Why did you decide to study at The School of The New York Times?
365体育备用网址There is no single reason why I decided to study at The School of The New York Times; there are many. Informing my decision was my desire to grow as a writer. I wanted to be exposed to great works of art and literary texts, and to be mentored by world-renowned poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists, and journalists. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to have all-consuming intellectual conversations about the world and build a network of writers to last a lifetime. I found all these things at The SoNYT and so much more. The people I met were generous, kind, thoughtful, and extremely talented. The attendees, guest speakers, workshops, lectures, and materials exceeded any of my expectations. Through the bonds of writing and sharing stories, the connections that were made were unparalleled. I wanted to improve my writing skills. But far beyond that, I learned how to see, how to explore, and how to learn. Few places can teach you that.
Which course did you take and why?
This summer, I attended the Creative Writing (Graduating Seniors) course at the NYC campus. After reading about this course, it became clear it was for me — a learning opportunity which emphasized exploration. I have an appreciation for abstract ideas that come from literary freedom. I love to play with words, and make sense out of things that do not always make sense. Ever since I was a little girl, I would try to see the world differently. I would try to define the world differently. I realized that language could alter my viewpoint and that I, in turn, could change someone else’s. Our definitions are what drive our vision. Writing is an outlet for me — a place in which I can express myself and let go of certain pieces and parts of myself that I struggle with. Unlike other courses that might attempt to narrow the way in which we perceive and absorb, the Creative Writing course desperately safeguards freedom of thought. I love to create, to imagine, and to begin again. This course allowed me to do all these things. It exposed me to all forms of writing and expression — from classic literature to opinion pieces, from Broadway to The Moth. Through the Creative Writing program, I was challenged to branch out and try new literary techniques and genres without the tight constraints of a typical classroom. I loved the spontaneity and discovery of SoNYT’s Creative Writing course.
If you had to name one thing that you learned from your time here, what is that one takeaway that will stay with you?
One thing that I know I will take away from this program is to never be quick to judge. Much like the characters in any truly worthwhile story, people are 3D: they have so much more to them than meets the eye. Like most people in our class, I made my initial judgments. I saw the kid with all the piercings and tattoos, wearing black clothing and spiked chains, and figured he was in some way lost or angry; instead, I found him to be one of the most thoughtful writers and kindest souls I have ever met. The Southern boy with “old money” I pinned as shallow and callous. I was wrong: he was intelligent and extremely talented. I saw the uptight girl with a ponytail that shaped her skull in a tight knot, and assumed she would be pompous and cold. However, she was quite the opposite — funny, warm, bright; she showed integrity unlike anyoneI had ever seen. I saw the girl with all the beauty and poise in the world, and an accent that made her voice soft and warm like honey, and had no inkling of the demons following her until she shared her story through her writing. I saw the boy who pranked the teachers and let loose all the time and figured he had never been through anything in his life, only to find out his father was no longer with him, and humour lessened his pain. The girl I met with pigtails saw children buried. The boy I thought was weak and small carried our group. Every initial impression I had was wrong; every judgment I made was premature. I was careless. I was mistaken. So were my classmates. And we told each other how wrong we were. As our time progressed in the program, so did our bond. We learned things about each other and leaned on one another, embracing a deep vulnerability which strengthened our artistry. Reflecting back, I now realize we met each other for the first time in our writing, in our honesty. Everyone deserves a second chance, maybe even a third. No one should ever be made out to be a certain way because that is how other people choose to perceive them. People have more going on than we realize. I was wrong with my initial judgments. And I love how wrong I was.
What was your favorite site visit?
My favourite site to visit was the New York Public Library. My class and I walked through the library doors and immediately became entranced by the heavenly paintings and rose-gilded ceilings; the chandeliers shone rich rays onto the open, silken windows and the light embraced the shelves of books. But it was not until we reached the words on the pages that we truly fell in love. The woman with the lanyard explained to us the elaborate intricacies and secret passageways of the library; she told us about the underground storage units and temperature moderations. I was captivated and moved by the effort and care that went into the preservation of books. As a little girl, sitting beside my grandfather, I would watch him read all the time. He was very careful with his books — never tarnishing the pages. I was one to write in the margins and leave my books outside for the rain, but he never thought of such a thing. As a child, I was selfish with knowledge, and believed the words in my storybooks belonged only to me. However, my grandfather always knew they belonged to more than one person. At the NYPL, it is clear, through the amount of care that goes into conservation, that the books are for everyone — that knowledge is something we share.
Who was the most memorable guest speaker?
365体育备用网址During a class session, a representative from The Moth, Stephen Ruddy, came in to do a storytelling exercise with our group. His instruction was this: tell a story that tells the story of you. He gave us close to a minute to reflect on all the antagonizing anecdotes, funny childhood memories, and life lessons; he gave us close to a minute to choose a single true story that reflected our character. Then he called for a volunteer and my hand, to my demise, rose involuntarily. I took off my shoes out of embarrassment, or perhaps for comfort, and walked to the front of the classroom with shaky hands and weak legs. In a timid, half-volumed voice, I began to tell a story about my great aunt — a story I do not think about often. My throat dry, I began my sentences with voice cracks while my tongue reached for water at the roof of my mouth. I was sure my lungs would give out, and the air in my chest would sink away my ability to speak. But the water finally rose up. I talked about her milky-white hair, and the way she smiled, and the crazy chocolate desserts she made. And I talked about how she got sick, and what it was like when I saw her for the first time. And I told my class how it felt when she held my hand so tight that one day. And I had no time for preparation. So I could not anticipate properly how my story would come out, but it flowed out of me like water. I told my story with tears in my eyes reflecting glossy eyes of others. As a fiction writer, this was the first time I told a true story about my life. The most incredible part was that, when we began our stories, the room was full of strangers, but when we ended, it was full of our closest friends. Stephen mentored us on storytelling, gave meaningful notes, and challenged us. He showed us, or, at the very least, helped us show ourselves who we are. I believe that kind of intimacy and out-of-breath honesty is what makes writing art.
