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Survivors to Superheroes: Reclaiming Your Story and Voice After Sexual Violence

By Julia Tortorello-Allen

As a teenager, I lived through multiple violent sexual assaults. Afterwards, there was a long period of time where I was unable to cope with the trauma and grief. Exploring my emotions, my needs, and letting others in was an impossibility. Over time, I sought help from my parents and realized that sharing my story was immensely important for my healing. My mother and I looked for what to do next, and quickly realized that there were virtually no resources or information geared towards young people. Websites we found were primarily geared towards adults, or the diction was complex with definitions and explanations of laws that were too difficult for a typical teenager to understand. I was lost, confused and needed help that was non-existent. Being a young survivor is a lonely experience, and the lack of accessible resources made it more so.

This frustration led me to establish Survivors to Superheroes (S2S), an organization in the process of establishing nonprofit status that supports young survivors and their loved ones. Our mission is to empower those who’ve suffered from sexual violence by providing original educational resources and content about sexual violence, and platforms in which survivors can share their stories so that they can move away from being victims and towards being survivors. This transformation can be overwhelming and challenging; however, becoming a survivor instead of a victim is an important part of recovery. Reclaiming your power, story, and voice allows you to continue on with your life so that you’re not forever stuck in a moment of violence. 

 S2S started out as a small team, just my mother, me, and two of my best friends. We worked hard and built the foundation on which the whole organization now sits. Over time, we added more people to the team and expanded across the United States and Canada. Now, I am honored to say that I am the president of Survivors to Superheroes, working with over 20 other people on the fight against sexual violence! There are many projects that we are working on building and running, including a fellowship program for high schoolers, the writing and publishing of original articles and web content, and creating workshops for college students about consent, sexual violence, and recovery after trauma.

 We also have a fully functioning team working towards launching our first edition of Songs of Survival, a mission driven lit journal, accepting submissions primarily from survivors and their loved ones to provide a safe space to share work that in some way has to do with survival (whatever that means to them). I want others to feel the same strength and empowerment that I felt which comes from sharing stories through writing, because everyone deserves to have their stories and voices heard. If you think that Survivors to Superheroes might be a safe and good place for you to share your story, please consider submitting to Songs of Survival.

You Don’t Know My Name: Assessing the Authenticity of My Identity

By Sally Camara

No one knows who you are or will ever know who you are until you decide to peel back your skin layer by layer exposing the true inner core. Usually this moment of first revealing oneself begins with a name and progresses until the parties involved decide to form a connection, whether it be as miniscule as acquaintances or intimate as a romantic relationship. Regardless of the status, there comes a time when sharing information about yourself seems senseless because you do not relate to everything you’ve known about yourself, thereby igniting an exploration into self-identity, how much access people have to it, and how authentic it is to your current self.

When I was younger, I had two names which granted me two identities: my birth and family name. One, I share with friends and strangers, the other is exclusively for family. With one, I can freely live by my own standards, and with the other I am more reserved and sheltered. Usually, this is a popular thing among Ivorians, so I’ve always been used to it. I like to think of Sally as the American version of myself and Adja as the Ivorian. I have always felt a connection to both names but recently, in light of deep self-reflection, it seems like those names do not belong to me anymore. A name comes with memories and qualities associated with it- for example, times I remember being with my family I’ve been Adja, and times at school I’ve been Sally. For the most part they’ve been separate. Lately, however, it seems like they’re crashing into one another and to say the least- it’s been overwhelming. Adja is expected to maintain a 4.0 GPA, get into an Ivy League, and become a biologist or doctor, while Sally wants to graduate college, work in a writer’s room, own a dog and cat named Loc and Bantu respectively, and travel the world. However, with Sally struggling to obtain opportunities in her majors that could finally propel her to freedom, she’s seeming more like a failure- and that’s not a trait I identify with at all. Being left with no other option, I’m forced to connect back with Adja- the identity made outside my will. But where does that leave room to be one’s authentic self? The freedom to create oneself and feel it’s honest?

