This month publishYOUth spoke with the incredible writer and organizer, Sarina Patel! She is a Scholastic National Double Medalist and a YoungArts Winner in Writing, and her work has been featured in Brown Girl Magazine and the New York Times’ Learning Network. In 2021, Sarina also founded Novel Minority, a creative community and connection center providing free educational, counseling, and storytelling resources to BIPOC teen creatives through monthly community outreach programs. When not writing, Sarina likes to draw, make music, and hide from Barnes & Noble employees at closing time (they’ll never catch her). Here we spoke with Sarina about her interview experiences, advice for young writers, and the story behind Novel Minority!
You’ve won many incredible awards for your writing, such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as a two-time National Medalist, YoungArts in Spoken Word, and as a New York Times Learning Network Essay Finalist. How did you prepare for these competitions, and what did you learn from them?
SP: Ah thank you! The Scholastic and YoungArts poems I wrote much earlier, when I was less conscious about dismantling that competitive mindset. The vision for Novel Minority had already coalesced [in my mind] by the time I sat down to write the New York Times essays. I consciously made the choice to pen two pieces about something I love – eggs – and how it related to COVID-19 and the presidential election in two separate instances. As a result, I had so much more fun!
You recently interviewed Megan Suri from Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever”! What was that experience like?
SP: Incredible! I wish all of our jokes made the cut. Megan really is that cool and funny off-screen! I was so honored to create conversation with her – I’m excited to see how far she’s come since appearing on Fresh Off The Boat, and to see her career ascend even higher.
What prompted you to start Novel Minority?
SP: I’ve been a competitive writer for several years. It wasn’t always a healthy environment for creative expression– I often found that in order to gain access to otherwise exclusive funds & opportunities, I along with other BIPOC teen writers had to perform my very real trauma in palatable ways for the judgment & validation of white academia. I felt exploited for my art. At the same time, though I had a list of problems within the publication industry (resources, competition, etc), I wanted teens to develop a community mindset instead of a competitive mindset. We [speaking on behalf of NM] do not hate competitions, nor does hatred for book inaccessibility/archaic representation/editorial elitism within the publication industry motivate us. We are motivated by a radical, optimistic love for our fellow BIPOC teens and addressing the needs of our community. You [the community] make us possible. And once we received overwhelmingly positive feedback validating that belief, we knew we wanted to focus on building solidarity through storytelling. Who else can protect BIPOC teens, if not our own?
How have you seen Novel Minority grow, and what do you think makes it unique?
SP: We’re the only creative writing community for BIPOC teens which prioritizes the mental health of our writers through stories, interviews with adult writers (who often have the same creative struggles as their teen counterparts), and Zoom consultations for our contest winners (to unpack and discuss the emotional complexity that their piece required). Although we are centered around the nourishment of BIPOC teen writers at all levels of writing, our events are open to all creative art forms – they have been, once we started receiving DMs from teen artists, dancers, and musicians asking if they could join. We were like: of course you can!
So...we’ve grown a lot. We’re constantly evolving and reimagining the ways that writers of color can occupy space on social media. We offer many free opportunities – takeovers, open mics, interviews, spotlights, create-in sessions, contests, etc. We simultaneously keep up with social media trends – Tik Tok, news cycles, and album releases – because we believe community building, even with mostly writers, is about feeding the soul. The other content we produce is what feeds the soul to write.
How can students get involved with Novel Minority, in terms of hiring and general opportunities?
SP: We are reopening for hire next week, so stay tuned! As for general opportunities: every opportunity is free, updated on a monthly basis, and listed in our Linktree! We have something for everyone: but if there’s an event you want us to introduce, you can always DM us @novelminority on Instagram. We’ll make it happen!
Is there anything upcoming for Novel Minority that you can tell us about?
SP: [jokingly] Oh, we have a few things planned with an amazing group called publishYOUTH...do you know them? You can keep up with both of us on Instagram at @publishyouth and @novelminority for free (competitive) writing resources!
Finally, what advice do you have for youth writers looking to get their voices out
SP: You can always DM us on IG @novelminority with your goals; we’ll reach out to our own creative network of zines, authors, editors, and presses to connect you accordingly! If I may give two more pieces of advice: 1) The writers you love are often within reach -- don’t be afraid to network! and 2) Show up for your writer friends whenever possible: Google Docs editing sessions, Zoom readings, Novel Minority open mics! They often provide teachable moments in skill and solidarity – building. When the people you love win, you have everything to gain.
Special thanks to Sarina Patel for her participation in this interview and the writing community! Feel free to follow her work, and stay tuned for what's coming next with Novel Minority!