A sIT down with Contest winner and kitchen table member kathryn m. sharon featuring the story "Solomon's choice" (2ND ANNUNAL SPRING MICRO-FICTION CONTEST winner)
A conversation with Kathryn M. Sharon about her story, “Solomon’s Choices,” her writing journey, and how she self-designed an "MFA program" to develop her creative voice.
Q: The global pandemic created turmoil the world over, and the "George Floyd Summer/Breonna Taylor Summer" reflected a broader response to racial inequity and state-sanctioned violence than ever before. As a writer, how did you handle the challenges of being an artist and professional with everything that was/is going on? What challenges or opportunities did the pandemic create or open up for you in your writing?
A: When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, I found it frightening and destabilizing. Equally triggering was the racial and social upheaval that resulted from the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. During this time of great tumult, it was hard for me to write. I felt numb, unfocused, dispirited. My focus was on getting through the day and staying healthy. I was in self-protection and self-preservation mode; But a few months into the pandemic, I felt this tug to get back to writing. What kept coming for me is the Toni Morrison quote: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal."
So, I gathered myself and registered for Kitchen Table Literary Arts’ s Learn ‘Em, Break ‘Em five-week fiction course, where I was put through the rigor of writing and revising a series of short stories. Taking the course helped me stay on track with my writing practice. I must say, I was proud of myself for pushing through during a very difficult time.
"Sometimes we need to check ourselves, examine our values and responsibility to our community, and
As far as opportunities during the pandemic, a lot writing conferences, book tours, and other literary events that would have typically been held onsite and in person, were held virtually. And this afforded me the opportunity to attend countless literary events that I normally would not have had an opportunity to attend, either due to their location, costs, and a limited number of vacation days. But in 2020 and 2021, my calendar stayed booked.
Q: What tips or advice do you have for fellow writers?
A: Take advantage of the plethora of writing resources out there such as writing communities (e.g., Kitchen Table Literary Arts and Association of Writers & Writing Programs) and podcasts (e.g., the Manuscript Academy and The Shit No One Tells You About Writing). Get to know the bookstagram community, read voraciously, and most importantly stay true to your creative vision and keep writing.
Q: What do you hope readers taken away from the story, “Solomon’s Choice”?
A: A key takeaway is that sometimes we need to check ourselves, examine our values and responsibility to our community, and make difficult choices. That is, if one is in the position to do so. In the case of the protagonist in “Solomon’s Choice,” it was her cousin who checked her.
"Stay true to your creative vision and keep writing."
Q: What encouraged you to submit your story to our Spring Micro-Fiction contest?
A: I had never submitted my work in a writing contest and I wanted to see how I would fare. But more importantly, this 750-word micro-fiction contest presented me with the challenge of distilling my short story down to its essence, down to the core critical elements. And for me, this was an invaluable creative exercise.
Q: What can we expect from you in the future?
A: The great Toni Morrison famously said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it". So, that is what I have set out to do. I’m currently working on my debut fiction novel set in the mid-20th century about a Black woman navigating life in the American South. I just finished my first draft, and plan to start querying in the latter half of this year.
CONGRATULATIONS again to our 2nd Annual Spring Micro-Fiction Contest Winner Kathryn M. Sharon.
sOLOMON'S CHOICE BY Kathryn m. sharon
Brooklyn-native, Kathryn M. Sharon is a writer whose work has been published in the Word Works poetry Anthology, the Bronx Press Review, and Streeterville News. She was a former stringer for The New York Times. Kathryn earned masters' degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Peace and Conflict Studies program, where she studied structural violence in Black communities. She’s currently working on her debut novel.
YOU CHOOSE THE ENDING...
Instructions: Read or watch Slam Anderson's story, "On This Orbit Day," then VOTE on the ending using the poll below!
oN THIS ORBIT DAY
Earth Residents also known as Ereses (e-res-es) removed themselves from the Universal Council (The UC), millenniums ago. Now, on this Orbit Day, an Eres will speak on behalf of all Earth Residents.
The Universal Council (UC) called an urgent meeting on the Moon in the old observatory used for solidary training. In an almost forgotten past it was the base for Earth Resident’s Star Leader. A dome palace with a glass ceiling that provided the perfect view to the galaxy moving, existing and rapidly growing. Now, it is the most deserted place in the galaxy. There was no seating in the observatory. The nine Star leaders stood in a crescent shape facing the entrance. Outside the grand double doors that hung carelessly on their hedges were their protectors and three Eres (e-res) survivors. The Head Star, one of the youngest to hold the title and still new to his role, didn’t ask for a test. He gripped the knot of his belt and walked in front of the UC members who were the leaders of their residents, referred to as Star Leaders. Several of them were his friends before joining the council. One was his kin-sister born on the same orbit day on Mars. They trained together, learned and answered the council call together.
