lived here however long we've lived here, right. Like, Kojo, you've been here...

  • 12:38:41


  • 12:38:42

    BURNEY...forever. I've been here almost a decade. You know, I think there is this universal sense of waking up and realizing the city has changed in ways that we can't quite put a finger on all the time, but in ways that make us maybe a little bit uneasy or a little bit unsure. And in ways that are, again, changing every minute, practically, it seems like. And that, you know, make you sort of wake up and go, do I recognize this place? Is this the place that I moved? Is this the place that I grew up in? And I think that's a universal feeling for a lot of residents in this city.

  • 12:39:12

    BURNEYAnd I think that, you know, Danielle conveyed that sort of sense of adjusting to a new normal and sort of realizing that you've acclimated to something that isn't quite right, but that you don't have any say in, in a way that was very clever and very meaningful, again, I think, to readers across the board who live in this region without, again, sort of doing it in a heavy-handed way, although there are literally fish falling from the sky.

  • 12:39:40

    BURNEYAnd she also hit on Metro, because Metro was another great theme in a lot of these stories. And I love that in this story, something terrible...

  • 12:39:47

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Metro comes out. Metro comes (unintelligible) ...

  • 12:39:50

    BURNEYMetro comes out ahead, because something terrible has happened, and it is to Metro's benefit. So, that was really great, as well.

  • 12:39:56

    STONEHIRSCHThat's funny, because right before I came here, when I left the office, one of my colleagues was reading the story online. And the first thing he said to me is, fish falling from the sky? Fine. I believe it. But Metro? No, that doesn't work for me.

  • 12:40:08

    BURNEYThat's the beneficiary.

  • 12:40:09

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Metro becoming heroic. I can't imagine that. Now, here's Calvin, who's on The Beltway. Calvin, your turn.

  • 12:40:17

    CALVINYeah, hey, Kojo, how are you?

  • 12:40:18

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 12:40:19

    CALVINYes, great -- hey, listen, Happy New Year's to you and your guests.

  • 12:40:23

    NNAMDISame to you.

  • 12:40:24

    CALVINYes, great. Listen, I'd like to connect her story "New Normal" to the gun violence throughout the United States. And I'd like to actually link that to the big cities like Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC and relate that to the new normal that I see that I hear on air consistently when a young girl or a young guy -- young meaning, you know, before the age of five and six -- loses their life. Parents can't do anything about it because bullets fly and...

  • 12:41:00

    NNAMDI(overlapping) You hear the term new normal applied to that?

  • 12:41:05

    CALVINNo, I don't hear the term of new normal replied (sic) to that, but I think that's the acceptability that we have to see. Because when we go into the public or when we go into that environment where that incident occurred, you know, you hear the folks indicating that, well, you know, this is a life that has been lost, and, you know, what can we do about it? And the government -- the government -- the city and the local authorities, law enforcement still are grappling with trying to prevent...

  • 12:41:39

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Those are the kinds of changes that I think Danielle Stonehirsch was trying to underscore with this piece of fiction, right?

  • 12:41:46

    STONEHIRSCHThat's true. And it's actually very interesting that you do mentioned gun violence, because that was something that I was thinking about as I was writing the story, thinking about what that new normal is. Because I do think that shootings, hate crimes, sexual violence, police violence, all of those things that we hear stories about every day, we talk a lot about desensitive -- desensi -- oh boy...

  • 12:42:13

    NNAMDIWe're being desensitized.

  • 12:42:15

    STONEHIRSCHThank you very much. Yes, and that is exactly what's happening to my main character. And even though it's something as ridiculous as fish rain, it really is talking about those themes.

