I was raised in Jefferson City, Tennessee, which is about 40 miles north from where my ancestors were forced off their land for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I grew up in the wilds of my mountains. Hiking and camping, I sometimes traced my way from the Ramsey Cascades to the Whaley-Big Greenbriar Cemetery, where my family is buried. I used to stand in the middle of that cemetery and look down at the headstones, thinking about my relatives beneath me. One headstone reads, “S.B. Whaley.” I imagine her name was Sarah Beth and question if she, too, felt confined by her gender.
There are ruins of an old school on the trail to my ancestors’ graves. I wonder: if there wasn’t a national park, if that school still stood, if my family still lived there, would I have learned the names of Jhumpa Lahiri, Carmen Machado, ZZ Packer, or Aimee Bender? Would I have found my love of writing Appalachia and Appalachian women through a feminist lens? As Carmen Machado wrote, “I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.”
I am not a traditional student. I took my time returning to college after I graduated from high school, instead searching for a career path in medicine and psychology, and when I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee for community college, I came back thinking I would major in nursing and try to write on the side. However, I felt unhappy and constrained because I wasn’t learning the craft of writing like I really wanted. Miranda July once wrote, “But, like ivy, we grow where there is room for us,” and I always found room in literature. When I transferred to my university, I changed my major to creative writing, where I could study how to represent women like me in an artful and literary way.
While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I discovered a passion for literary citizenship. I worked my way up from a fiction reader to the assistant editor at my university’s literary magazine, the Sequoya Review, and started working at the writing center as a peer tutor, helping other students become better writers, both academically and creatively, improving my own writing in the process. In addition, I volunteered as a reader for several literary magazines, such as upstreet, Spark, Ember, and Zetetic, and now, as I pursue my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from The University of Tennessee (Go Vols!), I am honored to intern for Sundress Publications. I look forward to learning the publishing side of the literary world where I have made my home.
Jacquelyn Scott is a student at The University of Tennessee where she is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and The Write Launch. Find her on Twitter @jacquelynlscott.