Personally, negative traits aren’t made for me. I don’t identify with failure, so Sally isn’t a mask I feel comfortable putting on. And the passions of Adja are not my own, therefore that hat doesn’t fit either, forcing me to position myself with two identities that have now become unfamiliar. Now, when I share how I feel or some other personal information it feels like reciting lines from a script. Are those really my words? Is this who I am? Do I identify with her? In tandem with her interests,I created this Sally character who is a people-pleaser, comedian, activist, and martyr. I created a persona and wore it so often that it became skin, eventually letting others believe it was my DNA too. Imposter syndrome. The only way to cope with pressure is to form a completely new identity- cutting off people’s access to the real one: the one that does make mistakes, that does fail, and has imperfections. I’ll start off with a blank slate, where the only thing written is the character of my higher-conscious self. Sally seemed too raw, it was no longer fun being her- and I did not want anybody to see her anyway. So, why not introduce a fake name to strangers and people who may not know the real me? This new identity will be associated with the version of myself I have always fantasized about. Then, once comfortability is established, I’ll share my real name and get back to peeling those layers. It seemed like the perfect plan. I was going to rename myself Crystal. I didn’t go through with it, but I thought it was ingenious.

You might think you see in this story someone who’s protecting their true identity with a false one, or being shameful about who they are but what’s resting in the clouds is the capability and capacity to reimagine ourselves into being and the opportunity to write our own origin story. It is a chance to break free from the shameful past that gets muddled with the present, or simply set a future in stone. It is the choice to create an identity- one you feel is truly authentic to your core being, and with it be selective on who gets to experience it.

Our character is important to how we live, and it’s important to know the former if we are set to do anything of importance. As people figuring out the rest of their lives together in college, we are exposed to different personalities and interests, our relationships to family and friends change, and it’s the ultimate time in our lives when we are left on our own. This newfound independence gives us a choice to forge our own path or follow the ones pre-determined by family. It is the time when we have to figure out what we stand for, who we want to be, but most importantly- who we are. This is a proclamation to say, it is okay to not identify with the person your family wants you to be, or the one you had thought you were. It is okay to be someone new if you do not subscribe to who you were. It is okay to keep your name but decide to shed the old identity. This is a proclamation for you to decide who you want to be in life, ensure it is authentic to your whole being, and to protect it.

Photo courtesy of stephanie.alifano_art on Instagram.

Beauty in Craft

By Shannon DeNatale

How would you define a beautiful poetic moment? Does it have identifiable qualities? When I read poetry, I trust the writer as I engage in the language, on the language’s terms. This trust in the language, devotedly, is the space where beauty has a chance to emerge. As the writer leads me through the piece, it is my role as a reader to determine if this leading was done convincingly. This leading can be done through line breaks. Choosing where the reader must stop, and start again, is essential in guiding the breath and then consequently, the momentum of the poem. Another way of leading is through stylized syntax. The structure of a sentence defines its meaning and its emphasis, thus guiding the reader’s attention.

The poetry of Walt Whitman is often noted by its long and enjambed lines. I sometimes see this as something syrupy, spilling from one line to this next, propelling itself forward by its own content. For example, in the middle of section VI of “Song of Myself” Whitman writes, “The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, / And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end / to arrest it, / And ceased the moment life appeared.” These four lines make up one sentence. However, this one sentence feels long, it feels vastly informative, thorough and engaging. The enjambment of the lines creates tension and release, which ultimately propels us, the reader, forward. This is what I find beautiful, the careful guiding of the reader through the poem.

Tommy Pico’s book of poetry titled Junk guides the reader persuasively with its stylized syntax. This 72-page book is made up of one large poem, punctuated sparsely with commas and question marks, ultimately ending with an unpunctuated line on the bottom of page 72. Similar to Whitman, Pico’s run-on sentences do not sound like one long idea, but instead, they feel clear and distinct. Pico’s layering of ideas without ample end punctuation means each idea needs to build meaning as well as move the language forward into something new, never redundant. The choice to omit smooth and thorough transitions between ideas creates this aforementioned creative space in which beauty emerges, and we as readers, are persuasively guided. This is where carefully crafted syntax must be used. For example, on page 1 of Junk,  Pico writes:

