Meet the Mentees: Ben Read (Poetry), Jane Song (Experimental Prose), and Audrey Zhao (Poetry)

The next installment of the “Meet the Mentees”  saga features a trio of up-and-coming writers who are making waves in the third annual Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship. Ben Read (Spokane, Washington) and Audrey Zhao (San Francisco, California) are focusing on poetry under the tutelages of Jackson Holbert and Aline Dolinh, respectively, while Jane Song (Old Tappan, New Jersey) is studying Experimental Prose with Alexa Derman.

Jordan Cutler-Tietjen, Journalism Mentee: Introduce yourself with your favorite movie quote.

Ben Read, Poetry Mentee: “Beneath this mask is more than flesh. Beneath this mask is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” – V from V for Vendetta.

Jane Song, Experimental Prose mentee: “Dear White People. The minimum requirement of Black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two… Sorry, but your weed man Tyrone does not count.”  – Sam White, the protagonist of Dear White People.

Audrey Zhao, Poetry Mentee: “You look pretty”

“What did you say?”

“Uh, I said you look shitty! Goodnight, Denise!” – Hot Rod.

Why do you write?

BR: I’ve tried to write many poems to explain why I write, and I think I’ve been somewhat successful, but I won’t copy and paste one here. Initially, I was inspired by writers in my life, especially my mom and struggling slam poets in burrito shops in Spokane, and now I continue to write because of the rewarding feeling of creation, the hope that I am producing something meaningful and lasting, and the strangely harmonious sequences of words and ideas I sometimes surprise myself with.

JS: I definitely have a lot to say, but not enough oomph in my speaking voice to express it. I can’t say that I’ve ever been an “outsider,” but I’ve most definitely never been a Large Ham. I could think that over time I’ve collected lots of unsaid words, and I write to compensate for them, but I think that there’s more than that. My love of writing comes from my desire to better understand the world around me and my desire to be understood. I had a phase last year when I was really interested in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and categorized everyone I knew (real and fictional) into the 16 types. (Typical INFP behavior) It wasn’t about a need to compartmentalize life or judge people, but to try to figure out “their deal:” how I should communicate with them or what they’re motivated by. MBTI helped me create more lifelike characters because it provided me with a basic human framework. Writing makes me love people, for existing and being so complex and making life so interesting. As narcissistic as it sounds, I want to make people invested in my work and make them empathize with the people I created. I want to subliminally send my messages and give people constructive ideas. I want to create and I want to help make life better for people who are not me.

AZ: Anxiety and Expression.

Why Adroit?

BR: I was connected to The Adroit Journal through a Creative Writing class that encouraged submissions. I found it and I was captured by the art first, and then the electric poetry. Every time I learn more about the journal I have more respect for it: that Peter [LaBerge, Editor-in-Chief] started it as a sophomore in high school, that the editors respond quickly and personally, that they encourage young writers, and that the people involved are weird and artsy and fun.

JS: Adroit isn’t a Cool Young Mag For and By Young People. It’s a Cool Young Publication For and By Young People. Its content is inspiring – I read it and go “like whoa,” and I love the fact that it takes a while for me to understand some of the pieces, and even when I think I do, there are still fragments stuck to my head.

AZ: I first heard of Adroit because a friend of a friend, whose poetry I admire, had a few poems published in the journal. After quickly perusing the journal, I became enamored with the type of writing that populated Adroit and in January or February, fresh off my introduction to poetry, I decided to submit some poems. Two days or so later, in an embarrassed frenzy, I rescinded my submission. Then Peter emailed me and I realized this mentorship program existed.

If you and your mentor were a famous duo from literature or history, whom would you be?

BR: Jackson and I, in my mind, are Guy Montag and Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451. In my writing I was on old “Guy” who thought he had a pretty good idea of himself and what he was doing but then was shown more about himself and his own writing by someone with exciting, interesting ideas and taste.

JS: Scented glitter gel pens and secret diaries.

AZ: This question will reveal just how truly uncultured I am. I want to say a presidential duo because I know Aline digs that, but I do not know enough about presidents. I am going to say Bialystock and Bloom from The Producers and NO, this is NOT saying Aline is sleazy like Bialystock (ily Aline xoxo), but that we are very different people that both learn from one another. Also, it is a mentor-mentee type of relationship even if Bialystock is… not the best teacher. Perhaps I should have picked a better duo because Aline is fantastic and a phenomenal mentor, but, I apologize, I am uncultured.

What’s your ideal location in which to write?

BR: I like to write in a bright sunny area with very few people around, ideally with some food to snack on and water to drink during my contemplative periods of staring into space.

JS: I find that at times, I can write pretty feverishly while half-listening to a sermon at church, when no one’s looking over my shoulder, and though it’s maybe not ideal, I mostly end up writing on a Google Doc while sitting in front of a desktop screen.

AZ: I have two-

  1. Standing at the kitchen counter after 12:00 am listening to/badly singing along with the music I am currently captivated by (Currently: “I Would Do Anything For You” by Foster The People, “Ice Cream Sandwiches” by Moss Lime, “I Got The Moves” by Habibi, “Obedear” by Purity Ring etc.).
  2. There is a wall in my house that is completely covered by a mirror and occasionally I sit in front of it and speak to my reflection and occasionally this results in poems.

Write your six word story up to this point.

BR: Lonely boy discovers words then people.

JS: “Closet liberal” lives a conservative lifestyle.

AZ: I bumble into greatness. That’s all.

Name 3 writers who have inspired you.

BR: Tony Hoagland, Laura Read, Lauren Gilmore

JS: Roxane Gay, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jenny Zhang (in general). But Tina Fey, David Sedaris, and John Green have played roles in developing my sense of humor and voice. And I’ll always admire Ezra Koenig and Bo Burnham for their ability to make the arcane accessible with their wordplay, introspection, and agnostic questioning of existence.

