BUA English Teacher Ariana Kelly Wins Jack Hazard Fellowship

BUA English teacher Ariana Kelly was named a winner of the 2023 Jack Hazard Fellowship, sponsored by the New Literary Project. The Jack Hazard Fellowship is awarded annually to fourteen creative writers who teach high school —  an innovative, groundbreaking initiative that awards $5,000 to support the artistic endeavors of high school teachers from around the country. Read more about this year’s Jack Hazard Fellows here.

Jack Hazard Fellows are fiction, creative nonfiction, and memoir writers who teach full-time in an accredited high school in the United States, and “represent NewLit’s full-throated commitment to support writers across generations, communities, and divides. The financial award intends to enable these creative writers who teach to concentrate freely on their writing for a summer.”

BUA’s Elisha Meyer sat down with Ariana Kelly to learn more about her writing projects and process:

Elisha Meyer: Congratulations on being the recipient of a 2023 Jack Hazard fellowship! Tell us about your ongoing project – what will you be working on under the auspices of this fellowship?

Ariana Kelly: I’m working on finishing a collection of personal essays titled Lay Me Down Like A Stone about the perils, particularly for women, of seeking higher elevations of experience, class, and power. The essays discuss the collateral damage—to ourselves, other people, and the environment—that we incur along the way, and what gets left behind as our trajectories take us further from our families and landscapes of origin. Ultimately, the essays catalog a lot of loss, but the book lands on ways I (and all of us) can reimagine more sustainable ways of living and relating to one another.

EM: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

AK: Anything and everything, but most often intense personal experiences I try to understand through writing.

EM: How does your work as a high school English teacher inform and shape your writing, and vice-versa?

AK: Teaching and writing allow me to spend time exploring language and ideas, work I find meaningful and fulfilling. However, while writing is a largely solitary endeavor, teaching puts me in conversation all day. That balance is fruitful for me. In a world that often feels frenetic and unstable, the ability to sit in a circle around a seminar table, discussing great literature with brilliant kids feels like an amazing luxury. I’m grateful.

EM: Is your writing process different depending on the genre? For example, if you’re writing poetry vs. memoir or fiction?

AK: Yes. An essay for me will usually begin with an idea or feeling, but a poem will begin with a piece of language or an image that I find arresting. While I really try to think through things in essays, in poems I let my subconscious take over and don’t worry so much about making sense.

EM: What’s your favorite place to write?

AK: I love writing in my office, which is filled with books and art that inspire me, but I also love writing in hotels. I don’t know why–something about the combination of anonymity and safety.

EM: What time of day do you like to write?

AK: Morning–because that’s when my head is clearest.

EM: Do you have a favorite writing snack?

AK: I don’t really snack as I write, but I do drink gallons of sparkling water and tea.

EM: How do you overcome writer’s block?

AK: Usually by reading, but also by taking time away from a project, then returning to it with fresh eyes.

EM: What is your editing process like?

AK: Agonizing! When I have an idea for an essay I try to get as much down as possible, knowing that it will likely take me many months, if not years, to complete a draft that even remotely expresses the underlying ideas I’m trying to explore. My favorite part of the writing process is when I have the essay’s arc down, and I can focus on building sentences I like. That’s when writing becomes like a physical craft to me, like making a quilt or building a house.

EM: There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank page. What advice would you share with aspiring student-writers that have trouble getting started?

AK: I would say that you should start by keeping a notebook about what interests you in the world, whether it’s an interaction, an image, a sound, a thought, a feeling, and then write to figure out what compelled you in the first place. That’s a good starting point for any piece of writing that might turn into something larger, be that a poem, essay, short story, novel, etc.

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