  • 12:42:30

    NNAMDIHere's Tom, in Washington, DC. Tom you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:42:33

    TOMYes, good afternoon. I have a question or Tayla Burney. I was perusing the website of the City Paper about book reviews, and there's a lot of good fiction out there, an awful lot. And what caught my eye was a book called "Capital City." It was a novel about Marion Barry. And the reason that it caught my eye is because, you know, this novel "Capital City" is about Barry, and he was very much like our current president, Donald Trump. I mean, you have an unhinged chief executive shooting off his mouth all the time. Have you had a chance to look at "Capital City," the novel about Barry?

  • 12:43:19

    BURNEYI definitely remember it coming out a year or two ago, and, you know, I don't know that I would make that exact correlation between Marion Barry and Donald Trump. But, you know, I think there is a lot of great nonfiction out there, as well, about the sort of political past of the District. And I think that's what some of the fiction written about the District in the last few years that I've really enjoyed has done well, is sort of provide some context for that historic nature of the city. And I think it's important for people who are especially newer to the city to read that kind of work and get a better understanding of the place they've moved.

  • 12:43:51

    NNAMDII did have a chance to look at "Capital City," and it really talks about the fact that Marion Barry was, as our caller says, unhinged, which I don't think anybody in Washington ever thought Marion Barry was completely unhinged. But it also talks about his bodyguards committing murder in the mayor's office, and then covering up, and then running out on the street and committing murders. While it is fiction, I thought it was so far removed from reality that to say that it essentially captured what the Barry administration was like in fictional form didn't quite work for me. But, of course, we're really having a conversation with Danielle about what she wrote.

  • 12:44:26

    NNAMDIYou were part of the Bethesda Writer's Center. What does it typically mean to be part of a writer's group, and what kind of writer would benefit from this kind of collaborative peer editing group?

  • 12:44:35

    STONEHIRSCHSo, I've taken a number of workshops at the Bethesda Writer's Center. They're a nonprofit, and located in Bethesda, although they do sometimes run classes in the city, as well. So, I've taken a number of workshops there in mainly short fiction myself, although they have a very wide range of options for people from beginners to advanced, people just starting out, people working on novels, people working on flash or poetry, anything you can imagine. And I think they just started a new season, recently. So, there are a lot of really great classes you can sign up for.

  • 12:45:10

    STONEHIRSCHBut I took a workshop at the end of 2013, and shortly after the workshop ended, a woman who had been in it sent me an email and said that she had really wanted to get a writer's group together. And she picked out about, I think, six or seven of us that she'd seen in her workshops there. And she wondered if I'd be interested in joining something like that. And I said, sure, absolutely. And I think everybody she reached out to did, as well. And we all met together. We had a great dinner. We talked about writing. We talked about reading. And we started meeting regularly, once a month.

  • 12:45:46

    STONEHIRSCHVery tragically, the woman who started the group was diagnosed with cancer and passed away very shortly after, but those of us who were in the group kept meeting, and are still meeting over five years later. So, I like to think of us as her legacy, and we've been through, you know, not just writing success and failure, but also life, too. We've become very close, and it's been a really life-changing group. And, actually, the reason I'm sitting here right now, this story is the product of us sitting around one day talking about how uninspired we felt. And one of our group members...

  • 12:46:24

    NNAMDIHeck, I can do that all by myself.

  • 12:46:26

    BURNEYYeah. Caroline Bock, she also has recently published a book of short stories called "Carry Her Home." You should definitely check it out. But she sent around some prompts and really encouraged us to start thinking creatively. And one of those was start a story the fish falling from the sky...

  • 12:46:46

    NNAMDIWow (laugh) .

  • 12:46:46

    STONEHIRSCH...dot, dot, dot, and whatever you want. And so I started, and I had about, you know, half a page, a page, and I brought it back to my group and said, I kind of like this. This is really interesting to me, but I have no idea what it is. What is this? And so they helped me get through that, and Caroline told me about this contest and thought, you know, what if you looked at this idea, but through the lens of Washington, DC? And I thought, you know, that was the perfect lens to start focusing the story. And that's how it came about.

