Interview with Alamo Heights High School Writer Hanah Shields

Bound for Greatness!

NoNieqa: After reading Hanah Shield’s review of my novel THE DISTURBED GIRL’S DICTIONARY in the San Antonio Express-News,  I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to discover her age. https://www.expressnews.com/entertainment/arts-culture/books/article/The-very-definition-of-an-emotionally-unstable-12713300.php. If the year 2018 has shown us anything, it’s that teenagers can be eloquent, articulate, knowledgeable and powerful instigators of social change. Hanah’s writing inspired my literary agent Emily Keyes to say, “Hire that Kid. I would represent her book.” I am honored that she agreed to be interviewed on my blog!

Hanah: I am so flattered to hear that both you and Ms. Keyes enjoyed my writing! I do believe that we live in the perfect era for teens to start speaking their minds and expressing their opinions in an intelligent and thought-provoking way. Recently I’ve been seeing so many of my peers (both online and in real life) stand up for what they believe in, especially since the events in Parkland, and it’s been incredibly inspiring to see the effect young voices can have on today’s social issues.

NoNieqa: Hanah, do your primarily write nonfiction? Have you explored writing fiction?

Hanah:   While I do mostly nonfiction for the Express-News, fiction and poetry are actually my favorite genres to write. I find it easier to write poems, but recently I’ve been trying out more short stories with my school’s literary magazine and hope to someday move on to novel-writing.

NoNieqa: Tell us about your background and family. What are your passions? What are your goals? What is a message you want to project into the world?

Hanah:  My dad is retired military and my mom is from Japan, so I’ve had the opportunity to live in and see a lot of different places. I’ve loved reading since day one, but recently I’ve really gotten into foreign languages and linguistics. (I’ve been trying to teach myself Norwegian for a few months now just for fun, and it’s been . . . interesting. And kind of hard.) Aside from academics, I’ve been a synchronized swimmer for the past eight years, which is how I’ve made most of my closest friends.

As a biracial Asian American woman, I’m really passionate about diversity and representation of all kinds in popular media and the entertainment industry, which was one of the reasons that The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary really spoke to me. I think it’s so important for kids from all walks of life to be able to see characters and role models they can relate to whenever they step into a bookstore or movie theater.

NoNieqa: Please describe your writing journey. When did you start writing for pleasure? How have you honed your craft? How did you become connected with the San Antonio Express- News? Are there any other places we can find your publications? To where do you aspire to publish in the future?

Hanah:  While I’ve always, always loved reading, it was not the same case with writing. I despised writing at school until the fourth grade, when state standardized testing required us to start exploring new forms like personal narratives. After a few reluctant essays, I realized I was actually quite good at writing. Once I reached middle school, I started to really enjoy the creative     prompts given to me by my English teachers, and then a family friend of mine helped me get my first review with the San Antonio Express-News.

My high school’s Creative Writing/Literary Magazine program has definitely had the greatest positive influence on my writing. My amazing classmates and teacher are constantly pushing me and inspiring me to make my writing the best it can possibly be. Some of my poems are in our print and online literary magazines, The Jabberwocky and The JubJub (where I recently did another interview as featured writer with fellow staff member Carrie Mullins). You can find the latest JubJub issue at: https://ahlitmag.wixsite.com/ahlitmag/the-jubjub. I hope to keep writing frequently and would love to do personal or nonfiction pieces for an outlet like The New York Times (I recently applied to their new student newsletter, The Edit), but I also want to eventually publish a novel of my own.

NoNieqa: What are two words that define you?

Hanah:  If I were to describe myself in two words, they would probably be “curious” and “obsessive.” They really go hand in hand to show that in any aspect of my life, I am always looking to discover new things, and as soon as I become interested in something, I dive in headfirst to learn everything I can about it.

THANK YOU Hanah Shields for this interview. You are an inspiration!

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: INTRODUCING SCHOLAR and POET TAMIA

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I am honored to present seventh grade scholar and poet TAMIA from the Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson school in Baltimore.                                                       

“Behind These Hazel Eyes”

Here I am, once again.

I’m torn into pieces.

Can’t pretend.

Just thought you were the one

broken up.

Deep inside

I can’t deny it–

but you won’t get to see the tears I cry.

Behind These Hazel Eyes…

You might call them fair and beautiful,

But do you know the lies

these hazel eyes have kept?

All I see is pain and sorrow.

Behind these hazel eyes

I hide the truth.

