Settling into wanting to do something has not come easily to me. I know a lot of people who would say the same, but coming into my fifth year of college has made me reckon with that fact. I have had to examine everything about me, from where I come from to where I want to go to who I want to be. I looked back at my childhood, my teenage years, and tried to find something, anything, that would point me in some direction.
Everything always seemed to lead itself back to writing.
As a child, I was the kid who made the worlds we played in. I was the kid who helped people develop wild backstories, who helped people feel seen in their roles in what we played. I was the one writing “lyrics” for the band that my cousins and I were totally going to start. I was that middle schooler who wrote fanfiction and always had a notebook to just jot something, anything, down whenever I could. In high school I took advanced English classes, studied musical composition in relation to the written word, worked in the school’s library in the morning, and wrote essay after essay about what I wanted to do for college.
It’s funny to think that in those essays I was writing about becoming a kinesiologist. That, of course, didn’t last. Before orientation, I had already changed my major to public relations, something I was absolutely fascinated with. I saw it as an opportunity to use my voice and have an impact and was so excited for it. First semester of sophomore year, I realized that it wasn’t quite right. I wanted to help people and PR didn’t really seem like the best way for me to do that. I switched around a lot of communications majors until switching to psychology. It felt closer to what I wanted to do, but nothing really clicked until I switched to English.
It feels obvious looking back. Of course the best way to use my voice and help people would be through English, through writing. Questioning what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, has led me to this most amazing place in my life where I am finally recognizing what I want. I wish I could take credit for this realization, but honestly it was my friends who noticed it before I did. Part of that is why I am here in the first place. If I had not had others to lift me up, I would still be unhappily working towards a degree that didn’t suit me. Community is always something I want to strive to participate in and create. Being here means that I get to do both.
Emory Night is currently studying at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. They plan to graduate with a BA in English and a minor in secondary education. They are an intern with The Jones Center for Leadership and Service and read regularly with Writers Block, a writing club at the University of Tennessee.
Growing up, I always had a passion for reading and telling stories. One of my teachers said I always knew how to entertain myself, and it was because I always had a book in my hand or a story in my head. I loved to tell myself stories each day, and when I got to middle school, I started to write them down. I kept writing until my junior year of high school, when my AP English class made me realize that I enjoyed reading and analyzing fiction far more than I enjoyed writing it. At the same time, I started taking art classes and began dreaming of a career as an animator, using art to tell beautiful stories. I also developed a passion for social justice, as I advocated for the rights of LGBT people at my school.
Yet, when colleges asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I said I wanted to study chemistry with the goal of developing psychiatric medications. While I did genuinely enjoy studying chemistry, there was no passion there. I just wanted to choose a career that would help me earn money, and I didn’t think I would get that with literature, art, or social justice.
In March of my senior year, I was invited to interview for the Haslam Scholars Program at the University of Tennessee, where I gladly peddled my story about a passion for studying chemistry until, during one of the events, a speaker asked us “What do you imagine your ideal self doing?” I started sobbing, because I couldn’t picture my ideal self, but I knew I couldn’t dedicate my career to chemistry. That night, I told my mom that I was going to attend the University of Tennessee and change my major.
I ended up changing my major to sociology, even though I honestly wasn’t sure what sociology was. I found that I enjoyed the program when I arrived at UT, but I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. It wasn’t until I took my first university English class that I realized that what I was missing was the thrill that analyzing stories provided. There was something so special to me about stories and the way they work, and I missed the feeling of close reading, developing an argument, and writing an analysis. It was that spring that I decided to major in English literature.
I have spent the rest of my time at UT studying the intersection between literature and social theory. My thesis project is going to be a podcast dedicated to analyzing the sociological messages of science fiction films and texts, with a focus on how authors and directors use literary techniques to develop social commentary in their work. I am going to continue studying this intersection of literature and social theory when I pursue my masters of library sciences after I graduate.
I am so excited to learn more about the innovative and progressive work that Sundress Publications does, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share this work as the social media intern.
Sydney Peayis a senior at the University of Tennessee pursuing a BA in sociology and English Literature. In addition to managing the social media for Sundress Publications,they manage the social media for the Voices Out Loud Project, an LGBTQ+ archive of East Tennessee.
My sweet-tooth for stories and books is entirely my mother’s doing. From the beginning, she ingrained in me the importance of make-believe; the easy, seductive escapism that goes along with a good book. My childhood library was a vast, impressive thing, which my mother also had a hand in making. On my last visit home, I climbed the winding staircase with the odd bend in its middle up to my old bedroom, where I remembered seeing these childhood books last.