  • 12:47:15

    NNAMDIWell, we got an email from Jefferson Holland which contains a bit of a spoiler. Jefferson writes, I wrote a children's book called "Chessie the Sea Monster That Ate Annapolis," in which the Chesapeake Bay sea monster turns out to be a 42-ton Chesapeake Bay retriever. Okay. As I said, you know how that story ends. How did writing -- or does writing alongside other writers help your own confidence?

  • 12:47:40

    STONEHIRSCHIt absolutely does. You know, just this particular example, it's very hard to be everywhere all the time and keep plugged into everything. So, having a number of us share when we hear about outlets in places to send our writing, ideas for how to refocus our writing, I had really not done a very good job at keeping up and keeping motivated and feeling responsible about my writing until I had people to be responsible to. And to have that feedback, to have those ideas and to have, you know, people in my life who know when I didn't write something this month, it's wonderful.

  • 12:48:19

    NNAMDIDanielle Stonehirsch. She a writer. She's the winner of the Washington City Paper fiction contest. Congratulations, once again. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:48:25

    STONEHIRSCHThank you so much.

  • 12:48:27

    NNAMDITayla Burney is a local literary maven who was the judge of this year's Washington City Paper fiction contest. She's also the creator of the Get Lit DC newsletter. Tayla, always a pleasure.

  • 12:48:37

    BURNEYSame to you, Kojo.

  • 12:48:38

    NNAMDIDanielle and Tayla will participate in a reading this Sunday, January 6th at Solid State Books on H Street. A link to the event is on our website. Going to take a short break. When we come back we'll learn how local writing coaches and educators are helping emerging writers find their voices. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:49:20

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Earlier in the broadcast, we heard from the winner and judge of Washington City Paper's short story contest. Now, we'll take a look at how local writing coaches and educators are helping emerging writers of all ages find their voices. Joining me in studio is Sushmita Mazumdar. She is the director of Studio Pause, a local artist studio here in Washington. Sush, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:49:44

    MS. SUSHMITA MAZUMDARThank you for inviting me.

  • 12:49:45

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Zachary Clark. He is the executive director at 826 DC, the local chapter of the national education and literacy nonprofit. Zachary, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:49:56

    MR. ZACHARY CLARKThank you for having me.

  • 12:49:56

    NNAMDISushmita, we just heard about the role of writing groups for local writers. You used to attend and help lead the Arlington Writer's Group as a writer and artist, hoping to share more about your Indian heritage for an American audience. How did you hope that group would be useful for you?

  • 12:50:12

    MAZUMDARSo, I wanted to start writing my stories because of my kids. My kids are American. When my son was, like, four he said he was American, not Indian. And I, well, started to wonder, like, why does he feel that way? Why is there this disconnect at home? Why is he not like me? And I thought what if we -- who is here to tell my stories to him of my childhood? You know, there's nobody. All the people who know me are in India.

  • 12:50:37

    MAZUMDARSo, I thought I would teach myself to write stories about myself. And, you know, and so when I asked a friend, she's Taiwanese-American, she said, Sush, you have to join a writer's group. And she said, you have to know what Americans want to know from your stories. So, the audience was the group, and I was this other person trying to write, so that my American kids would understand my stories.

  • 12:51:00

    NNAMDIHow are meetings structured? What comments did you find helpful or unhelpful for your writing?

  • 12:51:09

    MAZUMDARSo, I found a lot of -- the way I write English or wrote English coming from India was different. I had a lot of languages in my stories, because we spoke a lot of languages in India. And the names were confusing, and the whole, like, what is monsoon? It was, you know -- so, to hear those things from people telling me how I should tone it down or change it, actually made me think, what do I want to change and what do I want to fight and keep? So, that was really important for me. And then I could think about, in the bigger picture, how is this affecting other people who write or want to write?

  • 12:51:44

    NNAMDISo, the fact that you were writing what appears at first to be for an Indian audience is what your writing group was able to help you, in a way, reshape.

