PEN In The Classroom Community Interview with Natashia Deón

This summer, PEN Center USA, in collaboration with 826LA and WriteGirl, will host an intensive creative writing workshop for high school students called The Bridge. The Bridge workshop will focus on short fiction and will be taught by the inimitable Natashia Deón.

Deón is a Los Angeles attorney, 2010 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarship recipient, 2011 VCCA Fellow, and creator of the reading series Dirty Laundry Lit. Her work has appeared in The Rattling Wall, The Feminist Wire, Strange Cargo, and is forthcoming in YOU. An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person, published by Welcome Table Press. An award-winning screenwriter, Deón has taught creative writing classes for PEN Center USA, 826LA, WriteGirl, and Gettysburg College.

PEN In The Classroom Program Manager Heather Simons recently interviewed Deón about her experience working with at-risk youth and her own journey as a writer.

You have worked with all three of the organizations that sponsor The Bridge writing workshop—PEN Center USA, 826LA, and WriteGirl. Can you explain why you choose to work with organizations that support young writers?

In 2010, I was a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow, and part of the fellowship requirements was to complete community service with a literary organization. Because of my passion for working with at-risk youth and children, I gravitated toward 826LA and WriteGirl; those organizations shared my vision of empowering youth through art, more specifically voice and writing. Having taught in at-risk communities abroad and in the US, it was a natural fit.

The Bridge is a free, intensive workshop for young writers. Why do you think it is important for young writers to have access to a program like The Bridge?

Community. Community, to me, is a safe place where like people can connect and empower each other through encouragement and dialog and sharing and curiosity. The Bridge program is providing the fertile ground and the tools for growth in a supportive environment. It teaches young writers how to be a part of the conversation about their world through a creative lens, making it easier for them to navigate the world well into their 20s and 30s and for the rest of their lives.

Did you write when you were in high school? Can you describe your own journey as a writer?

I definitely wrote in high school. Like most writers, I think I’ve always written. The red marker “displays” I did on the walls as a two-year-old were some of my best work. My high school years were full of sappy love poems that I’d never show a soul today and some of the first short stories I’ve ever completed. And it was there, in high school, that two of my teachers became my first fans. At least, fans not related to me. And honestly, I didn’t consider myself a writer and didn’t think that anything I had to say was worth listening to. For me, writing was just another doodle, or a time-passer, or another homework assignment. But when my teachers pulled me aside and said, “This is something. Really something,” I almost believed them. It was their attention to my writing that gave me confidence. Maybe the only confidence I had in high school.

What are you most looking forward to as the instructor of The Bridge this summer?

Fight scenes! Teaching my students how they might write them. Or not. My syllabus is a living instrument. Overall, I look forward to having a great time and learning. Always, learning. Because for me, teaching is as much about learning as it is teaching. It’s an experience that’s full of energy and sharing because that’s what great storytelling is—sharing and connecting and making it real. My greatest hope for my new students is the same hope for every student I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with: for them to be on fire about writing, about creating, about discovering their world, creating new ones, and finding their voice. But most of all, I want to prepare my students for the next teacher.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a young writer? Have any teachers in your life shared important advice with you?

Patience. Be patient with your work. And while you wait, create. When you fail, create. When you succeed, create. Listen, create. Share, create. Write: A word. A sentence. A story. Because there, in this patience, is everything you’ll ever need.

There have been many teachers who’ve shared important advice with me and depending on my creative struggle at any given time, I’ll go back to it. My favorite piece of advice at the moment is, “Write what you want and own it.”