I found them neatly stacked—tall and glossy with the hardcover’s requisite fierce laminate shine—on the old twin-sized trundle bed, their pages stuck shut by time and that species-specific dust bunny native only to suburbia.
I tried to be gentle as I sifted through them, rereading some entirely like Audrey Wood’s King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, which I remember being one of my particular favorites as it was about a king who did just that—held court in his bathtub. Bubbles pop and soak marble floors while jesters make silly grimace-grins: I imagine it must have inspired from my then-toddler-self, a deep awe for the interdimensional aspects of the average-looking bathtub. Others, too, like Grandfather Twilight, about a kind old man who puts the moon in the sky after his evening walk each night; The Rainbabies, too—a classically structured folktale dealing in magic rain, the moon, and wishes coming true—depicted in careful sketching and pastel watercolors, soft and cool-toned.
The first time I “seriously” wrote anything was the summer my mother had her first manic episode (bipolar psychosis), and her first stint at the psych ward. It was the summer before eighth grade. It was also the last summer that my mother ever wrote anything seriously again. Specifically, I mean the book she’d started writing a few weeks after quitting her job as a speechwriter. I’d been beyond excited at the prospect of having a real-life author for a mother. I fantasized about this scenario, made sure to brag to my friends at school about it. My mother, the writer.
Because it was true, how it’d always been: my mother was the writer in the family; the reader, the dreamy girl who spent her teenage weekends with bent, seventies’ paperbacks. Looking back on photos of my mother as a teenager and young twenty-something, I see a pretty girl with olive skin and dark fly-away hair who seems to always be laughing with a book in hand. It’s the true sort of happiness that’s hard to fake. Bliss, joy, a silliness I’ve never seen on her. There’s light in those black eyes of hers, and the skin around her happy mouth is stretched tight and young with delight. I wish I’d known her then, could talk to that version of her now that I’m grown.
Originally from Jackson, MS, I now live and work in Seattle, WA, with my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who I (nerdily) christened Daisy Buchanan after the leading lady in The Great Gatsby. (I’ve always loved her ‘beautiful little fool’ quote towards the beginning of the novel.) I currently am a part time children’s creative writing instructor for Pacifica Writers’ Workshop, a Split Lip Press nonfiction reader, and a freelance writer. Side hustles include: web development, selling on Poshmark, dog sitting, and trying to write a novel.
I graduated with a BA in English Literature from the University of Mississippi in 2013 and an MFA in Creative Writing with a Fiction emphasis from Louisiana State University in 2018, where I served as graduate prose editorial assistant for The Southern Review, social media editor for New Delta Review, and cohost for the Underpass Readers & Writers series. In 2018, my graduate thesis—a hybrid novel, Rapunzel Has Insomnia—was a finalist for the University of New Orleans Publishing Laboratory Prize.
My fiction, essays, articles, and reviews appear in Psychopomp Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Grimoire, Third Point Press, Sidereal Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Literary Orphans, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Dream Pop Press, The New Southern Fugitives, Click Magazine, Mississippi Magazine, Young Professionals of Seattle, and New Delta Review, among others.
For the past decade, I’ve attempted to keep at least one toe in the book publishing and literary worlds, which is why I have such eclectic work experiences: summer editorial assistantships for lifestyle magazines, an NYC-based literary agent, and a couple of online magazines, and Thacker Mountain Radio, a weekly radio show. Fresh out of college I even worked for Fat Possum Records, a record label located in my college town of Oxford, MS, while studying for the GRE and applying to 12 MFA programs. After being rejected from all 12 schools and subsequent identity crisis, I spent the next year working remotely as associate publisher for the small indie press Blooming Twig Books and freelance writing. They would later go on to be kind enough to publish my first collection of short stories, Shoulder Bones, in 2014.
During my time in graduate school, I had the opportunity to live and workshop my writing abroad for one month in Prague, thanks to the 2016 Prague Summer Writers Program. Also, in 2017, I participated in the Sewanee Summer Writers Residency. Recently, my short story “The Other Mother” was second runner up in Psychopomp Magazine’s 2019 Short Fiction Contest. My personal essay “Inheritance: A Timeline” was nominated for a 2019 Best of the Net award, and my short story “Alice and the Moon” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Mary B. Sellers lives and works in Seattle, WA, and is at work on her second book, a novel of autofiction. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Mississippi and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. Most recently her writing has appeared in Psychopomp Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Grimoire, Third Point Press, Sidereal Magazine, and Young Professionals of Seattle.