  • 12:51:54

    MAZUMDARWell, I was writing for one audience, for my son, who is American, right? But I can only write the way I can write, and they're my own stories. So, there was this very interesting learning at that writer's group that, you know, what do I need to change, what do I need to keep, what is unnecessary, what is necessary, you know?

  • 12:52:12

    NNAMDIThey were telling you how your son was thinking (laugh) . Now, as the director of Studio Pause in Arlington, you've taken a more freeform approach to writing. How is Studio Pause different from a traditional writer's group and what do you offer someone who might not be ready to call themselves a writer yet?

  • 12:52:28

    MAZUMDARExactly. That is exactly it. So, where do those people go? I say everybody can write, right. But where is that space where you feel like you can be that person and you can explore that and share that, and will you be laughed at? Will people not understand you? Will they, you know, ignore you? Will you never be able to voice your critique, you know? So, I wanted to have a space where we can just be all of that and explore being it. And we can say, hey, I didn’t like that. I can go back to writing this way. Or say, hey, you know, like, that blue on the wall, that changed how I think about the sky. I don't know.

  • 12:53:05

    MAZUMDARBut where is the space for all those things to happen if we are, like, in a classroom style room where we are writing? Or if we are in our home reading the books that we love, then where are we getting the stuff that -- the rest of the stuff? So, at the Studio, we try to mix all this up. Like, what can an artist teach a writer? What can a poet teach somebody who's writing fiction? And so the group is very mixed. Most of them will tell you they're not writers (laugh). But somebody went and started a blog, and somebody else changed how they do things at work, how they write and how they listen. All kinds of things come out of that.

  • 12:53:43

    NNAMDIAll kinds of artists can help one another. Got a tweet from Melinda, who writes: I'm a DC residence writing my memoir, "Black Girl Interrupted: A Story of Mental Illness, Recovery and Resiliency." DC public library is a great resource for the DMV. Just Google DC library writing workshops, and you can meet writers from all levels and genres. Melinda, thank you very much for your tweet. Zachary, the organization that you work for, or under, 826 National, tries to get the young people to be creative and see themselves as agents of community change. Why does your organization see writing as the way to achieve that?

  • 12:54:16

    CLARKSure. I think creative writing is often seen as second to expository writing, like college essays or persuasive writing. And creating writing is really as much about problem-solving as any other kind of writing. I've been thinking genuinely for the last 20 minutes about what kind of responses I would get if we went to our afterschool program and asked our students what would happen if you saw fish falling from the sky. And I cannot imagine the bonkers responses we would get. And I think there is something inherent about providing young people, as you were saying, providing them with the space to content with problems, to identify challenges. And creative writing is that space, in many ways.

  • 12:54:58

    CLARKOne rule that we have in one of our programs is that students can write whatever stories they want, but the characters should be original. They shouldn't be characters that exist in the world. And so what that engenders is a lot of marshmallow people and cheeseburger people (laugh). And, you know, it sounds silly on the surface, but really there's something about when you have a young person define a character, define that character's ambitions, wants and desires, sometimes being a proxy for the students themselves, teach them about what conflict looks like and how to resolve that conflict in a piece of fiction. That's some real problem-solving that's happening.

  • 12:55:35

    NNAMDI836 National has a network of writing and publishing centers for young people, and you work at the one here in Washington. What kinds of kids do you work with? Where are they from, and what's usually their experience with writing stories?

  • 12:55:46

    CLARKSure. So, we see students -- we work here in DC with 3,000 students from every ward in the District. And it's a variety, because kids are coming from all different places. So, some of them really do see themselves as writers. And others need a little bit of coaching or support. One thing that is a central tenant to the work we do is that we think to cultivate a true writing practice that lasts, you need to establish a feedback loop. And that feedback loop can be with a writing mentor. It can be with a writing group. I can be with a teacher. It can be with an online audience, but something that allows your perspective that you're articulating through words to be reflected back to you through someone else.

