The Importance of Élan

Tatiana's Blog PictureAs we close in on Élan’s 30th consecutive year in publication, it’s important to remind ourselves why we’ve made it this far and why we’ll continue to publish in the future. So often, young writers are marginalized by their age, lack of experience, societal status, and perceived lack of skill. Most “big” publications skim over these authors, mistaking those qualities for an inability to craft a compelling story full of depth and growth.

The youth’s perspective is one often distorted by social media and trends. It’s because of this that the young person’s perspective in literary communities is all the more important. The stories of people our age are just as important (in some cases, more important) as the stories written by established writers, particularly in these developmental years where so much is unknown to us. And not the post-adolescent Judy Blume novels written by an adult on the life of a young person, but actual stories written by actual young people motivated to share their own truths, flawed as they may be. We’re all born into our own reality that’s continuously shaped by our experiences. With each story told, we chip away not at the answer, but at the question. Élan does so much more than share the works of young writers. It keeps young writers from slipping through the cracks. It shares the stories we love hearing and forces us to listen to ones we don’t.

Élan’s 30th anniversary marks an important milestone in more ways than one. In some ways, it proves naysayers wrong by reminding the community of the drive and motivation of young people to tell stories. In others, it reminds us writers there is demand for our work, and sometimes, all it takes is that boost to bring us back to why we do this. To chip away at the question. To stick it to the man. To tell a badass story.

-Tatiana Saleh, Community Outreach Editor

Finding Light

Mary Feimi Blog Post PictureWhen I was a high school freshman, I came to the Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival with pens packed in my pockets. With each step I took, the paper from my empty notebook clashed against my fingers. I remember rubbing my eyes because the night before I stayed up and re-read each authors bio over and over, re-read pieces I already analyzed because how could one choose a workshop to attend with such an abundance of good writers? I remember being beyond eager to take a “real” workshop from published writers and college professors.

Schedule in hand, I had messed up the times and ended up in a poetry workshop. I thought to myself, “Poetry. Yeah, right. The only thing I can do is write nonfiction.” My palms sweat, my stomach clenching, I sat down. This wasn’t any poetry workshop; this was the workshop of Patricia Smith, the woman who could make Hurricane Katrina beautiful, all through fresh lines packed with imagery and diction. Ms. Smith stood at the podium moving the hair out of her face. What I didn’t know at the time was that she was going to ask me to write the most difficult exercise I had ever done. To write a poem where the person you have had a difficult relationship with is dead in an empty room, laying on a marble slab, and you had to dress them.

For starters, at this point in my life I had never written a poem I was proud of, or even considered writing something this complex. Ms. Smith just kept telling us, all we had to do was try. By the end, I had dressed my father in an Armani suit and leather loafers. Towards the end of the workshop, a couple of people shared what they had written, a couple of people cried. I didn’t write a great poem, or something that would make anyone cry, but I did write something real, something packed with emotion, and thoughtful decisions on why I chose the words I did.

After the workshop I bought Patricia Smith’s book Blood Dazzler, and fell in love with the way her poems made me feel. She signed my book and, as I write this now, I look at it and am still as inspired as I was that day to become a poet. It reads: “Mary, I hope you find light here. I realized that it wasn’t poetry I was afraid of; I was afraid of the journey poetry would take me on. Two years later, with several portfolios of poetry I am proud to say I have written, I look back on that day and am thankful for the exposure it gave me, as well as the inspiration.

With the 2016 Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival line up full of amazing writers, I anyone who attends can have the same experience I did, if they just try. You too can find light here.

– Mary Feimi, Junior Editor-in-Chief

Beginnings and Endings

Jacob's PictureIt’s the beginning of the new year and that means we at Elan have begun our preparations for the Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival. We’ve been collecting excerpts from our distinguished guest writers and posting these with their biographies on the Festival website, dawritersfest.com.

All of the reading I’ve been doing for the Festival excites me, as it does all of my peers, all of my teachers. Reading the work of a new writer is always exciting, but it’s even more exciting when you know that the writer is coming to your school and reading the same pieces to you, discussing how they were written and how you can write better. It reminds us that the Writers’ Festival is part of a great tradition that generations of Creative Writers have taken part in. Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol-Oates, Billy Collins, and Richard Ford have all been keynote speakers in past festivals, and now we have the privilege to hear from more amazing writers.

For the first time in Festival history, we have two keynote speakers—the nationally recognized educator and novelist Ron Carlson and President Obama’s own inaugural poet, Richard Blanco. We’ve entered a new era of the Festival, where we’re big enough to expand the stage for speakers.

I am reaching the end of my time at DA, but I am able to be part of the Writers’ Festival this one time, and being part of its beginning is almost enough to make up for the pain of leaving it all behind.

-Jacob Dvorak, Senior Fiction Editor