The roots of my literary studies are buried in observation. My earliest stories were candid reactions: to my experiences as a first-generation immigrant in the southern U.S., to the universally indelicate process of growing up, and to the intersection of these two equally poignant and complicated journeys.
My current writing style, though far more refined, retains much of that raw candor. I attribute this quality and its continued development to my undergraduate studies in both English and journalism.
My writing and literature courses helped me identify the sort of writer I want to be and taught me several skills in the process. In workshops, my classmates helped me add clarity and resonance to my creative works, and I learned about the nuance and deviations that make “good” literary work.
My journalism studies provided more technical skills; as a result of working in the newsroom, I came to value concision and directness and learned to flourish under tight deadlines and strict word count guidelines.
With every article I wrote for my college’s newspaper, I became more comfortable with candidness and editorial liberty. In 2016, a local newspaper rewarded my transparency when it republished a deeply personal essay I had written for the college paper. The essay was a starkly humorous recount of my experience using the dating app Tinder as a hijabi in the Deep South.
Within a matter of hours, the local newspaper’s parent company republished my essay in 34 other papers across the nation and in Cuba, and I was flooded with social media notifications.
Armed with the knowledge that my words could resonate with people, I began writing “Swipe Right,” my weekly Tinder-themed humor column. In 2016, “Swipe Right” won 3rd place in College Personal Columns at the Louisiana/Mississippi Associated Press Awards and 5th place at the Southeast Journalism Conference “Best of the South” Awards. It also captured the interest of Chandler Griffin, the founder of Blue Magnolia Films.
Unbeknownst to the world at large, my viral essay—like much of my early writing—had been a response. This time, to research I’d done for my second book, DEAR NUMBER 43, a young adult contemporary novel with magical realism elements. I finished DEAR NUMBER 43 in 2017 and began seeking representation for it at the beginning of my senior year. The novel and my journey in writing it were featured in Blue Magnolia Films’ Mississippi Bicentennial Documentary, which premiered in Jackson, Mississippi in December 2017. In January 2018, I began working on a revision and resubmission for a literary agent. Because the revised project is also my honors thesis, I presented portions of the completed manuscript at the Mississippi Honors Conference in February 2018. I plan to finish my revisions by May, at which point I will begin revising my first book. Ultimately, my goal is to be a novelist and to work in publishing as either an editor or literary agent.
My strongest qualities as a writer are perseverance and dedication, which have allowed me to weather much rejection from agents and publishers over the years. My weaknesses are those qualities that accompany these strengths—perfectionism, a tendency to finish projects just before their deadlines, and an overly pedantic approach to most things in life, which often places me in editorial positions.
During my senior year of college, I became managing editor of my college newspaper, executive editor of my college’s undergraduate research journal, and research assistant to internationally bestselling author David McRaney. I was also given the opportunity to take a graduate-level publishing course in which I helped edit Mississippi Review and Product, USM’s in-house literary journal.
As a result of querying two novels and taking on these roles, I have become well-versed in giving and receiving criticism and have come to view it not as a hindrance, but a necessary checkpoint on the road to creating truly great work. After all, literary work is best when it is produced as the result of collaboration, and that’s why a workshop-based MFA appeals to me.