“The Eres has told us that Earth is rotting in reverse,” he spoke slowly trying to translate the crisis told to him by the star-struck Earth Resident Dr. Green. “There is an infection in the air, leaves are passing diseases down to their roots and the roots are infecting the soil. Nothing will grow anymore. Starvation and dehydration has turned them into beast and monster. There resident has turned against them. They are in need of a new home.” The room was quiet besides the sounds of cracking glass from the ceiling.
“We are not here to condemn Earth Residents. This is not a day for us to empty the atmosphere with the past. This Eres will be given the respect and time given to all who come to speak on their Resident’s behalf.”
“Humble Star, what about the respect they gave to the Orbiters in Mars? How can you request respect?” Bellum, the Star Leader of Mars exclaimed, as she reflected on the recent attacks on Mars that prompted this meeting.
“Because Star it isn’t this Earth Resident that torn their flesh and spirits. We need to at least hear what the Earth Residents has to say. Everything we know about them is recycled knowledge. Whispers and one-sided journeys written down and taught to us as history. This is an opportunity for some truth,” the Head Star attempted to reason.
“Truth is in their actions!”
“We’re here to decide one thing. To help them or not. This is not a trail for individual crimes, Bellum.”
“Well, it should be!” Bellum could barely contain her anger and was fighting even harder to hold back her tears. "We lost too many," she told the Head Star after the Ereses attack on Mars Resident. "Losing one orbiter to rightful death is hard but losing a hundred because of “unnecessary death” is flesh-cracking." She was honored to be a Star Leader of her home Resident, this meeting to her was a sign of failure.
“Your kin will not be forgotten Star Leader but you cannot grieve them through others' death. If you believe that then I know you will make the decision honorable of a Star.” The council members looked down at the belts glowing around their waist; a reminder of the everlasting oath they took. When the Head Star felt the council was calm enough, he motioned towards the door, “bring him."
Dr. Stephen Green walked into the observatory like he was holding a secret that would fix all that was wrong. He had a guard on both sides and his hands tied in front with glowing rope.
“Present yourself to the council?” The Head Star directed.
“My name is Stephen – Dr. Stephen Green. I was – excuse me – I am a scientist from Earth’s Space department.” Dr. Stephan spoke as wobbly as he stood. He was tall, slender, and unsteady; like if he leaned over too far he would probably snap in half.
“Saint Stephen, Your residents sent you to speak on their behalf. This is a deliberation. Once your case has been made, we will decide as a whole the answer your cries. But the previous actions of the Ereses on Mars will be taken into account.”
The Head Star's words deflated Dr. Stephen’s confidence or maybe it was the sudden reality of his situation. Here he stood in front of what he grew up believing was a fictional group, a tall tale like the tooth-fairy and Santa Claus. To Earth Residents: the Universal Council was described as a group of people in charge of granting wishes; but they would only grant wishes made upon a shooting star or wish carriers. Dr. Stephen had been trying to contain himself since his capture by the UC. How could anyone born in his century on Earth know that the Great Universal Council was real!? And they aren’t fairies with wings, instead they're giants at least 10 feet tall, with glowing belts and white robes that dragged on the ground. Their hair was gray and dreaded into thick ropes bonded by metal chains. The scientist in him was mesmerized. He wanted to sit down and analyze everything about them and at the same time he wanted to forget them. Standing in front of the council he didn’t know where to begin. The stories told to him always stressed the importance of being “humble” when making wishes. His father always told him; make sure your wish isn’t completely selfish, son.
The Earth Residents made a national plan of evacuation when leaving Earth became the only solution. Everything had been consolidated as much as possible on Earth to conserve resources. The plan was to send a few soldiers and scientist to Mars to check the safety and stability of the planet. Dr. Stephen still didn’t understand how they didn’t detect life during their research; civilized, structured and highly advance life.
“We were looking for safe landing space.” Dr. Stephen said apologetically trying to explain the incident on Mars.
“In the middle of a Village? Truth from an Eres.” Bellum hissed. She wasn’t interested in hearing the Earth Resident explanation.
“Ereses?” Dr. Stephen repeated in a figurative tone, “Ereses? Ereses?”
He tossed the word around in his mouth like he tasted a foreign fruit and was determined to pinpoint its origins. This encrypted language intrigued him, and he suddenly wanted to write a book about it. He wanted to know its rhythm and reasons. He tried not to show his inappropriate overexcitement in such a life-threating situation but it was difficult to contain. He was living in his dream and nightmare at the same time and didn’t know whether to feel afraid or fulfilled.
“Yes! Eres. Earth Resident, that it what you are! You are from Earth right? Humble Star, do we really need to go through this? We are fully aware of why we are here! Let’s us say our piece by way of vote and let our existences continue.”
“Wait, look we didn’t mean to kill your… people. We didn’t know you were here. I am sorry. I am sorry on behalf of the soldiers. I had no control over them. I am just a scientist, a really good one though. I am a really good scientist,” Dr. Stephen said snapping back into his reality and the purpose for his mission. “It’s airborne now. The disease or whatever it is, we honestly don’t know. From what we’ve been able to fine there is no cure. Some people or Eres are immune but we don’t know why or how. There is no logic to whatever this is just a lot of random death. Food supply is low. There is no government, police or money. We are going insane! It’s only a matter of time before everything rots and dies completely. We have to leave Earth, but we don’t know where to go. Please help us. We will right all our wrongs. I know it’s a big wish but it’s not just for me. Please.” Dr. Stephan removed his glasses and wiped his tears.