 Everything that can cross I am crossing: eyes arms shoulders
 Back to bed, come back here The air is heavy feathers in mid -
 
summer, literally and metaphorically in my foul apt above the
 chicken slaughterhouse where we wheeze awake Yr bangs look
 
real perf n coiled strangely I smell like horror burgers n you
 smell like lavender doves and all the best stuff Yr comforting 

The powers of language and syntax are apparent. Each of the speaker’s ideas are stacked upon the previous one without much in between. Instead, each idea begins with confidence. Each idea is phrased in a way that serves the singular idea best and does not speak in reference to the last one. In terms of syntax, each idea lives independently from the ones preceding and following it. However, each idea’s content builds poetically, creating a larger meaning and context.

What’s Your Twitch?

By Jasmine Ferrufino

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been among the most long-standing social media platforms for artists to communicate with their audience. These platforms have set the bar for newer platforms. During Covid-19, I think humanity realized the importance of online communities when face-to-face interactions became impossible. Artists have moved towards live streaming to establish an online presence, many through Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and YouTube Live. But recently, I encountered some artists who are playing with Twitch.

Twitch was initially a live streaming service for video games that was launched in 2011.  But in 2016, they launched a feature called IRL (In Real Life) which allows any person to make videos beyond gaming. Artists are using this platform to make weekly videos to interact with people who enjoy their work and want to engage further. For example, artists like Drangonsandbeasties use the platform to make dragon sculptures online. Or Brielleartwork, who streams herself drawing. I guess the real question is, why promote yourself on a new (and still largely unknown) platform like Twitch when platforms like Facebook Live are more well-known? What does Twitch have that more popular platforms don’t?

In a TED Talk, Emmet Shear, the CEO, and co-founder of the company, gives an example that Twitch stream is like campfires, interactive and connecting. He says, “I want you to picture millions of campfires. Some of them are bonfires, huge, roaring bonfires with hundreds of thousands of people around them. Some of them, more intimate community gatherings where everyone knows your name.”  He explains that humanity is so used to doing activities they enjoy by themselves that they forgot how much they enjoy talking with others about it.  Twitch gives viewers this opportunity to log into this weekly or bi-weekly stream to talk to a community of people about activities they enjoy.

I recently watched a Twitch stream, where I experienced one of these fires that Emmet Shear talked about. Julie Kagawa, the author of The Iron Fey series, did a giveaway for an advance reader copy for her upcoming release of the Iron Raven on Twitch.  Julie Kagawa decided to play Don’t Starve Together, a customizable game designed to look like her fictional world called the Nevernever. She spent most of the stream answering questions and giving a tour of the world she built in the game. But the fun didn’t stop there; she used the chat features for people to feel more interactive. Twitch allows people more bits, a sort of point system when being in the stream for a long time. The more bits you get, the more features you can unlock. In Julie Kagawa’s stream, you can unlock ravens to distract her from playing or ask Puck, her fictional main character, to blow you a kiss on screen. Although Twitch is free, it has other features that can be unlocked by subscribing to the streamers. There are 3 Tiers that can unlock different emotes to be used on the chat designed specifically for this streamer. Julia Kawaga had stickers of her fictional characters like Grim and Meghan. If a viewer wants, they can also gift these features to another viewer on the stream. This kind of feature fosters community and also supports the streamer. While on this stream, I got to experience this community that Emmet Shear mentioned. People said hello on the chat, numerous emotes appeared, and everyone greeted each other as if they knew each other from past live streams. Even when I said I had to leave early, people and even Julie Kagawa said goodbye.  The environment and community made me want to stay and come back to another stream with them. I believe this is an outlet to look out for, especially during the era of Covid-19.

Writing and Dance: The Inherent Resemblance

By Marissa Medlenka

My experience with dance and writing has brought me to the conclusion that they are more alike than meets the eye, although my personal journey with each could not be more different. I have been training in dance since I was three years old and am still pursuing it in my third year in college. Writing wasn’t something I took seriously until my senior year of high school, a couple of weeks before college applications were due. I grew up with a mother that loved reading and language, and who also supported my love for the arts. This sudden appearance of an opportunity to study creative writing never felt abrupt, but rather a long time coming. Once in college, I was completely immersed into both of these art forms. 