Behind these hazel eyes

I can’t deny–

But I keep a small smile

With my head held high.

BEHIND THESE HAZEL EYES.

 

When I met TAMIA, she held several notebooks of her works against her heart. I look forward to the beauty she brings to the world in her journey as a writer. Below, her responses will serve as inspiration to her peers and all writers who struggle to make time for their craft.

Our Interview:

TAMIA, what are some of your triumphs?

My triumphs include finishing any story I have written.

What are your struggles?

Some struggles I have are thinking of the plot for a story. I also struggle with not having enough time to write and thinking of what to write.

What are some of your goals?

Some of my goals are to make a mini book of poems or stories to give to my school or to at least have my work shown to the world.

What advice would you give to other scholars your age?

Some advice I’d give to other scholars my age is to always chase after something you want to do in the future and if someone doubts you, prove them wrong. If someone believes in you, make them proud. And don’t ever doubt yourself.

Great advice for us all to follow. Thank you TAMIA for your words of wisdom.

Community

Thanks to The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, I had the privilege of visiting The Community School. The founder and administrator Thomas Culotta calls it “a neighborhood academic and mentoring high school with some great students, most of whom come from challenging circumstances. ” I call it a miracle.
I have been teaching in inner-city “south side” schools for the bulk of my career and have never seen anything like this.

What did I see first? The neighborhood. Which was more like a 3rd world country. #ThisisTheBestWeCanDoAmerica? Houses sealed with cinder blocks so they won’t become crack dens. Top floors burnt out by ancient wiring. Mattresses pushed against windows to barricade against the cold. Mural art. My favorite piece, the rosES in the concrete. Cause fuck the idea that there’s only one rose. Let’s save the whole damn garden.
What else did I see: Those roses. Children.

Children bundled up in second-hand coats carrying the weight of backpacks and everything in our society stacked against them. Maybe instead of focusing on building walls against Mexico, we could build these kids walls to hold up their damn houses, rec centers, a library. Each child I saw had a shepherd holding their hands as they crossed the street and I crossed my fingers that they would make it against the traffic, against every force of fate working against them.

What did I witness at The Community School? 16 inner city kids who had every reason to be everywhere but in a one-room school for ten hours a day sharing their insights, their hopes, and their dreams with poise and eloquence. They seemed more like an Ivy league MFA program than a high school running on public donations. In fact, MFAs could probably learn a thing or two from these kids.

So, who is this Tom Culotta? He’s this man who started the school thirteen years ago with a room, a dream for youth, and a wood burning stove. He’s the man who dumpster-dived to get kids textbooks. Begged a paper factory to give him remnants. He’s the man the high schoolers at The Community School, the ones with fathers in prison, the one working to support his mom who has a brain tumor–all of them who made it this far AGAINST ALL ODDS–consider a father figure.

I have an idea. Yeah, a dream. It spoke to me through the mouths of the 16 kids who shared their writing with me and bared their schools. The kids who told me they wanted to be writers, business owners, politicians; who wanted to be good. Let’s fund the hell out this school. Let’s start a writers scholarship and send a kid out of inner city Baltimore and to a place where they can see, they can know, they can aspire. Let’s link this school up with a sister school over here in Ashburn.
If you agree, give me a shout up. Let’s link up and do this. Here’s a link to the school. tcshighschool.org.
TCS High School – The Community School

Welcome to the World, Book Baby!

I’m on the verge of my book birthday and I haven’t yet taken a moment. Right now is not about sales. Right now is not about book reviews. Right now is about the story I’m about to send into the world.

What is a book birthday really? It’s a celebration of a dream being born, the release of a world dressed in a book jacket. It’s a time to reflect on the “gestation” of the book. The craft that began with the conception of an idea and ended with that baby on the book shelf. But, will my baby be loved and accepted?

That thought puts me in my students’s shoes. They are creating every day and being evaluated every day. It teaches me a lesson. One of empathy. The very nature of being a student is to be “reviewed” every second of the school day.  Am I giving my kiddos enough time to enjoy being creators without the consequence or reward of grades?

Like any birthday, you hope your family and friends show up. You can’t wait to open the gifts. Today the fabuloso teachers at my school, Brambleton Middle, gave me that gorgeous cake you see. Tomorrow my family will be accompanying me to the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore to be at my launch. And the gifts?  I’ll be doing my first school visits and meeting incredible kids I will never forget.

Happy Book Birthday to me and every other author counting down the days until their babies are released into the world!