The Larger Purpose

The swamps of Florida. The snaking rivers of South Carolina. The jagged, clustered crannies of Appalachia. The humid pine smell of New Hampshire. When I think back on my experiences, I remember less the moods of the people, or the taste of food we ate, compared to the places I inhabited, even briefly. It’s hard to describe how much the natural world relates to my writing. I became obsessed with the crazy logic of ecology after spending a summer week kayaking, studying the sand banks, the deer tracks, the slick growth on river rocks, the schools of fish darting beneath my paddle, the patches of kelp knitting a dense forest in the toughest currents. My brain, six or seven hours a day without technology or books or conversation, took in every detail, and began to notice how quietly, but profoundly every passing molecule could be traced to every organism in those rivers. The pockets of moisture trapped in rocks as the levels lowered were just as essential to what I saw as the current of the water.

I’m not going to say that writing is like an ecosystem. That diction is like the algae, and characters are like the currents. My inspiration did not come so suddenly and with such blatant simile. Rather, when my focus shifted from looking at the world around me and thinking about a whole, observant of all the billions of steps and lives required to reach a single outcome, I became overwhelmed with the need to keep writing. When I wrote, not only could I suddenly be back in some of the most vivid places of my memories, but I could be part of all those tiny systems and lives not exposed in our day-to-day lives. Those days on rivers, and since then, my continued informal observations in ecology, environmental science, and animal behavior, have shown me a taste of how vast the world is. If I confined my learning to the typical high school guidelines: finishing teacher assignments, memorizing rules or events, I would stay stuck in studying the world in segregated, bound pieces. Writing is how I look at the people, the materials, the environment as a whole around me, and weave it all together. Connect the algae to the currents. Point out the tiniest details in my experience, and bring attention to a whole life or pattern otherwise unnoticed.

Nature is not just a part of writing to me. Nature is a lesson in why to write, how to write. How to take the micro and the macro, and lead other people to see the tiniest of pictures existing inside the biggest ideas.

Ana Shaw-Junior Editor-in-Chief

The Importance of Oral Tradition and Storytelling

Elan Blog Post image tatianaOral tradition is defined as “a community’s cultural and historical traditions passed down by word of mouth or example from one generation to another without written instruction.” In other words, everything we know about our parents (and their parents, and their parents, etc.) we learned from stories told through what they wore, what they drew, and what they made. My mother tells me stories about the crazy 80s fashion she went to high school with, but my father tells me about growing up in east Eritrea with dirt walls and no roof. Writing these stories down lends privilege to the lives we’d otherwise forget. Textbooks take down facts, writers take down the heart.

As we close in on Élan’s 30th consecutive year in publication, it’s important to remind ourselves why we have made it this far and why we will continue to publish in the future.

Through writing, we get to see what others left behind, and through our own writings we do the same for the readers who come after us. No one was there when the world began. I will never see my mother’s crazy 80s fashion and my father’s dirt walls. We have unanswered questions about how the world began and why we’re here. We’re all born into our own reality (our own truth) that’s continuously shaped by our experiences. With each story told, we chip away at that Truth. Élan does so much more than share the works of young writers. It keeps tradition from slipping through the cracks. It shares the stories we love hearing and forces us to listen to ones we don’t.

Storytelling helps us cope with the unknown. It finds joy in those questions. Sharing our stories makes us a part of a larger one, and while we may never put our Truth into words (perhaps we were never meant to), storytelling makes that Truth accessible. In the last three decades, Élan has held onto those values. We have been a consistent, reliable, and important source of stories for the last thirty years and will continue to be so in the future

-Tatiana Saleh, Senior Layout & Design Editor