“Have you spoken your piece Saint Stephen?” the Head Star said with no emotion or concern towards Dr. Stephens’s tears or pleas.
“Yes, I am truly sorry for the lives you lost but the ones responsible have already paid the price for their mistake with their own lives. Please don’t make all of us pay with ours.”
“Whatever fate comes upon your people Saint Stephen, it will not be due to anything we made. It will be consequences for the actions your people made.”
Dr. Stephen looked into the Head Star’s eyes like he was waiting for his fate to be revealed. He was the stereotypical genius that was bullied and out casted through his childhood to young adult years, but every nerd has their day he thought, maybe saving mankind could be could be mine. Dr. Stephen took one more look at the Giants that he once imaged with wings and wands. He looked at the Head Star and offered one last plea assuming his fate and all Earth Residents fates was in his hands; “I ask for mercy if you have any left for us.”
“There is always room for mercy.”
The guards escorted Dr. Stephen back outside the observatory. The Head Star looked around at the Universal Council. They stood in silence, before they were sure of their decisions, now even Star Leader Bellum, stood in deep mediation.
“Centuries have shown that Ereses thrive off of destruction. But we know change is constant. We would be risking our existence in helping them, but helping is the reason we exist. Millenniums ago an Earth resident Star Leader was member of this council. We can waste fragments of our existence going through the old or we can move on in start the new. What should be and what can be, not what was or is. I am not trying to persuade you. Your decision is yours; make sure it is one you can live with for eternity without guilt or shame. It is your duty to not only act on behalf of yourself, but the Universe. Star Leader Bellum, you will vote first.”
Next was face shape.
"Circular or heart shaped?" Nora asked. "That's the option."
"Tall with a circular face is going to look weird."
"It works for you."
"My face is not circular."
We were mad women. Wielders of science and genius when standing at the two knobs on top of a silver drum in a nursery room.
"Sheesh, tell me how you really feel," she kissed me. "I'm still mad at you."
"No you're not, not in your nature."
Then it was personality type.
"This seems silly," I told Nora. "I mean who wouldn't pick an obedient, quiet child."
"Quiet obedient children can easily become adults who get walked all over."
"So you want a strong willed toddler running around tearing down everything."
"I didn't say that," Nora said. "Let's just consider the positive attributes of someone strong willed. We can't just think about what we want as parents but how this will affect her down the line?"
"Her?" I asked. "You want a girl?"
She smiled and shrugged, "I wouldn't mind a little you running around," she said kissing my nose. "I happen to enjoy your stubbornness."
I had just began a shift when my wristlet went off. The house was quiet, Nora already fast asleep in our bed. Lightly snoring. I walked into the nursery to find Marjorie in a crumpled t-shirt. Hair tousled. Eyes unfocused behind thick lenses.
"Glasses?" I asked. "Your parents didn't modify you?"
She yawned, shook her head. "Couldn't afford to," she replied. "Where's your wife?"
"I think this is something to wake her up for."
Nora hurriedly jumped out of the bed when I told her who telecommed in.
"I apologize for the late hour but I have pressing news that I didn't want to wait on."
"It's time for the window for the sexes," she told us.
"Sexes?" I asked. "What do you mean?"
Nora covered her mouth. I could see the smile through her hands.
"What am I missing?"
"H-how can that happen?" I asked. "I mean we didn't request twins."
"Every so often, it happens too quickly for us to catch. It's actually the only modification we haven't patented yet. All the features you've chosen so far will apply to both fetuses. Any features chosen from here on out will be by each child." She smiled wide. "So what do you say? What are you having?"
We decided on a boy and girl just to be fair. We painted the nursery forest green. The color of earthly leaves. What I imagined Ireland looked like. Rolling hills of trees and shrubs. We decided on one crib with a divider. Our research informed us that modified twins needed each other even more than unmodified ones. Something about the genetic code almost missing one another after leaving the incubator.
At first, we waited for Marjorie's calls with suggestions and desires and selections. Then we began to call her. Filling her in on little tweaks we'd like done. We had the money and figured why spare any expense. We worked hard and were having two after all.
Then the time came when we began reaching out separately, each picking a child to craft to our liking. I with my notes of voice patterns and accent cadences. Nora with learning styles and love languages. We were mad women. Wielders of science and genius when standing at the two knobs on top of a silver drum in a nursery room.
We should have known our tickering would have more consequence then we initial thought.
But instead we had to learn by pain and misfortune.
We held each other like we knew bad news was coming. "We need to talk" has ever been a great phrase to hear. But was even scarier coming from our installer. Marjorie wasn't in a command room like the majority of telecoms before. She stood in a purple hued room. Headset off. Sitting down instead of her usual standing. She offered us to sit so we did on the loveseat of the nursery. Marjorie told us that there was a pressing issue. That either only one or none of the children could proceed during the process. That our multiple modifications weakened them.
