This year’s OCH themes of renewal and recovery were chosen with the intention of speaking to the current state of a world—from worsening environmental crises, social conflict and unrest, to a global pandemic. Our organization’s central questions are, What are the most pressing issues of the day, and how can we use the tools of the humanities to solve those issues to ensure a better future? This year our focus is on exploring the process of change, renewal, and recovery. This means looking to the past, crossing cultural boundaries, forcing new connections, and imagining alternative futures for ourselves, our communities, and our planet.
With this focus in mind, the OCH is excited to unveil the creative work of the 2021-22 TU creative writing mentees. Each year TU creative writing students are paired with artists from the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (TAF) to collaborate and receive feedback on their work. This established mentoring program is led currently by visiting TU professor, Dustin Pearson. Though this year fell during the pandemic, offering its share of academic and creative challenges, the student-writers persevered and are now ready to share their work with the world.
When asked about their experience working with TAF writing mentors, this year’s mentees offered interesting reflections. Most all spoke of the importance of mindset, and how their mentors helped them develop productive approaches for thinking about their writing. Hana Saad “developed great confidence in [her] ability to write and edit poetry” with the help of her mentor, poet and interdisciplinary artist Moheb Soliman. In a similar vein, Emily Fustos credits her mentor, author Traci Sorell, with “strengthening [her] confidence” in her work.
For Grace Dishman, the mindset her mentor encouraged was one of resilience and persistence– she developed a commitment to “just keep writing, no matter what.” As a self-identified “perfectionist,” Dishman spoke about her struggles to find the “right” wording when building a character or developing a storyline. In this struggle was the tendency to erase, to start over until the “right” writing appeared. She told us that her mentor, novelist and memoirist Matt Gallagher, helped her to overcome this tendency by separating the writing and revising processes. Dishman leaves this program better understanding that her writing “doesn’t have to be perfect… [that] there will be time for revisions later.”
This program ultimately creates a community of writers. And in this community several TU creative writing students found mentors who encouraged and fostered their interests. Isabelle Bailey discovered her “underlying passion for comics and drawing” with the help of her mentor, graphic novelist Carl Antonowicz. Bailey credits Antonowicz with broadening her perspective on “freelance cartooning and comic-making,” something she only knew about through a few “YouTube videos.” Similarly, Emily Fustos found a home in young adult literature, a passion that was fostered by her TAF mentor. “It’s so satisfying,” Fustos reflects, “to spend time with someone who loves and understands the importance of books…especially books for younger audiences.”
For Hachi Chuku, collaboration led to breakthroughs in the preparation for writing: the research informing her ideas. “I’ve gained an important skill of researching the topic,” Chuku says, “reading the ways that other people have thought about it.” In a series of meetings at the Henry Zarrow Center downtown, Chuku and her mentor, writer and translator Kaveh Bassiri, worked to “supplement” her writing with “new ideas.” This helped Chuku broaden her perspective to “tell a story” that interconnects a variety of ideas, voices, and themes. In addition to this, Chuku and her mentor worked to develop a clear, “definable voice”– one that uses effectively the sounds and rhythms of language.
Beyond the intangible benefits of working with their mentors, students in this program will leave with a creative work in hand (or, at least, having made substantial progress on a creative work). Saad spent this semester working on a collection of poems that “explore growing up in the 21st century” while “navigating dual cultural identities as a half-Lebanese woman.” Chuku explored themes such as “religion and mental health” and experimented with the “intricacies of language” in her poetry. Fustos developed a young adult story “set in the first year of college.” Dishman worked on a novel– pushing herself with “her biggest project yet.” And Bailey created a zine, a self-published booklet with a combination of text and image.
The OCH is delighted to host the upcoming event “New Voices from TU” that showcases the creative work of the writing mentees. The event is on Thursday, April 7 from 7p-9p at the Henry Zarrow Center for Art and Education. Featured writers for the evening will include:
- Isabelle Bailey
- Hachi Chuku
- Grace Dishman
- Emily Fustos
- Cara Grant
- Hana Saad
- Meredith Wilson