This month publishYOUth spoke with Charlotte Engrav, a 16-year-old writer and journalist from Seattle, Washington. Through her production role with a Seattle NPR member station, Charlotte has garnered invaluable techniques and detailed advice for youth journalism and radio production. She also recently co-founded Voice of The Future, an online and print magazine taking submissions from youth creatives. Here we spoke with Charlotte about the process of applying for her production role, her advice for youth writers, and her hopes for journalism’s future impact!
What types and styles of writing are you passionate about, and what fuels that passion?
CE: In my personal life, I really enjoy writing poetry. I feel like poetry allows for this incredible creativity in word, grammar, and punctuation choice that you can’t really get in other forms of writing. I almost feel like anything could be considered poetry, and that helps me kind of blur the lines between poetry and my short stories that I enjoy writing as well.
Recently, I feel like I’ve also started to transfer my writing subjects from personal matters, such as essays or stream-of-consciousness poems to fictional stories featuring characters I feel are easier to connect to. For me, one of the most beautiful things about writing is the way it can spark empathy in so many people, and empathy is something that everyone could use a little bit more of right now.
As far as work that I’ve published, most of it has been pretty focused on reporting. Some of it has been more personal essay-based, such as my Radioactive feature about Filipino culture and my short essay published in the Seattle Times. A majority of my work, however, has been focused on reporting others’ stories. Quite honestly, those stories tend to feel more rewarding because they’re learning experiences for me. I start each story with a question, find someone who can help me answer it, and by the end I feel like I’ve both told a story and learned something that can be useful for my personal life.
You’re currently a 2020 Advanced Youth Producer at KUOW (a Seattle NPR member station) RadioActive, and you’ve made and produced multiple journalistic pieces. What was your experience like applying for this role?
CE: I originally applied to KUOW’s RadioActive Summer Intro workshop in the summer of 2019, and I went in with no experience with writing or journalism, just an overall excitement about being able to work in such a professional environment and a lot of fond memories listening to KUOW growing up. That application process was centered around my storytelling ability, and I actually had to pitch my feature story for that workshop in the application as well. After making it through the first portion of the application, I had an interview at KUOW where I met the Radioactive team, we talked through my pitches, and a couple weeks later I was notified of my acceptance.
Completing the Intro Workshop opened me up to the opportunity of applying for the Advanced Producers workshop, and I was really excited to get the opportunity to work with Radioactive again. In that application, I was given the choice between creating podcasts and creating feature stories. I chose the podcasting route, and I pitched a podcast featuring teen spoken word poetry/writing along with a less scripted interview with the authors of the spoken word afterwards. I found that many of the brainstorming skills I learned in the Intro Workshop came into play into crafting my application for the Advanced Producers workshop.
In both application processes, I would say the hardest roadblocks I found myself at always stemmed from a judgement of myself and my own ideas. On multiple occasions I found myself putting a lot of thought and effort into an idea, be that something as general as an idea for a podcast or something as simple as a headline or caption for a photo, but I would judge my work so much in my head that I never even put it down on a list of possible ideas.
As I’ve had more and more time working with Radioactive, I’ve found myself getting better and better at not judging ideas before they have time to grow, and one of the most helpful steps to getting there is actually writing things down on paper. When my ideas get typed out into a Word document, even a personal document, I get nervous that someone will stumble across it and judge every note I’ve taken. I find that switching to paper practically nullified this issue for me. Even if my idea is only a couple of words, those words can end up being extremely valuable towards workshopping and eventually coming up with a fully-fledged idea.
Your piece on your connection to Filipino culture is a beautiful exploration of food, identity, and family tradition. How have the stories of those around you impacted your writing process in general, as well as your own identity as a writer?
CE: I think that this particular piece is a really incredible example of the stories of people around me impacting my writing. When I originally pitched the story, I had been having a hard time relating to my Filipino roots. I realized I couldn’t even speak Tagalog to my grandmother. While there hadn’t been a lot of pressure on me to learn, I felt bad that I couldn’t understand her when she was talking to my other Filipino relatives. I thought about the only word I knew in Filipino: busog (full), and that’s really where the story came from. I don’t know that much about it, but I know more about Filipino food than any other aspect of Filipino culture, and I decided to explore my family’s history through a more culinary lens.
I feel like the writing of that story was a personal journey for me, because I didn’t go into the story knowing how I would feel at the end, I didn’t know how I would conclude it because the story had not – and honestly has not – reached a conclusion. I sat down and had hour-long discussions with my mother and my grandmother and I learned a lot about them. I think I look at both of them very differently after being able to learn about them and their lives and what it means for them to be Filipino.
What has your experience with KUOW RadioActive taught you about the process of journalism and producing?
CE: What I found the most rewarding about RadioActive was the fact that I got an extremely hands-on introduction to journalism and radio production. In other summer workshops I’ve participated in, I’ve had the experience that the people in charge didn’t really think I could do the things they were teaching me, and I was just doing each thing they told me to do. This workshop was not like this. We were given a really remarkable amount of freedom once we had the basics down, and it felt really good to have that freedom to just work with other teenagers who thought the same way I did.
