Jasmine Cui is 18 years old and is majoring in Political Science, Economics, and Violin Performance at SUNY Geneseo. She aspires to be like her parents who are first-generation Americans that fought an extraordinary battle for their place in this country. Jasmine found the courage to pursue writing when she was 17. She is the co-editor in chief of The Ellis Review, a weekly online poetry publication for emerging writers. She is not a mentee, not a Foyle Young Poet, not a Presidential Scholar (and this is not to say you can’t be those things), but she is still every bit a writer.
Q: What writing have you had published? How did you accomplish this: a collection of your own, magazines, or something else? What was the process like?
A: For the most part, I have stuck to publishing single poems. The process has been a difficult one. In fact, I’ve been dealing with a pretty serious case of writer’s block for the past few months, in part, because I feel that there is this subconscious worry that my initial publications were just a fluke. Obviously, I don’t mean to discount just how much of an honor it is to have been published, but I do worry that the work I’m producing now pales in comparison to the work I already have out in certain literary journals.
Now, I do understand that my experience is definitely the exception and not the rule. I don’t say these things to be ungrateful. Honestly, I will admit that I have been incredibly lucky to have been blessed with a few acceptances and supportive publishers from the start. Eloisa Amezcua at The Shallow Ends and Anthony Frame at Glass, in particular, have been two editors whose support I credit significantly with helping me realize my place in the writing community.
Nevertheless, I want other emerging writers to know that imposter’s syndrome is alive and well. Lacking the creative energy to write is alive and well. All too often, we focus on the final product: the awards, the recognition. But simultaneously, we have a tendency to overlook the struggles that preface such achievements.
On a general, practical level, the submissions process in and of itself is fairly standardized. I think, on the most basic level, everything comes down to intentionality. When my friends work to curate their chapbooks and manuscripts, the first thing I ask is “why?” Why this poem and not another? Why this title and not another? I think there is this misconception that a “right way” exists when it comes to producing say a full length or a magazine. In reality, I don’t think there is any definitively correct way to go about things. Instead, what I like to see in both my own work and that of others, are intentional, justifiable decisions.
Q: What advice would you give to young writers who are trying to get published, potentially with full collections of their own work?
A: Persist. Even when the world says otherwise. Even if you’re hearing “No” more than you hear “Yes.” Persist.
Q: What is unique about the publishing world for young people in particular?
A: Young writers are some of the bravest out there. Just this act of putting your work out there at such a young age, that in and of itself is courage.
Writing is often so personal and, as a result, difficult to share. For 14, 15, 16 year olds to demonstrate a willingness to share their work with the world, that is certainly something that should be encouraged and applauded; however, I do worry at times that the emerging writer’s community, or, as my friend and co-Editor in Chief at Sooth Swarm, Erin O’Malley often puts it, “Teenlit™,” is becoming a bit of a pressure cooker. I feel as if, at times, the wrong things are being emphasized, validation being drawn from unhealthy places. Of course, awards, publication, external affirmation are nice, but it is important not to conflate these with the validity of your work.
More than once, I’ve had teens reach out to me saying that they don’t feel comfortable talking to other writers in the community because they haven’t won award X, Y or Z. And it should never be like that. Many “established” teen writers are incredibly welcoming and some of the friendliest people I know. Even so, I hope that our collective community will make a concerted effort to improve accessibility; moreover, we need to be more conscious of the fact that certain opportunities are not necessarily to everyone. Not everyone can afford to attend a summer workshop at Kenyon or Interlochen. Not everyone can pay the fees to submit to YoungArts or Scholastic. But are they still writers? Absolutely.
Ultimately, I think Junot Diaz put it best when he said this: “A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”
Q: What did you hope to accomplish by founding The Ellis Review? You’re a relatively young writer yourself — do you think that fact makes your magazine especially accessible to a younger generation?
A: I’m not certain my age has much influence over accessibility. Perhaps, teen writers feel more comfortable reaching out to me because, as their peer, I am currently dealing with a lot of the things they are dealing with. Surely, as a student without a full time job, I have more time to reach out to emerging writers and offer support. I would have to say that technological fluency has also played a role — having the ability to interact and reach out to young writers over mediums like Twitter and Facebook definitely improves accessibility.
A brief addendum, I do want to emphasize that when I say emerging writers, I am not referring specifically to teens. As my co-Editor in Chief Logan February has pointed out, there are writers who have been underserviced by the literary community for years and, as a result, begin submitting and publishing at age 20, 30, 40. We want to be inclusive of all emerging writers, regardless of age.
As for what I hope to accomplish with Ellis, I cannot stress how fortunate I have been to have had support early on from The Shallow Ends and Glass: a Journal of Poetry. Not everyone has an Anthony or an Eloisa, but I truly hope that everyone finds support from someone, somewhere. This is one of my primary motivations behind launching The Ellis Review: to help provide this kind of much needed support.
I do understand that we are a very selective journal; however, I hope this will not be confused for exclusivity. We want to publish everyone, but we feel that it would be wrong to publish work that is not quite as developed as it could be. In my opinion, this would be an injustice to the writer. That is precisely why we encourage submitters to ask for critique. And also why, when they do ask, we strive to give comments that are as thorough and detailed as possible. We want everyone’s work to reach a place where it is as developed lyrically and aesthetically as possible.
We want to be more than a journal; we hope to be a resource for all writers — emerging and otherwise.
Twitter: @NotAMathlete, @TheEllisReview; Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jasmine.cui.7