In this article, publishYOUth spoke with Youngseo Lee, a talented youth writer, poet, and creative nonfictionist! As a YoungArts Finalist for Creative Nonfiction and Best of Net nominee, Youngseo has incredible advice for crafting, editing, and sharing your writing. She is also the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Pollux Journal, an interviews editor and translator for The Hanok Review, and a reader for Split Lip Mag! Here we spoke with Youngseo about having faith in oneself, multilinguality, and her advice for youth!
What fuels your passion for writing?
YL: Writing is the only way I can make sense of the world, or myself, depending on the day. I’m not particularly interested in being expressive. I want a world where I don’t have to explain myself, where to feel how I feel is enough. I can’t think of anything beyond writing that would allow me to do that.
In 2019 you were a YoungArts Merit Winner for Creative Nonfiction, and in 2020 you became a Finalist! How were these competition experiences, and what advice do you have for students preparing for such contests?
YL: I don’t think I particularly prepared anything differently to submit to contests — I did spend a lot more time editing, and I actually finished my pieces to submit them instead of letting them sit in my Google Drive for forever, but at the end of the day, I was just trying my best to give my pieces everything I could. I’d like to say that I do that for all my pieces, but I don’t know if that’s true. I do think I give all the care I can to most of my works, though. If your best of best does not win an award, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. Judges’ tastes are subjective and even changing all the time, after all. I’m sure that many judges have wonderful tastes, but trying to conform to what you think they want from you is going to do nothing but stress you out. I know that I sound like a jerk as somebody who has won awards, but I’ve also had great failures with awards! And there is certainly a lot of luck that goes into winning an award, whether it’s about your style aligning with what judges like or just straight up sheer luck. Do your thing!
“hypnagogia: in which i go bad in the summer”, your creative nonfiction piece published by Perhappened Magazine and nominated for Best of Net, is a raw depiction of human emotion. Can you talk a bit about your writing, ideation, and editing process for pieces like these?
YL: I joke that I rely a lot on divine intervention to write. I’m trying to be more consistent with it these days by finding poetry in more ordinary emotions, but at least with “hypnagogia”, I was just vomiting the piece out at first. It was very scary because that piece is all about fears and things that I would generally only talk about in snippets. But my need to talk about and work through whatever I was thinking must have been greater than my fear of the audience. My editing heavily relied on my friends (hi Christian, hi Jonathan, hi and thank you for the title May) who helped me clean up and streamline my messy screams, including by cutting a section about Timothee Chalamet in Lady Bird. I am very much indebted to the community and friends I’ve found through writing. If I had to edit “hypnagogia” all on my own and wallow in myself for any longer than I had for drafting, I would never have finished that piece.
As the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Pollux Journal, how would you describe it? What prompted you to start it?
YL: Pollux Journal seeks to be home to works that are either about multilinguality or multilingual in themselves. That means that we’ll publish both work that involves two or more languages, including English, or work that is in English and about multilinguality. I founded Pollux with a little bit of a “be the change you want to see in the world” mentality — I was looking for curations of multilingual work that went beyond just one non-English language, as well as works that used multilinguality in hybrid manners instead of presenting the same content in multiple languages side-by-side, and I was having such a hard time finding any. So I started Pollux with a few friends whose artistic visions I trust very much. This project has been bringing me joy and expanding my understanding of language even more than I expected it to at the beginning.
What makes the Pollux Journal unique, and how can students get involved?
YL: Aside from its focus on multilinguality, which I think is quite uncommon, Pollux is unique in that instead of looking for work that fits our aesthetic, we are always looking to expand our tastes to whatever work is out there. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with lit mags that lean into a niche aesthetic, and I actually really love journals like that. But in dedicating itself to multilinguality, Pollux is searching for diverse experiences and perspectives on the multilingual experience, which could so easily be prescribed as monolithic, and naturally, the sheer multitude of ways that multilinguality is incorporated into literature is also something we value very much and seek to encapsulate in each issue. The best way to keep up with us, whether by submitting or joining our team, is through following us on social media, where we make all our announcements. We also love to see readers at our issue launch readings!
You’re also an interview editor and translator for The Hanok Review! How did you get started with translating, and what draws you to it?
YL: For me, translation is primarily a way to share works that I love with people that I love. There’s so much art in the world that each of us misses out on just because we cannot comprehend it, with language often being such a barrier in literature. To translate is to share what could go devoured alone and to share is to love. Translation is a precise love, and that’s why I leave each translation with a deeper appreciation for the original than I did at the beginning. After spending so much time with every thinkable aspect of a piece and trying to figure out how to best encapsulate its world, I am always looking at it with a completely different angle than I had before. And translation never captures the exact soul of the original, as the vocabulary and its associations or the syntax or something else must change in the process. But we never truly understand each other completely in our cores either, and if loving an approximation of another person can be enough in life, I think it can be for translated literature as well.
Now that you’ve graduated, how does it feel to look back at your high school writing career? What would you say to your younger self?
YL: To be honest, I didn’t have much of a writing career in high school because almost everything that’s exciting at all happened at the end of senior year or later. High school was more of a time of personal searching and growth, alone. Not that I have everything figured out now, but I think that I have a much deeper understanding of myself and how that relates to writing than I did when I was sixteen. And to the version of me who was doing that searching, I’d say I think I’ve done a good job so far. Every path I’ve taken has led me to where I am. I used to wish that I had gone to an arts high school, but because I was so uninvolved in and unaware of the teen writing scene, I had been given the time and space to focus on growing as an individual and an individual writer. I do wish I had realized earlier that contrary to lore, craft is not something to suffer for, and that there is literature outside of sadnesses. I also wish I had read “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” by Jenny Zhang earlier. But I got there eventually, and I am who I am now, and I will be who I grow into from here, so I’m content with that.
You’re also a reader for Split Lip Mag! What features in pieces submitted have caught your eye, and is there anything upcoming for the magazine that you can tell us about?
YL: I’m not involved in the higher level decision-making at Split Lip, but I can tell you that the SLM booth at AWP will probably be fun because I’ve heard that it always is! We really love works that are snappy and self-aware, and as always, SLM is all about pop culture. We lean toward work that is interesting in voice more than we do for innovative form or anything else — of course, some fun form definitely can’t hurt, but the core of our consideration will be the voice.
Finally, what advice would you have for youth writers in building confidence in their work, regardless of publication?
YL: I find it important to place faith in your future self and growth. You are on the right path. If you are worried that you are not, you are, because that means you are looking for the right path, and that looking really is the path you need to take. Your looking may take you to a different place than where mine is taking me, but that is your growth and your craft and is completely worthy of my respect as well as anybody else’s. I like to remind myself that I am still young and I am still growing and there are pieces that my older self will have the insight and clarity to write, even though I may not have it right now. I think we should all take it slow. Being on the internet showers you with everybody’s publications and rushes you when you don’t have to. I always need to consciously slow myself down and ask whether my voice is mine or an imitation of somebody else’s, if the form that comes comfortably to me is a replica of a trend or the only way my work can embody itself. If you’re asking yourself the right questions, whatever is right for you, then you have every reason to be confident that you are growing right now, and I think that’s what really matters.
Special thanks to Youngseo Lee for her participation in this interview and the writing community! Feel free to follow her writing online, and stay tuned for Pollux Journal's next issue!