The workshop showed me both how to use many important pieces of technology (recording kits/Adobe Audition/professional recording studios) and multiple ways to use them; in the workshop we created 2 podcasts, each with only a week of production time (these two weeks were both extremely stressful and extremely rewarding) and then one feature where we were given the opportunity to have multiple edit meetings and script drafts and really intensive work to make the best story we could. This felt like a really good exposure to multiple types of radio journalism, and it was really nice to get to tone my podcasting skills in the Advanced Producers workshop.
What advice would you have for youth interested in gaining a hands-on experience in journalism and radio story-telling?
CE: To anyone planning on applying for Radioactive or any program like it (which I cannot recommend enough!!), I would say the most valuable piece of advice I can give is to allow yourself room to write down ideas that you may not think are at all possible and to not stress about them being “stupid” or “unrealistic” – odds are, they’re not. One example of this that comes to mind is a podcast about Bloody Mary and fear another Radioactivian Morgen and I created that stemmed from a casual discussion about Reddit we were having at lunch.
A piece you produced for KUOW RadioActive recently regarding educational disparities for students of color during COVID-19 was extremely eye-opening. The piece points to many systemic educational issues in the Seattle area, such as the under-funding of schools and the adultification of BIPOC children when put under the burden of creating solutions for their own education. How do you see the possibility of journalism making an impact in this area, and what would you like youth to take away from this piece?
CE: I was extremely grateful to be able to work on the production of that piece, because I have noticed so many disparities between not only public and private education, but between different districts of public education, most if not all of which have been astronomically amplified by COVID-19. In the reporting process of that podcast, I was shocked with how the first two examples of schools we looked towards had such extremely different experiences in distance learning. The two other Radioactivians working on the podcast with me, Asemayet Zekaryas and Essey Paulos shared some extremely eye-opening statistics with me about how easy it could be to work around those different experiences.
I feel like youth voice and youth media are really the way that those issues will be resolved. I have found that many politicians struggle to gain input from young people when creating legislation that affects them, and I’d really hope that listeners would be able to take some inspiration from the students we talked to in the piece. We spoke with students who have been organizing protests about racial injustice for many years, and I was inspired as well. There are so many opportunities opening up for students to be able to sit in on the meetings about issues that really only affect them, and most of them are not being publicized correctly, which I’ve found can make students feel like they don’t have a say.
If you have an issue or opinion on a change or choice made by your school district or local politicians, see what you can do to get your voice heard. The youth voice is proving itself to be more and more important every day, and one more voice in a meeting could mean so much to teenagers all across the state.
You recently co-founded Voice of the Future, an online and print magazine with new themes every month! What prompted your founding of the magazine?
CE: I’ve always loved looking at the “Zine” section in the front of the Elliot Bay Bookstore on Capitol Hill, and the whole idea of a zine is so interesting to me. I love how they can literally be whatever you want; I’ve seen some incredible comics, drawings, and really beautiful collections of poetry all published in zines. This combined with my co-founder Ria’s and my increasing interest in politics to result in the founding of this magazine. We originally wanted to create a podcast, but realized that a zine would allow more opportunities for submissions.
As the name suggests, we really just want teenagers/youth to have an outlet to publish work about topics they’re passionate about. We’ve had a beautiful submission of a poem about the recent marches and differing opinions in families, and other work is always welcome!
Is there an upcoming theme for Voice of the Future, and is there anything we can look forward to seeing in terms of your pieces for KUOW?
CE: I’m currently not working on anything new for KUOW, but I’m really hoping to get the opportunity to work with KUOW again! As far as Voice of the Future, we’re currently working on pivoting from monthly mini-zines to more polished quarterly magazines. Again, we’re always open for submissions! We’re looking to start posting monthly/weekly prompts or ideas for what to write about, but you can submit anything you’d like! Photography, art, even songs are all viable submissions!
Finally, what advice would you have for youth writers looking to get their voices out there, either through publications or competitions?
CE: If I were to talk to myself before starting the zine/applying to Radioactive, I’d tell myself to allow “bad” ideas to happen. When I would write headlines for my radio pieces, I never had the experience of feeling like I had the exact idea of what I wanted the headline to be down. It took a lot of brainstorming, and essentially all of my headline ideas sounded absolutely ridiculous to me. Eventually, once I had entire pages of terribly cringe-worthy headlines, something I actually liked would arrive. It took time, and without those pages I never would’ve arrived at the right headline. I would say to embrace those pages of “bad” work. Write every idea you have down, even if you know you don’t want to use that idea.
To add on to that, if anybody else is involved in the brainstorming, don’t worry about trying not to sound dumb with “bad” ideas. They’re going through the same thing, and when there’s multiple people involved, I find that “bad” ideas can morph into incredibly complex and creative ones.
Special thanks to Charlotte Engrav for her participation in this interview and the writing community! Feel free to reach out to her magazine and work, and stay tuned for our next post!