Recently publishYOUth spoke with Ashley Hajimirsadeghi, a prominent youth poet, prose writer, and journalist from Maryland! Ashley is the Director & Co-Editor in Chief of TYWI's Juven Press, and a poetry reader for EX/POST Magazine and Mud Season Review. She has also been recognized by many organizations such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Best of the Net, and she also served as a student judge of Poetry Out Loud NYC in 2021. Additionally, Ashley has experience with freelance writing and has two chapbooks to be published this summer! Here we spoke with Ashley about writing as a career, her advice for submitting, and her very own poetic process!
What fuels your love for writing?
AH: For the longest time, when I was a bit younger, writing just used to be an outlet for how, quite frankly, the world sucked. But as I’m growing older, writing takes on completely new meanings in my life. As a kid, I was always interested in history, but never contemporary history. My nose would be shoved into articles about, say, the cause and effects of the French Revolution.
It only took the pandemic and almost losing my father for me to realize that no one is going to remember who any of us are unless I write it down. We focus on the big figures in history, but I was always fascinated about ordinary people versus rich, generally white, people. No one will remember how there used to be a little coffee shop in the corner after it was torn down without some form of evidence. And so this really got me going writing-wise because I am constantly keeping records of my thoughts and everything around me. It’s a bit tedious, but it’s the fuel for all of my creative endeavors in the past year.
You have a lot of experience with writing competitions, as you have received multiple Scholastic National Medals, nominations for the Best of the Net, and much more! Can you describe your experiences with such competitions and your preparation for submitting?
AH: I went to a public arts high school where I majored in literary arts, and we completely went to town for these kinds of competitions. In terms of preparation, I was privileged enough to have a free education to attend workshops like these as my high school experience. In my senior year I was working on my thesis (in my program, we were required to have an entire manuscript complete and were expected to publish it in some form), and we would hold all of these workshops just to submit to YoungArts and Scholastic. These competitions honestly are unpredictable, so I didn’t have my hopes too high, but, surprisingly, the pieces I was least confident in won Scholastic. So have confidence in your work! If it doesn’t win, that’s their loss at the end of the day.
Nowadays though, I find myself caring a lot less about prestige and awards, and so I don’t really submit to competitions with the intent of building a reputation or name for myself. My mindset has shifted more towards one that’s saying “what is my work doing for the world? What conversations is it starting?” I think as a society we’ve gotten to a point where we commodify our art to the point if we don’t get XYZ publication or win XYZ award, the process of making it seems pointless. But it isn’t pointless; we need art and writing to implement change in society. The validation is nice, but I just don’t actively seek it out anymore. Getting a DM from someone saying “your work made me feel seen and inspired me to write poetry” (which has happened multiple times, believe it or not) is so much more fulfilling.
You were a judge of Poetry Out Loud NYC as a student this year! What was that experience like, and what qualities did you look for in the poems presented?
AH: Ah yes! I did Poetry Out Loud in high school, so to sit back and actually judge was an interesting experience, especially with the pandemic setting. We did it virtually, but last year right before the pandemic I was the scorekeeper for the in-person NYC competition and that was magical. It just isn’t the same on camera, unfortunately, but the talent was still there!
In the presentation, first, it’s really obvious when you don’t have the poem memorized. At the very least, have it memorized. I always found performance to be like a skeleton. The poem itself is your spine and backbone, the only guaranteed thing you have at the end of the day. I also really liked confidence—you could tell who was nervous and who wasn’t from the get-go. That doesn’t mean you can’t be nervous, but fake it till you make it! This is all about performance at the end of the day, and appearing confident is one of the biggest aspects that ties it all together.
Your poems published by The Lumiere Review are a beautiful collection of memories brought together through a profound story. How do you go about crafting such poems and weaving different experiences together?
AH: I have a really specific process when writing my poems. The way I generally tend to write is via the way I record everything down—e.g. in a bullet journal. I am constantly writing down images, lines, and thoughts in that journal and I take it everywhere. The way I kickstart the process of writing a poem is usually I become fixated on a singular word or image, then I start building around it. I’ll go fishing in that journal for tidbits I had scribbled down before, and then compose something in which I tie it all together. The majority of my poems I’m largely done in the first draft, but in others, I need lengthy bits of time to sit on them and slowly chew on what’s wrong.
I think something that’s helped me in my process of writing is realizing I don’t really care for rules or strictly defining myself as a poet. I used to always beat myself up in high school thinking I was too much of a prose writer and my poems suffered because my background was in fiction (I spontaneously combusted my senior year of high school and switched from fiction into poetry), that I wasn’t poetic enough. And so now when I sit to write a poem, I write whatever I want how I want. It takes a bit of configuring, but it works for me.