  • 12:56:28

    CLARKAnd so that's a key component of the work we're doing at 826, and so some of those students will come ready. They'll say, I have an idea, I have an opinion. I want you to pay attention to this. And that's a great opportunity for us to give them actual skills to amplify those perspectives. And other students, we need to talk to them about marshmallow men, because that's where they're at (laugh).

  • 12:56:49

    NNAMDIHere is Alexandria -- Alexandra in Bowie, Maryland. Alexandra, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:56:56

    ALEXANDRAGood morning, Kojo, or I should say good afternoon. I was calling because my children have had wonderful experiences in the Prince Georges County Public Schools. They have a competition through their media specialist called Write a Book. And many of the teachers who do get involved with helping their students with this help students create stories and such, and like your guest was saying, helps them understand how to create conflict in a story, how to resolve conflicts.

  • 12:57:30

    ALEXANDRAAnd the other really neat thing is that they have many other genres that students can explore in their writing, such as poetry and picture books, so that there's something available for all the grade levels. And it's really neat that this program lets our children be authors all the way from kindergarten through the high school level. And I just wanted to share that with your guests and with you.

  • 12:57:52

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Zachary, at what point do you find that kids who enter this thinking it's going to be fun, find that it's going to be work, but that they learn to like or love that work?

  • 12:58:05

    CLARKYeah, I think that one, just responding to your caller...

  • 12:58:08


  • 12:58:08

    CLARK...I think that that's such an important point, and it relates to your question, because there are so many access points to developing a practice with writing. It's not necessarily always pulling out a piece of lined paper and a pencil. It can very much be storyboarding visually, or telling your story verbally to someone who will listen and help shape it. So, I think that providing young people with multiple access points into the practice of writing, it makes it more accessible, and it makes it feel like more of a practice that they can hold. And I think a core piece of feeling like you are a writer, which is a very scary thing to say, it does not matter what age you are, but a core piece of adopting that identify is, for many students, feeling like their stories are being heard. So, they're writing, but that writing also has an audience.

  • 12:58:57

    CLARKWhich is why I think publication, which is another thing your caller was talking about, publication and dissemination is such a key part of the work we do at 826 DC. It's about crafting a writing practice, and then figuring out, how do I get my perspective out there? How do I get Washington, DC to pay attention to what I identify as a challenge in my community, or what deserves celebration in my community. So, that publication piece is really key to helping young people feel like they can adopt the mantel of writer.

  • 12:59:24

    NNAMDISush, how about people who are not necessarily looking for publications, adults who write just for fun, or kids still in school? Being a published writer may not always be their objective. What resources and advice can you offer for people who write for purely personal reasons?

  • 12:59:39

    MAZUMDARActually, I think publishing is a tiny bit of the people who write, right. I think people write to be heard to themselves. I think it's a big thing to work for your confidence. What about children who don't speak English? Where do they go? What about, you know, people from other countries, like my example, right? So, I think giving them a space where they're heard, where everybody is equal, nobody's a teacher, nobody is, you know, telling you what to do. Nobody is turning their face away, because the names of your characters are too complicated, right.

  • 13:00:13

    MAZUMDARSo, we have to build. We have to have spaces for those people, too, where they can feel comfortable to share. Once they can share their own story, then -- to themselves and to three other people, then they can be bigger, right. But that transition is tough, and we have to work on it and make a very supportive group. So, like Danielle was saying earlier, a smaller group works for some people. So, look for the group that fits you. You know, you can't just be there, where everybody is. You have to work that -- find that thing that fits you. You have to find a facilitator that gets you, too.

  • 13:00:49

    MAZUMDARSo, I had to find -- you know, there will be people who tell you you're great. Then what? So, then you're great (laugh) ? You know, you have to look for all those things until you feel right. You know, you have to -- and that nobody can teach you. You have to just trust yourself and feel that.