"Wait a second," I said. "You want us to chose one?" she nodded. "Why didn't you tell us about this risk before?"
"It was all in the paperwork," Marjorie said.
"But our physician said the labs came back great that a successful birth was imminent."
"Yes, for an unaltered child," she replied. "You have not only one, but two incredibly altered fetuses."
"Then why the hell offer someone when-"
"You seem distressed," she cut me off. "Let's reconvene at a later date."
The call ended. The room silent. Just my wife and I in silence. It wasn't until Nora touched my hand that I realized I'd been shaking. That my anger was rumbling just beneath my skin. IT was true. Two babies were in the device next to us but we'd only get to meet one.
WINNING ENDING: Cancel the whole thing.
about the writer...
you choose the ending...
Careful what you pray for
“I wish I could take my prayers back.” She said again as she scrubbed her hands through my locks getting all of the shampoo out. My hairstylist has a habit of saying the craziest things at the most inopportune times but this one takes the cake.
“Um… ok… So you’re going to be an Indian giver with your prayers?” I said head tilted back into the shampoo bowl trying not to laugh and get soapy water in my mouth. I could feel all of the other women in the shop beginning to focus in on our conversation. Didn’t even have to look up to see hands paused in the midst of their facebook scrolls and headphone volumes being lowered.
Jade of House of Jade’s Natural Hair Salon and Beauty Supply was known for two things in our community, being an amazing loctician, and cussing people the fuck out once she was pushed too far.
“That’s exactly what my sister said and just like I told her, FUCK YES.” She shut the water off and wrapped my hair in one of her fluffy white towels before guiding me to sit in her chair.
“Wow. She must’ve really pissed you off.” I said sticking one of my apple AirPods into my ears and tapping my phone screen to get to my latest audiobook. Unlike most women who came to the beauty shop to get the latest gossip while they got their hair did, I don’t care for other people’s drama.
“No, this isn’t about her. It’s about HIM. The guy I met in Dallas.” Her hands which had begun to retighten my locks in the back forcefully seemed to lose some of her heft as she said the word him.
“Wait Dr. Dude? What did he do?” Renee, the woman who rented a chair in the shop piped in since it was clear that I wasn’t going to take the bait. The other three women in the shop were obviously listening now. The one sitting under the dryer was even holding the hood of the dryer up away from her head so that she could hear over the loud drum of the dryer.
Amanda the one who taught Dr. Woke to be woke and feminist. Did feminists cheat?
Talking about a man in a beauty shop was the quickest way to have everyone in town in your business. Normally, Jade didn’t talk so freely about her personal business in the shop. She could spend hours talking about the people who tried to get over on her, or the tenant who she’d evicted who had left a pair of gummy discharge infused underwear on the floor of the master bathroom, even her two children who’d become less perfect over my years of knowing her but aside from letting us know that she was dating some fancy schmancy woke ass doctor in Dallas none of the women who came in the shop were close enough for Jade to mention her relationship woes.
“I prayed to marry a doctor and I met a great doctor, fine, black, in shape, not an asshole then I met Dr. Dude. And Dr. Dude is MARRIED. To a white woman. Ol’ Fake woke ass.” Jade grunted, tugged my hair closer to her and tightened her grip on one of my locs. Good thing I’d followed my mother’s advice and went to Chili’s before my hair appointment. Buy one get one drinks had been keeping me from crying like a baby for the last six hair appointments.
“But, where were you staying when you went to see him?” Renee was clearly too enthralled in the story to focus on the young lady sitting in her chair. The girls platinum blond ponytail was sticking up like Alfalfa’s from The Little Rascals and from the looks of things the gel was starting to set. If I were her I would be getting pissed.
“I thought we were staying at his house. Apparently, we’ve been staying at one of his rental properties. His maid showed up this weekend unexpectedly and I should’ve noticed that he almost shit his pants but I was too busy playing boo boo the fool. I even got a BRAZILIAN for him.” She was tugging at my hair so hard now I wished they would change the subject or put on Judge Judy. “I mean we’re sitting in his jacuzzi naked two seconds away from intercourse and before I knew it this old Spanish lady is standing over us looking at us like we’re hairless chickens and all that he could say was ‘It’s not what you think. Took me ten whole minutes to process why he would be saying that to a maid.” She was getting madder by the minute and was standing up practically pacing at this point.
“I have to use the restroom.” I said to her trying to buy myself some time. Hopefully by the time that I got back from the bathroom she would be done with her story and back to her normal sometimes-bougie-sometimes-ghetto-self.
It wasn’t until I was in the bathroom pants half way around my thighs before...
Doctor. Woke. White wife. Dallas.