As a student in your final year of college, you are currently a freelance writer, poetry reader, editor, and more! How has your experience been in the field of writing, and what advice do you have for youth interested in pursuing writing as a career?
AH: I’ve loved working in writing! Halfway through college, I started realizing that I wasn’t passionate about what I got my degrees in, and while I’ll always love fashion as an art form, I just couldn’t be in the industry. However, if I had majored in writing, I would’ve also definitely burned out. While writing may not be the best financial decision, I’m happy and that’s all that matters to me; I’ve discovered in college that sacrificing my sanity and time for money has been counter-productive. Writing helped me rediscover what I was passionate about and helped me hone in on what I can do with my future as well as finding a balance to not burn out. I will say though that majoring in business-based programs made me a better creative, because I have an in-depth understanding about marketing, entrepreneurship, and finance.
I went an unorthodox route—I didn’t take many writing courses in college. I took three: hybrid, memoir, and CNF. I majored in Fashion Business and International Trade. My biggest and key advice is to be hungry. You don’t have to be hotshot rising talent or major in writing. Go for anything and everything, but also know your worth and realize if you’re going to get screwed over in something. I wiggled my way into positions by cold emailing, reaching out to people I already knew, looking for anything that I thought was mildly interesting, and applying. And many of the gigs I’ve loved!
I believe in manifestations, and something I always wrote down in my journal, from a young age, was that one day people will know my name. While I’ve shifted away from that me, me, me mindset, I truly believed in it and people do know of my general existence now. People are going to tell you that there’s no money in this, but, again, if it’s what you’re passionate about, 100% do it and ignore them. You’ll find ways to make it work.
You’re a poetry reader for EX/POST Magazine, Mud Season Review, and the Director & Co-Editor in Chief of TYWI’s Juven! What advice do you have for youth looking to submit, and is there anything upcoming for the journals?
AH: Really take the time to look over your pieces and the journal you’re submitting to. Just looking through the issues that the journals put out, you should be able to get an idea of the aesthetic and what the editors like. Something I always tell people, too, is that if you’re not excited about the content the journal is putting out, then maybe that isn’t the right fit for your work either. I recommend joining a literary magazine or interning at one because then you start to understand the submissions process and bring that critical eye into your work. You also learn to realize that literary magazines get so many submissions, a lot of them are good, and, at the end of the day, good submissions will get rejected simply because we can’t publish everyone.
Right now EX/POST is wrapping up Issue III preparations & will open for submissions soon after. Mud Season is open as well until we hit 200 on our Submittable. Juven, we’re quarterly now, so we’re opening non-themed submissions on May 1st. In the future, though, we’re aiming to start becoming an actual press that is also youth-oriented but distinguished from TYWI.
You have two upcoming chapbooks—cartography of trauma and cinephile—to be published this summer! What can you tell us about them?
AH: cartography of trauma is coming out with Dancing Girl Press, and the concept behind it is that every experience, or every moment in history, is like a constellation map. It’s all connected at the end of the day, especially for BIPOC and immigrant communities. There are some more personal self-portrait poems in there, but generally, I focused on a general “I” in the poems. That’s something to note about my work—the “I” is deceptive because it isn’t always me. That’s the fiction writer in me forging narratives. Besides that, there are pockets of historical figures and spaces occupied in the poems, lending itself to this idea of universal trauma creating this map that links us together as humans.
cinephile is coming out with Ghost City Press as part of their Summer Series. If you know me in real life, I’m a huge, huge movie person and the word “cinephile” essentially means a movie buff. Nowadays I look towards cinema, art, architecture for inspiration, and the poems that found their way into this micro-chapbook reflect those inspirations. This micro is a real treat, trust me, it’ll be like a movie and has a lot of new work in it. It’ll be free to read with the rest of the Summer Series, so be on the lookout for that!
Finally, what advice do you have for young writers to build confidence in their writing abilities and futures?
AH: Read anything and everything, whether it’s within your genre or not. I mainly read hardcore academic nonfiction, like detailed accounts of the Gilded Age and whatnot. Study people. Take a notebook everywhere you go. Explore. Experiment—rules are meant to be broken, it’s all a construct at the end of the day. Don’t compare yourself to other people; we each have our journeys. Toni Morrison didn’t start writing until she was 38, and Zora Neale Hurston was forgotten by history until Alice Walker re-popularized her work in 1975. Be honest. Be kind. Be brave. Find writing spaces for people just as passionate as you are. And, above all else, enjoy the process. You are still a writer even if you are not published or winning these competitions, and you shouldn’t have to change your identity as a writer to mold into what is considered acceptable for the industry.
Special thanks to Ashley Hajimirsadeghi for her participation in this interview and the writing community! Feel free to follow her work online, and stay tuned for her upcoming chapbooks this summer!