Though dance itself seems like a completely different form of art than writing, the vocabulary and ideas logically align. Just as tone, structure, and word choice can either inhibit or enhance a written work, these elements, with the exchange of word choice for movement choice, have a similar effect on dance. It is not just one of these devices that produce a piece, but the ability to intertwine each within another, in writing and dance, to create something visceral and vulnerable.

With all styles of dance, from ballet to modern to hip hop, regardless of the number of dancers in the piece, dynamics (the term typically used for textures within dance) are combined with movement choice. This combination in dance is what I view as tone, which is not unlike the tone of a creative text. The tone of both dance and writing influence the audience’s perception and ability to comprehend what story is being told. The dynamics of a dance are like the raw material; a dancer performing harsh, frantic movements communicates a sense of panic or frustration. Soft, light movements perhaps convey longing or sadness. Happiness or joy is expressed through energetic and spritely movements. These basic examples contribute to how a movement is perceived. It can become more complex and layered, yet easily decipherable. This would be similar to if a character complimented another character’s clothes in a work of fiction. This can be interpreted as either genuine, perhaps if the compliment is accompanied by a shriek of appreciation, or as passive aggressive, if a snicker seems to punctuate the end of the sentence.

Prior to playing with dynamics, movement must be chosen. Movement choice calls for precision and accuracy in the way word choice does. Frequently in dance composition classes I’ve taken, we work with creating base movement and then adding movement in another part of the body or traveling the step through space. Through this process, the layering of limbs and traveling become the adverbs and adjectives of the body.

The arrangement of movements in dance is comparable to a written piece’s structure—the balance between scene and exposition in fiction or the length of lines and stanzas in a poem. Through structure, the audience’s experience is being very carefully modulated. Similarly, a dance composition also focuses on more detailed structures within the larger structure of the work. Refining angles, eye focus, and any other physical detail are the choreographer’s way of tightening up the work – identical to an author’s utilization of diction and syntax to make a sentence its most efficient version of itself. The order of events, placement of movement (words) on the stage (page), and interaction of characters add to the richness and depth.

Stepping away from the technical parallels of these two forms, I find that my creativity in each field is where the most overlap happens. Rather than a huge epiphany while writing completely changing the way I approach dance or vice versa, I see more nuanced correlations. A creative correction from a dance teacher in class inspired a fictional world in which I am currently exploring through multiple short stories. The discipline and patience of each practice challenges me to stay diligent in both. Through the technical base of each form, creativity reigns and fuels itself. Overall, my knowledge of dance and writing do inform one another intuitively. Both tell a larger story. The medium is the only thing that changes.

Photo courtesy of MICA Gallery.

The Quick Knowledge Appeal of Video Essays

By Mason Martinez

As a high school senior, I was desperate. The graduation clock was ticking down and after three attempts, I still hadn’t passed my Global Regents, a standardized exam required to graduate in New York State. I struggled to retain dull information from dusty textbooks. Large blocks of text made it difficult to identify and prioritize the most important pieces of information. It wasn’t until my teacher played us an 11-minute video by Youtuber and author John Green, that history finally started to make sense. I was introduced to Green’s Crash Course series, which taught lessons from the fall of the Roman empire to the Mongols to Imperialism. By watching a number of these lively, occasionally funny, and animated video essays, I was able to retain the information that I had previously struggled with. After five months of prepping this way, I turned my score of 44 into an 84.

The popularity of the video essay is undeniable.Youtubers like Wisecrack’s Thug Notes, Khan Academy, Numerphile, or John Green get millions of views. Part of their success has to do with the amount of time it takes to consume the selected media. While viewers don’t get to engage in the same atmosphere that comes with in-person learning, video essays provide a needed framework to make what we read digestible.

Video essays’ presentation and the limited time that people have work hand-in-hand in delivering an attractive option. One of my biggest struggles with remembering global history was that there was too much to recall and no way to remember it all. The idea that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ helps fuel the demand for video essays. The more visuals we receive in the knowledge we consume, the quicker we are able to comprehend it. Video essays allowed me to draw on main ideas by listening to the lecture while simultaneously helping me remember specific movements or historical icons that were depicted on screen. Youtube channels such as Khan Academy or Thug Notes show that, when framed correctly, there is a large market for educational content.