AZ: I actually read an embarrassingly small amount of fiction and poetry so some of my inspirations may not necessarily be in these genres. Also embarrassing: I don’t read enough works by any one writer for them to actually inspire me. Rather, individual works have inspired me.

  1. Primary: Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow convinced me I was not insane.
  2. On Shaping Worldviews that Appear in My Writing: George Orwell’s 1984, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and August Wilson’s Fences
  3. Other: All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John. Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song.

What are you interested in besides writing?

BR: This seems obvious, but other than writing, I like reading too. I also love to listen to music, and recently I’ve been going to poetry readings, concerts, and art galleries in Spokane. Less artistically, I like going to the lake, participating in speech and debate, going to movies with friends, playing basketball, ice skating, riding my bike, and watching TV.

JS: I like tennis; I’ve played on teams for more than five years, and it’s given me a really great experience in learning to be more autonomous (when played as an individual sport), trusting of others/sharing victories (when playing doubles), and getting a sense of “hey, you need to try your best here because if you don’t put up a fight, it’s not just you suffering the consequences here.” For an individual sport, it’s done a pretty good job at making me into a “team player.” I also love reading and I am an aggressive Internet lurker.

AZ: I am interested in things that quiet my mind: chess, music, snuggles, a good steak. I like to stay informed on the financial sector. I also like to read The Economist, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic as well as articles and books about human behavior and the brain.

Describe your ideal Saturday afternoon.

BR: My ideal Saturday afternoon goes something like this. I come home from the gym with my family, shower and lay around the house, writing or reading with music on in the background, then I get ready to see my friends for dinner and a movie, watching Netflix until it’s time to go.

JS: I answer this question assuming that this particular Saturday afternoon lasts as long as I wish it could. I would love to stroll around a beach town in California with my best friend. We’d frolic in the ocean and loll around on the sand, building sand castles, and it’ll be like that scene in Little Women – the chapter, I believe is called “Castles in the Air” – where the whole gang talks about their aspirations for the future. We’d make girl gang jackets and flower crowns and make dumb jokes and read essays aloud to each other and sit in silence for a while in reverence for the ocean. It would all be really life-affirming.

AZ: In the future or now? In both cases, ideally, the time would be spent with someone I love and we would snuggle and do whatever we want. Maybe go out for afternoon tea.

Which artist, writer, or historical figure do you wish more people knew about?

BR: One time I was in a university bookstore and I stumbled on a random book about a Hispanic artist named Alfredo Arreguín who creates faces and landscapes out of mosaics of shapes and natural images. His work reflects Pablo Neruda and it’s beautiful and thought provoking. Maybe it’s just me and people do know about him, but I would like for his art and life to be better known.

JS: While I wouldn’t dare call him “underrated,” Simon Rich is incredible, both talent-wise and career trajectory-wise. (Ah, to be a Jewish man in comedy…) The dude is the showrunner of a comedy based on his book of short stories. He writes really great, inventive tales; one that really got to me was told from the POV of an unwrapped condom. In my seventeen-year-old girl eyes, Simon Rich is living the at height of luxury.

AZ: My fellow Adroit mentees because I have read some of your works and they are all inspiring, thought-provoking, and amazing in their details, complexity, and story-telling abilities. Also, Margaret Hamilton.

If you had to live the rest of your life in a fictional universe, which one would you choose?

BR: Well, other than Hogwarts, I would either choose to live in the universe where The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear take place, where I would study at the University, or Fablehaven.

JS: I have to choose very wisely here; I won’t put my life in danger by saying “the Harry Potter universe” or “the world that the kids in my math textbook live in.” Maybe living in the pages of a cookbook, like Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa, would be ideal. Every day, my life would be just a series of bruncheons and perfect finished products, each of them the magnum opus of its kind. And if I weren’t aware that there was this whole other reality in extant, meaning the present-IRL-timeline, my life would never feel Feminine Mystique in the alternate timeline. The lifestyle seems incredibly appealing on the surface.

AZ: I do not believe oppression can be completely eradicated as it arises from inequality and inequality will always exist, be it on the level of teacher and student (beneficial to an extent) or oppressor and oppressed (detrimental). However, in this perfect fictional universe, institutions of oppression will not exist because oppression is an abhorrent concept and thing. Furthermore, this world would also be free of the gross amounts of pollution that are destroying the Earth, and the political polarization that exists in the United States’ bipartisan government will not exist. Also, lobbying will finally be illegal and the education system as it stands now will be reformed to be more effective as well as free on the higher education level. In this universe, I will have a dog named Bader and I will be a rock star drummer.

Ben Read lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School. He has been recognized by inroads, Airplane Reading, and The Adroit Journal. Other than writing, he likes to assault people with philosophy while participating in speech and debate, attend and read at local poetry slams in tiny coffee and burrito shops, and listen to music similar to the Juno soundtrack. He wishes his dog Wally would be a better muse, but until then, he’ll have to stick with the river.

Jane Song is a rising high school senior on the East Coast. She is highly invested in issues regarding social justice, fandom and creating and consuming various forms of media–primarily fiction, creative non-fiction, and comedy.

Audrey Zhao lives immediately outside of San Francisco, California and attends Marin Academy. She was just introduced to the world of poetry in January of 2015. When not writing, Audrey can be found playing chess in obscure parts of the United States, pressing the keys of her darling baby grand piano, or annoying her friends by showing up at their houses, sleeping over, and never leaving. Clearly, Audrey has no skills in writing biographies as she spends most of her time sleeping or brooding.

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