Trevor is Dr. Dude. Dr. Dude is Trevor started to click through my brain in warp speed. Trevor a woke black doctor who still had a practice in Dallas where he’d lived for a few years during med school and immediately after. Trevor whom I’d met in Chemistry class who I’d then hooked up with my best friend. Trevor who was married to my best friend from third grade. Amanda the one who taught Dr. Woke to be Woke and Feminist. Did feminists cheat?
“Girl I hope they all burn those yard sale shoes while they’re wearing them in the center of a pile of gasoline soaked drawers.” Jade was now saying to Renee. Who was now washing the gel out of the young Alfala-haired lady’s head. I would be so pissed.
Normally I wouldn’t ask any questions about Dr. Dude and Jade but I had to know. I waited for the next pause in the conversation and blurted out “So of Course I missed the ending of the story but I know you broke up with that Dude.” to Jade as she began retightening my hair like a normal human being only half-way killing my head.
“Girl, no. That fool told me that he was leaving his white woman in a few months and promised to take me to Nigeria for Thanksgiving. By the time my plane landed in Tampa the plane tickets were sitting in my email inbox. And you should see the safari that he booked” she said, passing me her phone which was open to an email which she’d obviously already showed the other women.
“Hmmmm, I didn’t take you for the type to knowingly sleep with married men.” I said barely able to contain my anger.
“Girl. I’m not. But I’m also not dumb enough to turn down a fifteen thousand dollar all expenses paid vacation to the mother land.” Jade said into my hair. I could tell that I’d touched a nerve by the way her hands were flying through my coils.
“Oh ok. So then after Africa you done with him then?” I asked using every ounce of restraint that ten years of $150 dollar an hour counseling had barely taught me.
“Yeah. I’ll be done with him the second we land back in America. I’m not like these young dummies running around the city waiting for some idiot to leave their wives.” She turned up Judge Judy who was berating some fool for stealing her best friend’s car and crashing it into a pole.
As I walked in to the bar and spotted her splotchy face my throat started to feel constricted. “Hey boo!” I said with false cheer leaning across the table and kissing her on her cheek.
“Hey lovey! How was your day? I ordered us Tequila on the rocks to start.” She said with less false cheer than I had.
I couldn’t understand how Trevor could cheat on someone as beautiful as Amanda. Even with her splotchy face she was one of the most beautiful women in the place. Her shiny auburn hair was bluntly cut in a Boss Ass Bitch Bob, her white blouse seemed to glow on her tanned skin and her smile was practically perfect.
“It was ok. How was yours? You don’t look happy.” I said hoping that she already knew about Trevor so that I wouldn’t have to tell her.
“Well, I went to the doctor on Friday and got the results of my breast biopsy.” She began before I cut her off.
“Breast biopsy? When the fuck did you get a breast biopsy?” I could feel the Chili’s burger getting ready to make it’s exit out of my stomach.
“When I went in for my yearly Dr. Kline found a lump under my breast and she took a biopsy. We got the results back today.” she said reaching across the table and grabbing both of my hands with her perfectly manicured hands.
“And the results said?” I tried to disappear into the oversized leather booth. I didn’t want to know if the results were bad. They couldn’t be bad. Cancer had already taken our friend Maria, the third amigo of our tribe, two years before. Leaving behind three beautiful children, one handsome now eternally depressed husband, and two best friends abruptly forced to be a duo and to deal with the fact that the day after you bury one of your bestfriends the world still goes on.
“I know you don’t want to hear this.” She got up from her chair and walked over to my side sliding her arms around my body which had done the thing it does when forced to deal with horrible shit, got so stiff you could roll me down the street like a log, and kissed my cheek, “But I do have cancer. It’s the 'Good' kind, we found it early, and we have a plan."
“Oh my god, no. You can’t have cancer. This can’t happen to you.” I cried into her shoulder. Realizing that she was doing the thing that people always did when they were sick, consoling the healthy, yet I was still unable to immediately console her.
“I can and I do. Pull yourself together Marnie, I need you to be strong and help me tell Trevor. You know he’s not going to be able to handle this.” She was rubbing my back in a circular motion the same way she’d done every time I was distressed from the time my first girlfriend cheated on me with Michael Colhoun to the time that I didn’t win the award for Small Business of the Year in my dental practice. Trevor, Fucking Trevor. Of course he wouldn’t be able to handle cancer. He couldn’t even handle having a perfect wife without cheating on her with a hairdresser who lived in the same damn town that he did.
I cleared my throat, inhaled and exhaled ten times then pinched the bridge of my nose. “OK” I said taking her in my arms and squeezing her. “We’ve got this! You’re going to be fine and where praytell is your husband today?”
“This is his week to be in Dallas. He’ll be back tomorrow. That was the other thing I needed. I have to go to the lab for some blood work in the morning. Can you pick him up from the airport at 8am?” She asked smiling like she’d won the lottery.
The waitress walked over then placing our drinks down and asking us if we wanted to order any appetizers buying me some time. I didn’t want to pick Trevor up from the airport. He was a sorry excuse for a human being. Cheat on my friend? Shame on you. Cheat on my angelic, always positive cancer having friend? A pox upon your soul. Do I tell her? Would I be a good friend if I told her? Or should I pick Trevor up from the airport and confront him?