Video essays are not the end all be all when it comes to learning. In a high school or college setting, assigned reading is the primary method of gaining new information. But I do think video essays should supplement traditional ways of learning. Digital Natives, starting with Gen-Z, are accustomed to digitalized worlds. There is still great value in reading, but we require a different way of learning and retaining that information.

However, teachers can’t verify the credibility of videos the way they can with textbooks. They may also worry that these videos might be used as a replacement for reading the primary text. But as I see it, this is no different from Sparknotes; teachers adjusted to that trend by designing assessments that tested for careful reading and comprehension. If publishers put out educational content that is cited and curriculum-oriented with the same kind of relatability of popular Youtube channels, they would do well. Now is the time.

At Scattered Books, a local bookstore, the owner and staff understand the importance of resources like these, especially for middle school and high school students. They are currently trying to implement their own online library where they can take popular literature, summarize and analyze the plot into something tangible for younger audiences in under 5 minutes. In addition, they plan on offering topics for academic papers, so viewers are able to conceptualize different themes in the books.

More often than not, independent creators are producing higher quality videos compared to larger corporations like Sparknotes, whose video animations are dated and their narrator monotone. By establishing an atmosphere that is fast and engaging, this form of independent content attracts a larger audience. The more creators come together to reinvent the way people consume and retain knowledge, the more accessible information becomes.

Photo courtesy of the School Nutrition Association of Arizona.

The Fashion Statement: Fresh or Faux Pas?

By Elizabeth Abrams

Visualize one of your characters. What are they wearing? What aspects of their wardrobe stand out the most?

Considering fashion isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s an underused method of characterization. Style reveals details about setting, as well as personality and background. Someone prim and proper might dress neatly—or they might subvert expectations by neglecting their appearance. This process, in my experience, is best begun in the early stages of developing a character, but details can be added or changed as your work develops.

You don’t need to become a fashion expert, but having the vocabulary is half the battle. To get the ball rolling:

1)    Choose a style. For inspiration, consult this list of fashion movements and their basic aesthetics. Historical accounts are more complicated, but this brief timeline, this database, and the FIDM website are good starting points.

2)    Research terminology: balance the specificity of your writing with what the narrator knows and how much attention they pay to clothes.

3)    Check a material list to inform in-depth descriptions.

Next, consider where it makes sense to describe clothes, and how to integrate it into prose. Here’s a poor description:

        Lana wore her track uniform, a varsity jacket, blue running shoes, and a backpack. Her hair was in a short ponytail, which was dyed all the colors of the rainbow. She had on striped socks and carried a pair of black cleats.

It’s annoying to read. Some advice: avoid lists. They trick you into giving irrelevant details. Also, pay attention to context-appropriate clothes; does your character break convention? Why? What are the repercussions of doing so?

Here’s a revision:

        Lana jammed her running shoes over her striped socks. Usually she liked looking at the cool blue of her sneakers, but today they reminded her too much of Katherines stupid sweater; itd be shabby and shapeless on Lana, but on Katherine it managed to look stylish instead of sloppy. She was too irritating to be so attractive in something that old and stained, but Katherine was, and it pissed Lana off.

        With her backpack in one hand and her running spikes in the other, she moved to stand within the sea of uniforms waiting on the infield. She yanked her cheerfully dyed hair into a scruffy ponytail, decidedly uncheerful. Her teammates seemed to pick up on her bad mood, but no one commented on how roughly she shrugged out of her varsity jacket or the excess force with which she threw down her spikes.

Here the details are woven into the prose instead of clustered together, with better pacing. A rule of thumb: intersperse with emotion and action; introduce through interaction.

The shoe color contextualizes Lana’s emotional state. Lana’s interactions with her wardrobe establishes tone and capitalizes on her irritation. Her socks give her individuality in a group of people dressed identically.

Clothes make the man, but they can also make or break your story. Fashion statements are a tool. Use them to the best of your ability.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Széchényi, Flickr.