What were your faculty like?
When I first met Zaina Arafat, our lead instructor for Creative Writing at The School of The New York Times, I saw a fun, upbeat and cool mentor. And that would have been enough. However, I soon discovered Zaina was so much more than that. Throughout our weeks, Zaina made us feel safe and inspired to share our most vulnerable and raw stories. I remember one of the first things she told us was that she speaks with her eyes closed. She shut her eyes and told us how her writing originated from a place of pain and how writing empowered her as a child. And suddenly the kindness from her voice and touching smile took on a whole different meaning; somehow the hope in her voice gave our class new-found courage. I found her to be one of the most thoughtful, knowledgeable, patient, intelligent, open-minded, giving, and passionate teachers. She is truly unlike anyone I have ever met. Today, I feel privileged to have worked with Zaina and am forever grateful for the voice she has inspired in me. In class discussions, Zaina embraced philosophical narratives, classics, underground artists, and old and new literature. She taught us with great enthusiasm and spontaneity that rushed through our classes like an excited heartbeat. With her sincere passion for the material, I felt fulfilled to have finally met a teacher who not only cared to teach but wanted to learn from each and every one of us. She genuinely wanted to hear what we had to say; she loved our input and encouraged our vibrant curiosity. She cared about us, and she cared about our writing, and she lifted us up to be better writers, and kinder, more thoughtful people.
What does The New York Times mean to you?
365体育备用网址When I was a child, I used to sit in front of our television and watch the news all the time; I used to watch it and it made me sad. And as a child, I could never figure out why they put such sad things on TV. I could never understand why they would broadcast people dying, fires burning, or children in poverty. I could never understand why they wanted to make people sad. And now, I understand. I understand that they did not tell sad stories to make people sad; they tell sad stories to make people feel. These stories make people care and want to change the course of the stories. The New York Times spreads news and awareness for impact; they tell stories that are not yet done. They tell the stories to change their endings. At The School of The New York Times, we spoke with three Social Justice lawyers. One of them explained to us how he tried to alter the course of a plane full of refugees that were about to be sent back to a war-torn country. He told us about how he published the news in order to bring about change. The coverage on the story helped the refugees to safety. Great writers do not write because they can or because they simply want to. Great writers write because they have to. Working at The New York Times means getting your hands dirty; it means digging out from the ground, through the filth, something good. The man who spoke to us answered a question from a student: “How do you deal with all the disappointment that comes with your work?” The man answered, “I won’t lie to you. You lose more than you win,” his voice sank and softened, “You lose a lot more than you win. But you keep going. You keep fighting. You tell yourself to push through. Because that one out of a hundred or a thousand or ten-thousand that you win is worth it.” The New York Times means caring about people’s lives, and sharing their lives in the hope of making them better. I believe The New York Times has proven — time and time again — that the stories they tell are unfinished — that we write the rest.
What does it mean to you to study in New York City?
365体育备用网址There are so many beautiful and breathtaking places around the world, but there is nothing quite like New York City. The thing about NYC is that beauty exists in unlikely places; beauty can be crawling on the street at night, in a dark subway station, or in a coffee cup. With NYC, you have to look for beauty. But when you find it, there is nothing in the world that comes close. There is a generalization that NYC is a cold city with cold people. On the outside, it seems to be an untouchable rush of callous crowds and masses of inhuman humans. But if you look close enough, you see ordinary human life burning with passion and love and grief. It is a chimera seeking to be unmasked — a cold city with warm hearts. Studying in NYC means that each day is a new beginning; the stories are fresh and real and authentic. Studying in this city has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. Time moves faster in NYC. Incidentally, we reach information faster than the rest of the world. Studying in NYC means being the first to make a difference. The potential is there, lurking all around.
What do you think you want to be when you grow up?
In simplest terms, I would like to attend law school, study Human Rights, and hopefully use my knowledge to help with a peace process in the Middle East. However, in all honesty, I do not know what I want to be. I know what I want to do. As a young girl, I would have fascinating conversations with my grandfather about the world. Now, as a teenager, I have been exposed to some of the worst parts of it. At the Golan Heights, I overlooked Syria and saw the fireworks of a massacre. In the city of Sderot, I watched children play in a playground with integrated bomb shelters. I have watched my Israeli and Palestinian friends grow up far too quickly. I have seen and felt their hardships. Exposed to the ugliest forms of hate, I have felt the world crumble beneath my feet. Like my grandfather, I am an atheist, but that does not mean I have grown tiresome of searching for answers; it means I have been unlucky in finding them. I have seen devastation, but I have also witnessed humanity in the most unlikely of places. In many disas- trous parts of the world, peace will take generations. Lasting peace will not exist in my lifetime, and for you, reading this, it will not exist in yours either. But I hope to be instrumental in bringing peace because I believe it can be achieved. My superheroes are not from comic books, they are the great defenders of truth and fact. My superheroes are the intellects who articulate realities and uncover stories that reveal the depths of the world. I will do everything in my power to eradicate destruction and devastation. I will try to stop wars, the ones I have seen inflict pain with my own eyes, the ones I cannot ignore.