WINNING ENDING: PICK TREVOR UP AND LET HIM HAVE IT!
about the writer...
in 2020, your vote matters... for more than this story ending:
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Anyone Can Write Poetry, Even You!
ZEN-cHRISTIAN MOTT Inspires and encourages everyone to discover and free their inner-poet
I remember taking a creative writing class in 8th grade and writing poems but only referring to them as poems because that’s what I was told they were. It wasn’t until 10th grade when I was accepted into Douglas Anderson School of the Arts for creative writing that I was formally introduced to poetry... and I hated it.
At the time, fiction and short stories were where I found the most comfort because I was exploring the lives of fictional characters and not myself. It was a tough pill to swallow learning that poems weren’t just made of literary devices but also willingness, imagination, and vulnerability. At age 16, self exploration and reflection was the last thing I wanted to do. All of that resulted in my greatest obstacle: deciding what to write about.
"Poetry for me since then has been whatever I wanted it to be."
The “love poem” trend or as I like to put it “poems about love” stuck with me until college and then I searched for more. I found inspiration in quotes that stuck with me, songs that resonated deeply, paintings and nature. Poetry for me since then has been whatever I wanted it to be.
As people, society has taught us that we don't deserve to take up space, only to know our place and stay in it. Poetry in that sense becomes an act of rebellion in the best way."
"I think that the biggest struggle with starting poetry or anything is answering the questions: why you're doing it and what do you want the world to know."
My advice for getting started:
Start small and educate yourself on the art form
Take time to research poetic techniques to give yourself a place to start before writing.
If you know what a metaphor is and how it functions, you can try creating some of your own and see where that takes you.
Find poetry that resonates with you and read it
The world is filled with lifetime's worth of poems by people of all backgrounds, ages, and cultures. If you read something you don’t like, keep searching until you find something you do!
Being vulnerable requires not shaming what comes out of you, only welcoming it with kindness and love. Poetry has done a lot for my students and me as a person and I think everyone should give themselves the opportunity to experience that kind of joy.
I CHALLENGE anyone doubting their ability to write poetry by saying they aren't creative, lyrical, or have nothing to say TO do it anyway.
ZenChristian Mott is a fiction writer turned poet, new author, teaching artist, youth slam coach, and overall a storyteller residing in Tampa, Florida. A writer since childhood, her work has slowly transformed into a world immersed in metaphor, self-discovery, and self reflection. She received a BA in creative writing and psychology from the University of South Florida and went on to compete in regional and national slam team competitions as well as became the Workshop Director for Heard Em Say Youth Arts Collective. In 2018, she self-published her first poetry book 'The Burned House Resurrects, available for purchase on Amazon.com. Her work has appeared in the USF Thread and the IO Literary Journal. (Pronouns: She, Her)
For more about ZenChristian Mott: www.zenchristianmott.com
The Courage to Write Fiction
Writer and publisher stephanie outten shares her writing journey
Writing, for me, has been cathartic. Coming from a place of hurt, it was exactly what I needed in order to begin the healing process. I needed to get things off of my chest without having to speak them. The words on the pages needed to speak on my behalf, at the time, and shift me from a place of emotional bondage, to a place of liberation deep in my soul.
It’s pure peace and joy when I’m able to take what’s inside my head and put it on paper. Whether I write in my journal, type into my phone, or type into an electronic document, I write to bring myself to a place of wholeness - a place of feeling full and complete. I believe everyone should have that type of experience when they write.
"Writing, for me, has been cathartic."
I read a lot of fiction as a child. Reading was my safe place. When I would read, I was transported to new places in my mind. The words, the characters, the descriptions, the scenes…they all drew me in as if I belonged to them. I became so fully immersed in books that I sometimes didn’t want to leave those make-believe worlds. That’s what a well-written book will do for you.
When I became an adult and began to experience trials and heartaches, the stories of others pulled me in. I wanted to create a different ending for them as a writer, one that didn’t end in the types of trials that I had experienced. So, when it was time for me to write my first book, I wrote fiction because I knew I could write the beginning, middle and ending exactly how I wanted it to be. In addition, I could live through my characters, and I could breathe life into my characters.
"I needed a place to bury all of the pain..."
Now that I’ve written one book and contributed chapters in two other books, I spend my time coaching others to write the stories the world has been waiting for them to share. Also, as an independent publisher, I help them get their books into the marketplace.
So, as a writer who is also a publisher, here’s my advice as you prepare to write your own fiction stories:
STEPHANIE OUTTEN'S TIPS FOR WRITING FICTION
- Identify why you want to write fiction
It’s not always easy to write fiction. Take it from me as well as my clients who are interested in writing fiction. It’s much easier to write nonfiction because it’s your true story - nothing added for effect.
- Be sure to read great fiction before you try to write it
Reading great fiction helps you understand how to craft your own story.
- Think about the message you want to convey
Yes, fictional stories have messages and themes, too. For example, the message of my first book was about seeking joy in the midst of your challenges.
