Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Interview with Young Writer Isabella Yang

Can you tell us a little about yourself as an introduction? 

Hello! My name is Isabella Yang and I am currently a senior at Groton School, MA. I have just turned eighteen! My hometown is Nanjing, China—miles away from where I live right now. Besides writing I love to paint (both acrylic and watercolor), do music and hike. Creative things in all forms make me happy; I also love the feeling of immersing myself in nature. My other academic interests include languages (especially classics) and history.

So wonderful to have you on the blog today! To begin, can you take us through your writing process?

My writing process differs for different forms. For a short story or creative nonfiction, what pops into my mind first are several lines, usually at the end or somewhere in the middle, that occur to me at random times of inspiration. At such moments I jot down the sentences and do some free writes based on those lines, which will eventually evolve into complete pieces. For poetry and longer pieces of fiction, I start with the very beginning and see where my meandering thoughts lead me to.

Have you been writing for a long time? What do you like about writing? 

I have been writing for a long time, but not in English. I grew up in China and have been doing creative writing in Chinese since elementary school. I actually only started seriously doing creative writing in English less than two years ago! Then, I was reading lots of works in English and realized that there were certain things only capable to be expressed fully with words through certain languages, so I started writing in both languages. I guess one thing I like about writing is that it conveys so much and brings emotions together. Reading and writing are inseparable from each other; although writing is cathartic for myself, my ultimate goal is to let people read my work and feel the similar emotions flowing through my world and theirs. Writing for me is like a bridge that connects isolated universes.

That is such a beautiful way of putting it: "a bridge that connects isolated universes." Let's pivot a bit and talk about success as a young writer. You have been accepted into some very prestigious writing programs, such as the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. What does this mean to you? Did you do anything to celebrate?

I felt very honored. Personally I did not care about prestige that much, but it felt good to have my works recognized as potential. The feeling of starting a voyage in which I could be surrounded by so many talented and passionate writers close to my age was fantastic. I was very excited when I got the news and felt encouraged, so I wrote two sonnets the very next day! (That definitely counts as a celebration.)

That does sound like a perfect celebration! Do you have any advice for other writers, or for other young people going after their dreams? 

First of all, it’s never late to start. Whenever you feel like writing, just pick up the pen and write! Experience isn’t all in writing—for me, inspiration and passion are equally important. Then, it is very important to keep on learning how to write. There were moments in my past when I made the mistake of thinking that I have learned enough about writing; there is never enough to learn about the art of language, and everyone can be a teacher. Also, there is no bad writing once writers set their hearts to their works: write genuinely and don't judge. Those have been my principles while writing and reading other writings.

Can you share a few of your favorite books or authors? 

One of my all-time favorite books is Walden. I love Thoreau’s philosophy about life and nature; this book has inspired me tons as well as calmed my mind so many times. I also love Victor Hugo’s works, especially Les Miserables: it’s just epic. Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf and J. R. R. Tolkien are probably my favorite writers who write in English, but I also love non-English writers such as Milan Kundera and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Unbearable Lightness of Being has been a lighthouse for my life.

What inspires you?  

Very random moments of life. The smell of a blossoming late spring, a misty mirror in the bathroom after a shower, a piece of music randomly picked by my player, a conversation I eavesdropped in a small-town Thai restaurant, and so on. Maybe one thing they have in common is that they are all very real, and evoke solid emotions, whatever they may be, in me, which I transmit to my writings.

What are you working on now? What’s next for you? 

Right now I’m working on a novel loosely based on my own family history. It tells the story of a Chinese family through the entire span of the 20th Century and several huge political changes of the nation. I am thinking of taking part in the National Novel Writing Month this November. This is the first time I write a novel so I’m really excited! I have also been working on random pieces of poetry and fiction outside of class as well as creative nonfiction in my expository writing class.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

A few days ago when our school was doing a class activity, when asked the question “Who are you?” I realized that before thinking about my national, gender or ethnic identity, the first thing that popped into my mind was my identity as a writer. I guess writing will a life-long experience for me, and I hope that whatever I do and whatever life I lead in the future I can always keep that identity. I hope I can, as people from Kenyon Review Young Writers say, “Write hard and die free!”


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