This month publishYOUth spoke with Yasmine Bolden, a magnificent youth poet, prose writer, and playwright from Virginia! She has been recognized by a multitude of organizations such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for American Voices and the "I, Too, Am the Dream" Contest, as well as commissioned by Writopia Labs for her playwrighting. Through these opportunities Yasmine has gathered detailed advice for youth writers, and she will soon be releasing her debut book of poetry, short stories, and more! Here we spoke with Yasmine about the importance of a writing community, preparing your work for publication, and the healing capabilities of art!
What fuels your passion for writing?
YB: I’d say that two seemingly contradictory things fuel my writing. The first is my dedication to my community and to writing things that are affirming to the experiences of young Black people as well as portraying Black history and the dreaming and healing necessary to Black futures. The second is to make a space for myself just for myself and my own personal growth and healing. I process a lot of my daily life, emotions, and newly learned information through my writing.
You’ve won many incredible awards for your writing, such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for American Voices, the National Beta Club Poetry Competition, and the “I, Too, Am the Dream” Contest. How did you prepare to submit for these competitions, and what did you learn from these opportunities?
YB: Aww, thank you! For the second two competitions, I had to write to a prompt. Years of being a part of a community of young writers who shared prompts with one another and then helped workshop each others’ resulting pieces prepared me for prompted creative writing. So when I received the prompts for those kinds of competitions, I would often draft the poem I’d send in to the competition in one sitting and then edit it little by little throughout the week. Then, I’d send the poem in and try to just completely remove the thought of the competition from my mind! From these opportunities, I first and foremost learned that being a young writer is so much more than entering competitions and building up a list of publications, even though that was how it often appears to young writers in the U.S.
It connected me with mentors around the country and, oftentimes, the contests led me to new communities of creatives I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. The first year I won a Scholastic Writing Award, I was invited to attend a workshop for awardees afterwards and that’s how I became connected to the wonderful Writopia Lab organization. Writopia has been integral to my growth as a writer and workshop participant and I wouldn’t be who I am today with it or the communities and mentors that have shaped me.
Your poem in The Hearth Magazine, “Peach Pit Heart”, is a stunningly vivid piece about a young girl and what it means to learn. Can you tell us a bit about how you go about crafting such pieces and finding a home for them?
YB: Thank you so much! I’ve noticed that I go through writing seasons. I write a little something all year, but I definitely am most in “the writer zone” in the summer and fall months. I’ve learned not to fight that. Instead, I take my “off season” to read books and poetry voraciously, find homes for poems I’ve already completed and workshopped, and keep notes on random little poetic or prose thoughts that occur to me. Generally, those notes end up in an email draft that I then send to myself at the end of the day. Those notes are very raw and often super emotionally charged since they were crafted right at the root of a life experience, and they become seeds for poems eventually.
Once the poems are formed and I’ve decided whether or not this poem is just for me and will exist in a Google document forever or that it’s time to share it, I privately send it out to a few members of my writing community and get their feedback on it! I keep a constantly evolving Google spreadsheet with magazines, literary journals, and competitions to submit to with dates and everything, so when I feel ready to send out a poem, I check to see who has an open call and send it to one or two places based on whether or not my piece seems to vibe with the pre-established feel of the publication.
You also write and perform in theater micro-productions for your area, and you were recently commissioned by Writopia Lab for your work! How has your experience been with playwrighting, and what advice do you have for young playwrights and actors in getting involved with such opportunities?
YB: To be completely transparent, I’m a baby playwright. I just wrote my first two plays last summer. Shoutout to one of my childhood best friend who gave me a book on playwriting a long time ago that I eagerly consulted as I penned the aforementioned plays. When Writopia Lab reached out to me about commissioning my work, I panicked! I was so grateful for the opportunity but had also never written a play. However, I am a theater child. I’ve been performing in plays since middle school and performed as a ballet, tap, and jazz dancer
before that. I’m familiar with being within narratives crafted for the stage and just had to figure out how to craft my own for the occasion. I’ve loved every second of writing plays so far; seeing my work come to life for the first time by professional theater artists was indescribably magical.
My advice would be to get involved with your local organizations in general! Museums, education programs, you name it. And I don’t mean just theater and writing organizations. If you’re passionate about science and want to help create science sketches for their youth programs for example. Keep reaching out to people about your ideas even if you find that some places just aren’t in a place to produce theater shows right now! If you keep digging, you may just find the perfect match.
Your poem, “Homesickness” published by Write the World, is a beautiful and striking piece about yearning for home, and in an interview with the Humans in Dance Project you mentioned the therapeutic capabilities of writing. Can you elaborate on your perspective of the power of writing?
YB: Thank you so much for your kind words. I believe that writing allows me to connect to the things I’ve been disconnected from: the people I come from but can’t name, parts of my childhood self, and things like that. Sometimes, our society tries to rob you of your right to grieve or police how you grieve, but grieving is oftentimes a part of the healing process. By giving us a space to grieve all that we once were or never had the opportunity to know or be, I believe that writing helps facilitate the first steps of healing.
You have a collection of poems, essays, and short stories to be released in 2021! What can you tell us about it?
YB: I’ve been working on this book since 2019 and planned on publishing it in 2020, but then the pandemic hit. I decided that instead of moving forward with publication, that I would keep writing pieces for the book all of the way up until my eighteenth birthday, which was at the end of 2020. The book is pretty much my childhood and becoming written in prose and poetry. It centers a lot on home; homesickness, building home, finding home, myself as home, the future as home all are explored in the book. The book is pretty much the book I wish had been around for little Black and chronically ill writer girls like me when I was younger.
Finally, what advice do you have for youth writers in building confidence in their voices and writing, regardless of publication?
YB: My primary advice would be to surround yourself. Read. Watch movies. Listen to funky music and podcasts. Ask random questions and try to find the answers. Write down what feels relevant to you from all of the things you consume. Find a community of creatives who will be real with you. You can do that by joining writing Discords, becoming a reader for a youth magazine, or simply hopping on literary Twitter and introducing yourself to other high school writers. Keep a Google document for specific lines of writing that you love. Study different genres of poetry and write little portfolios of work based off of your studies. Remember that aforementioned Google doc? Study that and understand what you like in writing. Keep a Google document of feedback and compliments that you’ve received from people who’ve read your work.
Know that nobody else is doing it like you. Yes, so many of the things you may want to write about have been written about before. But not by you. Not in the way that you will. And when your work does become available to the world, it’s going to touch someone. You may never know or maybe that person will tell you so. But your work will reach someone in a way that no one else in this universe has yet. Wild, right?
Special thanks to Yasmine Bolden for her participation in this interview and the writing community! Feel free to read her work online, and stay tuned for her upcoming book!