- Get the help of a writing coach if you don’t know the ins and outs of how to frame your story
Writing coaches can be lifesavers and time savers for you.
- Write about something you know about
Even though with fiction you get to make things up, it makes it so much easier and cleaner when you write about things you know and/or have experienced yourself.
I hope this helps you along your journey to becoming a great fiction writer. When you’re ready to write and/or publish, let me know!
Stephanie Outten, CEO | Chief Publishing Officer | Literary Doula™ of Cocoon to Wings Publishing, guides existing and aspiring anointed writers through birthing their “literary babies” and leaving their story as their legacy. Stephanie is a Christian fiction writer who published her first novel, “Is This the Way to Joy?” as a way of healing from past trauma that once, unknowingly, consumed her life. She has also authored chapters in the Amazon Bestseller anthology, “Soul Talk,” as well as hot-selling fiction anthology, “When I Kill Him, Jesus Can Have Him". She holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications/Public Relations from the University of South Florida and a master’s degree in Organizational Management/Human Resources from the University of Phoenix. In April 2016 she became a certified life coach whose focus is centered on transformational writing coaching.
For more on Stephanie Outten & Cocoon to Wings Publishing: https://stephanieoutten.com/
You Never Know What Can Happen
A conversation with our first writing contest winner bRYANNA sANDERS.
fEATURING THE STORY "fIRST LOVE" (sPRING MICRO-FICTION Contest)
In April, Kitchen Table Literary Arts center hosted our first writing contest, exclusively for Creative Writing Society members. The Creative Writing Society is an online platform established to provide a safe environment for Black women and women of color writers to meet and engage through online literary courses, submission calls, writing challenges, and more.
I had the pleasure to sit and talk with our first contest winner Bryanna Sanders on her writing journey, her thoughts on writing communities, and the inspiration behind her winning story, "First Love," which can be read at the end of the interview.
A: Yes, my first contest and the first short story I wrote.
Q: Many writers including myself fear submitting even to smaller publications and contests. What encouraged you to submit to our Spring Micro-Fiction contest?
A: I am a really anxious person and I overthink things like a lot. It’s going to sound weird but the thing that encouraged me to submit was that I had never done this before. And so, I was like, you know what? I am not going to win this at all. I have no confidence in myself. So, we are going to submit because who cares, and in the end it will be good practice. The thing that encouraged me was not expecting anything at all.
Q: What advice would you give to other Black women and Women of Color writers looking to take the next steps in their writing journey in the form of submitting?
A: Like Nike say, just do it! Because you never know how it is going to come out. Like, I said I get real bad anxiety over my work and I have this inferiority complex and nothing is ever good enough. So, I understand the anxiety that is associated with submitting but at the end of the day you never know what is going to happen. I went into this with no expectations at all; and now I am here doing this interview like a real writer.
It is important to believe in your work, and in yourself. Understand you do have something to say and something worthwhile to put out there. We need to hear more of our voices! Submit, if for nothing else but for the next Black woman to come along who might read your work and be inspired by it. If you can’t submit it for you, submit it for that person who it can possibly affect in a positive way.
Q: Why do you believe it is important to have a writing community, especially for Black women and women of color?
A: It is imperative to have these spaces. I went to a HBCU, but I didn't grow up around a lot of people that look like me. As I get older I see that there aren’t a lot of places for us. This is a healing space for me, I feel safe here.
I wrote a poem about George Floyd and everything that has been happening for centuries in our community, and the Kitchen Table Creative Writing Society was a safe place where I could share it. There are not a lot of places where I can express my anger, frustrations, and emotions. Sometimes I am afraid to express emotions and be vulnerable because of the perceptions people have about Black women and People of Color. This place is everything to me. We need places where we can speak freely amongst ourselves. And, getting that encouragement from everyone in the writing community!
Writing is hard. Putting yourself out there, sharing personal pieces. It’s not a lot of places I feel comfortable doing that, but this is one of them. I am beyond appreciative of it! I need this space.
“I am grateful for this space, for all the women in the space, and everyone who read the story. Thank you." - Bryanna Sanders
Q: What was the inspiration for your micro-fiction story, “First Love”?
A: OH GOSH! I am southern but I am not from Louisiana but I have always really loved New Orleans and Louisiana. It’s beautiful, so that’s my backdrop. I am also bisexual. Yes, I love me some women! I wrote about someone I had a crush on. We weren’t childhood friends or anything, and I tried to image what it might have been like if we were in this situation, then the one we were in when I met her; you feel me? I drew from my own childhood experiences with crushes then along with her as a person and went from there. That was my inspiration. So, love, Spanish moss and New Orleans!
Q: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any current writing projects?
A: During National Poetry Month, those 30 days of writing was the most I have written in my life! I have a lot of pieces just sitting in my drive, so I am currently working on a poetry collection. I also started working on a romance themed novel because I am a romantic at heart. I just finished the first chapter and by the end of this year I am hoping to have at least three more chapters finished.