The Emulation Game

By Lianna Lazaros

In a creative writing workshop, we are encouraged to imitate other writers. Take this traditional poetic form and try it yourself. Read this author and draw inspiration from their use of syntax. The first time I found myself imitating another poet’s style was last year in Poetry Writing I. I spent months trying to balance writing about a past love while acknowledging its toxic aspects. I didn’t know where to start until I read Crush by Richard Siken. His work helped me realize that the poem’s sentence structure is as important as its content. There’s a phrase of his from “The Torn-Up Road” that I think about often: “his hands around the neck of the beer.” While reading it, I always subconsciously hold my breath until I get to the last two words. You think danger is approaching, and you’re relieved when it isn’t.

Before attempting to replicate what Siken did, I thought, what is he accomplishing with diction? What about the ordering of his images? Why is he meticulous with enjambment? I needed to understand why he made those choices before I imitated them.

For imitation to turn into emulation, you need to comprehend why the author’s decisions benefit the piece. With Siken, I noticed enjambment and word choice created tension between the speaker and their significant other, which reflects their relationship. It adds an extra layer of complexity without explicitly stating how the speaker feels. I mimicked these techniques, which improved my writing. They helped me write about an imbalanced relationship and I used them in poems that have a similar, somber tone, as well.

First drafts of mine typically reveal the imitation stage. If I’m lucky to workshop my poem, I can use feedback to enhance my work. If not, I take a step back and think: where am I losing my reader? Where does the tone shift to a voice that isn’t mine, and is that wrong for the poem? Sometimes, striving to duplicate what another poet did disrupts my writing process and makes me lose track of my original vision. 

Imitation shouldn’t undermine your creative skills. During periods of writer’s block, I read. When I expose myself to contemporary poets who write in various styles, I learn. If I see a technique that can improve my writing, I give it a try. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for me, and that’s okay. Good writing is supposed to elicit responses from readers. The desire to imitate something that influenced us is natural. Allow your voice to mesh with the one that inspired you; let it take your poem somewhere unexpected.

Your First Draft is Not Awful: Writers on Process

By Claire Torregiano

Your first draft is not terrible. It is an infant. You do not call an infant terrible because they are a product of a world that is new to them. You nurture and cultivate them so that they become smart, strong, and capable. I interviewed four writers about their experiences with first drafts. I had just finished the first draft of a work-in-progress when I reached out to four of my former writing teachers to ask for advice on how to move forward. It was after I established a connection with them that I read their published work. Their insights continue to cultivate my journey as a reader and writer. After speaking with them, I thought it would be interesting and helpful for others to hear what they had to say. 

The first interview in this series is with Chandler Klang Smith, author of the novel, The Sky is Yours. We discuss the function of a first draft, and the editing process to the final. The Sky is Yours takes readers through an arranged marriage gone awry in a dystopia sieged by dragons. Readers follow three young people through the dilapidated city of Empire Island, as they are forced to leave behind everything they’ve ever known and venture into what they must make their own brave new world.  

How do you think the first draft serves you as a writer?

CKS: It’s funny because I always have a really hard time getting through the first draft that I find that once I have, I have such a clearer roadmap for what I need to do going forward. Like, just having a sense of the destination for everything is just enormously important. Basically, I think that as soon as I’ve gotten to the end I can go back to the beginning and think “How do I lay the groundwork for what’s coming? How do I use foreshadowing? How do I bring up thematic stuff that’s going to be important later in ways that feel incidental early on? And I think that I tend to be someone who, as I go through the first draft, I rewrite parts a lot but then results can feel very patchwork-y and like they don’t quite fit together, but the revisions I do after I have an ending are much more substantial and interesting. I don’t get as nitpicky; I really see the big picture after I have the first draft.

How much changed from the first draft to the final product? What do you think was the biggest change?

CKS: There are a few different things that changed. Thinking of the first draft as the first time I got all the way to the end, one of big changes that occurred was the end. I ended up going back and realizing that I needed to do more to build up to the ending for a certain character. I emphasized the character more in general and expanded several scenes with her at in the middle of the book. Most of the changes occurred with me being able to see how the parts related to the whole after the first draft was finished. Cause and effect. When you get to the effect, you have to have the causes rise to the level of how important they are in the book. There are sometimes things you think will be really important when you’re writing, so you spend more time on them, and then you end up cutting them away. And getting those causal relationships working is so important.