  • 13:01:06

    NNAMDIHere's Timothy in Washington, DC. Timothy, your turn.

  • 13:01:10

    TIMOTHYHow are you, Kojo?

  • 13:01:12

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 13:01:14

    TIMOTHYYeah, I just wanted to speak on the writing thing. I was inspired by writing when I was incarcerated. That's when it really started...

  • 13:01:24


  • 13:01:25

    TIMOTHY…because I found myself alone, right, really, actually. And I'd been there for about a couple of years, and I just sudden, all these things, memories and stuff started coming out of my head, and I was wondering where it was coming from.

  • 13:01:42

    NNAMDI(overlapping) So what are you working on now, because we're running out of time. What are you working on now?

  • 13:01:46

    TIMOTHYOh, I'm working on two books. One I just finished called "Assimilation of America." It's a poem book, but it's just subjects about this country and events going on. And I just wrote it in the form of a poem, so it rhymes.

  • 13:02:01

    NNAMDIOkay. Okay.

  • 13:02:02

    TIMOTHYAnd I'll recite it sometimes at Busboys and Poets, but my major project is my autobiography slash autobiography, and the other half is about just new world order and all this crazy stuff going on...

  • 13:02:17

    NNAMDI(overlapping) So, are you a member of any writing groups or anything, or are you just working on your own?

  • 13:02:21

    TIMOTHYActually, I'm working on my own right now, because I'm not in the main circuit of writing, because people don't really know me. But they know me by the original...

  • 13:02:30

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, they'll also know you from this phone call, Timothy, and so, as I said, we don't have a lot of time, but congratulations on finishing your first book and good luck on the one you're currently writing now. And thank you for calling. We got a tweet from a former producer of this broadcast, Avery Kleinman: I do consider myself a writer, Avery writes, but fiction writer? I've always wanted to, but could never make it happen. That's why I signed up for a creative writing class at American University this spring with Melissa Scholes Young. Can't wait. So, some people do go to class, but what resources or advice do you have for writers who want to be published and who want to be read more widely?

  • 13:03:08

    CLARKSure. I think DC is rich with resources for aspiring young writers, whether or not they want to be published. I have to just second what -- I think it was a tweet that you read earlier about the DC library system. It is such a resource for this city. I will use every opportunity to talk about how great they are. They've been a partner to us, and they are a great space for young people to utilize, to not only find workshops or what's happening in the city, but also meet authors, which is such an important part of feeling like you're a part of a literary community, even for young people. And I also think as far as advice goes, write every day. A sentence counts. A sentence counts.

  • 13:03:51

    NNAMDISush, advice?

  • 13:03:53

    MAZUMDARWrite everything, anything that comes into your head, and make that a practice, so that when the real big thing comes, you know you're ready. So, we write every week at the studio. And explore what, you know, what really hits you in the world, what really moves you? Pay attention to that. It might not be in a classroom. It might not be in a book. Be outside, look at art, meet people, talk to -- you know, because you don't know where that is. And I think the third thing is work on -- try out your voice. See where -- how it sounds. See how people react to it, and then -- and I would like to invite Timothy to come to Studio Pause to share his writing and join our writers group.

  • 13:04:32

    NNAMDISushmita Mazumdar is the director of Studio Pause. Zachary Clark is the executive director of 826 DC. Thank you both for joining us.

  • 13:04:40

    CLARKThank you.

  • 13:04:40

    MAZUMDARThank you.

  • 13:04:41

    NNAMDIYou can find a list of tips for young and emerging writers written by our guest Zachary Clark on KojoShow.org. Today's conversation on fiction writing was produced by Ruth Tam. Our earlier show on the local effect of the federal shutdown was produced by Monna Kashfi. Coming up on tomorrow's Politics Hour, we'll get an update on the latest DC Council news with Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen. Plus, we'll meet new Maryland State Delegate Lily Qi from Montgomery County. It all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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