I enjoyed my conversation with Bryanna Sanders as much as I enjoyed reading her story "First Love" and her poetry. Her poem, “Mixed Bags” was featured on Kitchen Table Literary Arts Instagram during National Poetry Month. To read more work by Bryanna Sanders please visit her instragram: @bry_yourself8
First lOVE BY Bryanna Sanders
We are thrilled to announce the reboot of our monthly website blog!
Every month we will highlight the voices of Black women and women of color writers as they enlighten, encourage, and empower us with writing advice, book suggestions/reviews, tales from their literary journeys, and more.
WeWriteHere... Stay tuned for our blog reboot coming July 2020.
In the arms of a sister
welcoming valerie boyd, sheree renee thomas, and shay youngblood TO THE KITCHEN TABLE LITERARY ARTS ADVISORY BOARD
I wanted to start off with how reading Wrapped in Rainbows before I decided to attend graduate school for writing--leaving my family for the first time and shunning a corporate career--made me feel possible. I had planned this mini-essay recalling how Zora Neale Hurston's Florida helped this Wisconsin girl make sense of Tampa Bay and how Valerie Boyd's research and writing and careful loving attention to fact, fiction, and the in-between made everything about my own writing journey, with its starts and stops, disappointments and discoveries, an exercise in trusting the divinely mysterious plan that promises to lead you right where you're supposed to be. I have a photo with Valerie Boyd from nearly every writing conference I've attended since graduating with my MFA nine years ago, and I just saw her again at Zora Fest in January. Something about seeing her is like a cosmic nod that I'm on the right track.
The press release-turned-love-letter would become a photo-essay/journal entry that reflected on my trip to Paris in 2014 to walk the streets Baldwin, Wright, Himes, and Baker walked. The journal entry would explore how that dream of that trip began as a flickering flame of "Could I?" after reading Black Girl in Paris, which I read twice before finally taking the leap to craft a writing life in 2005. I would tell Shay Youngblood that, even though we have yet to meet, her writing called my name from the shelves of the Yaddo Library last year and that reading her plays encouraged me to walk the woods slowly, breathing deep and casting spells, challenged me to write courageously, breathing deep and telling the truth.
Thank you Valerie, Sheree, and Shay for sharing your work and sharing yourselves. Your guidance and support mean the absolute world to me.
In gratitude, community, and sisterhood,
Sheree L. Greer
rEAD BIOS FOR VALERIE bOYD, SHEREE RENEE THOMAS, AND SHAY YOUNGBLOOD HERE
Black Women Writers
a review of dr. nnedi okorafor's binti: home
by silk-jazmyne hindus
The author carries on the originality of the first book while delving deep into sensitive topics. The reader gets to see Binti’s growth while understanding her challenges. There’s an incredible amount of time spent on mental health. From instances of panic attacks to night terrors. Often times in science fiction when disasters occur, the protagonist is sad for a moment then goes on to save the day. The reader is able to see her strength through moments of pain.
“For the first few weeks, I was okay, but eventually I started having nightmares, day terrors, I’d see red and then Heru’s chest bursting open.”
“Similar to the Meduse, in my family, one does not go to a stranger and spill her deepest thoughts and fears. You got a family member and if not, you hold it deep, close to the heart, even if it tore you up inside.”
“I felt a sting of shame as I realized why I hadn’t understood something so obvious. My own prejudice. I had been raised to view the Desert People, the Enyi Zinariya, as a primitive, savage people plagued by a genetic neurological disorder. So that’s what I saw.”
With one hundred sixty two pages to work with, the author uses simple, concise sentences for the majority of the book until she deems it absolutely necessary to expound. She slows the narrative down in the big moments to allow the reader to fully soak up what’s happening.
“In one sentence, she explained something that had been bothering me for a year. That’s all it was. The random anger and wanting to be violent, that was just Meduse genetics in me. Nothing is wrong with me? I thought. Not unclean? It’s just … a new part of me I need to learn to control? I’d come all this way to go on my pilgrimage because I’d thought my body was trying to tell me something was wrong with it.”
This book is an ode to growing up, letting go and evolving. The first book was about leaving home and the second is about returning. A navigation of balancing who you were raised to be and becoming who you are and want to be. Coming home after being on your own is very hard (ask any college grad who’s had to move back in with their parents after graduation). This book was about how moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting the past but also not being afraid of becoming who you were meant to be, even if it makes people uncomfortable.
Binti: Home is the story of every golden child who has fallen from grace. It’s about family and culture. How following your dreams can feel like turning your back on a collectivist home. I found myself genuinely tearing up at some of the more pivotal moments. There’s a level of beauty in the rawness. The author doesn’t shy away from giving you a complete view of Binti in her strength and weakness. This book is an encouragement to anyone scared to branch out from their traditional family. When I finished, I couldn’t wait to get into the third book to see how this character’s story ends.
MISSED THE FIRST BINTI REWIEW? READ IT HERE!
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Black Women Writers
Choose The Ending