Were there any sacrifices that you had to make from the first draft that were difficult for you to make?

CKS: It’s interesting because people talk a lot about the kill your darlings thing and in my own work, there are definitely times that I cut that I spent a lot of time on, and I almost never cut anything where I felt like “Oh I really miss that being in the book.” It’s almost always a relief like I’ve shed this dead weight that I felt like it wasn’t really doing what I wanted it to. In my personal experience so far, that’s been the case. One of the main things that my editor did was help me with pacing. We would make little cuts in scenes here and there, and then it was stronger.

Do you have any advice for students who are working on a big chunk of fiction and are trying to finish a first draft or those who’ve just finished one? 

CKS: I think that trying to finish the thing—give yourself permission to make mistakes. If you have that sinking feeling of “I’m moving forward, but I’m getting less and less interested in what I’m doing and I think the reader will too” stop and go back to the last part you were excited about and think about “Where do I feel like I went wrong?” Other than that situation, give yourself the permission to go through and have things be really rough and have there be blank spots. Once you have a draft and you’re working toward a deadline, I think it’s important to do the triage thing. Think about what the big questions are here that I haven’t answered and now that I have this whole draft, those questions are better to have for me. I had a teacher in college who said the ending of a story should be a leap back into the story. I think that’s the reader’s experience as much as the writers experience because it gives you the opportunity to leap back in. Don’t try to fix every little thing, try to fix the major stuff. Think of it as like, when you’re going to submit it to your advisor or your committee, you want them to see the outline of what you’re doing even if it’s really fuzzy, rather than there being certain parts that are fully developed and other parts where they don’t even know what is supposed to be happening. You’re going to get less helpful feedback that way.

Beyond and Between “Cute”: Review of the Film, Mignonnes

by Grace Mahony
Maïmouna Doucouré’s movie, Mignonnes (translated into English as Cuties) addresses how vulnerable young girls are on social media. The protagonist is Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese-Muslim immigrant girl in Paris, trying to find her path between her Muslim family’s traditional values of femininity and the hypersexualized culture of contemporary society. Amy acts like a typical middle-schooler. She wants to fit in with the cool girls at school and joins their twerking dance team, using their bodies to gain popularity and prove that they’re “not little girls.” Meanwhile, at home, Amy grapples with a tense family situation when her father decides to take a second wife.

The inspiration for the film came when Maïmouna Doucouré saw a dance troupe of 11-year-old girls twerking on stage, while their parents watched them, dressed in traditional outfits. Doucouré then spent the next year and a half doing research, talking to preteen girls about their stories of growing up and their ideas of femininity in today’s social media-heavy society. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Maïmouna Doucouré writes, “We, as adults, have not given children the tools to grow up healthy in our society. I wanted to open people’s eyes to what’s truly happening… forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up, and dancing suggestively… These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result…”

The film was praised at Sundance and in France. However, when Netflix picked up the movie and released its first poster, people were outraged both at Netflix and the film. They believed they were promoting pedophilia with the scenes of twerking girls, which cover about nine minutes of the film’s total runtime.

In fact, Mignonnes is full of nuance. The film asks: do these girls really know what they’re doing? Why are their only idols these hypersexualized women like Kim Kardashian and not other powerful women who don’t rely on their bodies for power? The film reinforces this social ill: that these girls believe that the only way to get power is to use their bodies as an asset.

Kim, the host of the YouTube channel, For Harriet, defends the film by asserting that it’s a narrative of the Black girl experience. The conversation about Mignonnes should be about the dangers of social media and exposing inappropriate media to minors. Parents should talk to their children, especially their daughters, about healthy ways of expression. There should be bigger conversations about real-life child beauty pageants and reality shows who profit from the provocative imagery of young girls. Let this be a lesson for Netflix and other streaming platforms as well when adding new movies, especially international ones: there is more beneath the surface than the flashiest thing on the screen. (Maybe they can talk to the director before changing the poster.)