Dana Blatte is a freshman at Hamilton College studying cultural anthropology, linguistics, and creative writing. Her poetry and short fiction is published in The Adroit Journal, Fractured Lit, Peach Magazine, The Shore, & more, & has been recognized by The New York Times, the Pulitzer Center, YoungArts, & the American Jewish Historical Society, among others. She is an alumna of The Adroit Journal's Summer Mentorship Program, the Iowa Young Writers' Studio, and the Alpha Young Writers' Workshop. Besides writing, she loves animation, bedroom pop, unnecessarily long walks, & honey almond butter.
Hey Dana! I am super excited for the opportunity to interview you! So, why did you begin as a writer? What were your goals when you first began creating?
I can’t pinpoint exactly why I began writing since I’ve been doing it since elementary school. However, I can speak to why I write now. To be philosophical, I love that writing is infinite—I can unearth new meanings and possibilities within our reality, craft magical worlds, witness experiences through others’ lenses, and more. More realistically, I’ve always been an introvert, so writing was an accessible activity for me to pursue independently.
My original goal was just to have fun and explore. I wrote a lot of short stories—about a civilization ruled by cats, a girl who fell into the underworld, a young spider and her family trying to survive in nature. Really, no genre or plot was off-limits. Back then, I wasn’t yet trying to put a piece of myself into my stories. I just wrote whatever seemed mysterious and wonderful and then jumped to the next idea, often without even finishing the previous concept.
My writing became more serious toward the end of my sophomore year of high school, which coincided with the start of the COVID-19 quarantine in the United States. Then I became comfortable with intimacy and experimentation in my writing, and writing became a serious outlet rather than a mindless pastime.
I see that you are studying at Hamilton College! What is the writing scene like there? Have you found any like-minded writers to share your writing with?
As a freshman, I’ve only been on campus for a few weeks, so I’m still discovering the writing scene. This semester, I’m taking American Ghosts, an introductory literature course in which we’re discussing ghosts and ghost narratives in American literature and their intersections with race, gender, sexuality, etc. Of course, I’ve already met a lot of friends with whom I can’t wait to share my writing—there’s even a club for students to meet and informally swap their works-in-progress. However, I haven’t had time yet to engage with other aspects of the writing scene, such as the slam poetry club, literary magazine, upper-level poetry workshops, etc., but I’m looking forward to getting deeply involved.
I absolutely adore your style of writing, specifically how you paint such vivid pictures in your work. I especially loved Elegy With Fireworks, published in the Lumiere Review. Can you explain how this piece came into being & why you chose to write it?
I wrote this piece after reading Emily Skaja’s beautiful poem “Elegy with Symptoms.” I admired the plaintive yet abstract imagery of the piece, so I wanted to try to replicate the structure in my own style. (Emily Skaja is also just a large source of inspiration for my style, so I recommend everyone read her work!)
In “Elegy with Symptoms,” the first line contains the phrase “I consider the alternatives,” and a later line begins “What happens to a woman at 19 at 25 at 29…” From there, I decided to also center my piece on alternatives—or, as I write, “split lives.” I was 16 at the time of writing this poem, which is why I changed the speaker to a young adult and drew upon personal experiences. Experiences like feeling restless (“I am angry with myself for not leaving, for always staying still”), bottling up emotions (“Here I am as the ocean curled within a conch shell”), and learning to persevere, to maintain some semblance of self-love (“I am holding them to my ears and loving as I am”). So, “Elegy with Fireworks” is a very raw piece—and I think I chose to write it because I was ready to experiment with greater vulnerability in my poems.
What are your aspirations and goals for your future as a writer? Is it something you’d like to focus on full-time or as a hobby?
As of now, I intend to double major in Cultural Anthropology and Creative Writing. I’m probably going to pursue a career related to anthropology—for example, I’ve interned with the American Anthropological Association and am just starting an internship with the Department of State—though I’m also interested in working in the publishing industry. So, creative writing might not be my official focus, but it will definitely remain a lifelong passion, if not a secondary career.
Congrats on being a Semifinalist for the Adroit Prizes this year! Glass Castle is such a gorgeous piece. As I read it, it felt so heavy & thought-out; I was especially intrigued by its connection to the painting Spring by Frank Weston Benson. Can you explain the relationship between the two pieces?
The painting came before the poem, by which I mean that I had bookmarked the painting for a while before I used it for an ekphrastic piece. I loved the saturated, blurred quality of the entire scene, and I immediately felt that there was a story behind the women gazing so wistfully at the flower in her hand. So, I imagined that story. First, I decided the source of the woman’s sorrow: her husband. Because of the diaphonous brush strokes, I wanted the poem to feel dreamy, so I incorporated a lot of abstract imagery, including “My husband walked into the night sky” and “Still / the landscape lies on my tongue. In my throat rushing / with sweetness when I bury the river in my mouth.” At the same time, I sought to recognize that “Spring” is actually a part of a series of paintings; in the Library of Congress, there are four circular paintings by Frank Benson, each of which represents one of the four seasons. So, although “Spring” is the main inspiration, “Glass Castle” unfolds across the seasons.
What is your favorite piece that you have ever created? Why?
You already picked it—“Glass Castle.” I actually wrote this poem as an assignment for the 2021 Adroit Mentorship Program, so it reminds me of a summer where I was just writing constantly and meetings lots of other inspirational writers (including, of course, my mentor, Raena Shirali). Plus, I felt that this was one of the most mature poems I’d written, in the sense that most of my poems concern teenagers/young adults whereas “Glass Castle” is about a woman in an older, more settled-down phase of her life.
I see that you have a few Work-In-Progress books right now (& they all sound really great). Has novel writing been something you’ve always enjoyed, or is it a way to go beyond your horizons?
I’ve always enjoyed novel writing. I knew I wanted to be a novelist long before I fell in love with poetry (though I can’t say I ever had the willpower to finish an entire manuscript when I was younger). Plus, novel writing is typically a much lengthier process, and I take a lot of extended breaks, so I’m not typically as vocal about those projects. For example, I did query one of my manuscripts (which is publishing terminology for submitting it to be considered by various literary agents) and received some interest, so I’m hoping to get back into the novel writing scene in the very near future. Besides, even though creative writing might not be my “official” career, I still plan on becoming a traditionally published novelist—so yes, novel writing pushes me beyond my comfort zone, but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Can you explain the process for drafting/editing these books?
These projects all began during NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is an international challenge where participants write 50,000 words—usually of a novel, though some write poems, short story collections, plays, etc.—during November. Because the time limit is so intense, I always enter with just a story idea, some characters, a few plot points, and let it all unfold from there (a technique affectionately known as “pantsing”). As a result, my first drafts are very rough, and I try not to refine anything until I’ve reached the end of the manuscript. Then, I do go back and revise and edit. Honestly, during senior year of high school, I barely touched my manuscripts, so I’m a bit rusty at the drafting/editing process. But I’m hoping to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year! I want to finally complete the first draft of What the Morning Brings, my project about a Jewish boy who is ensnared by a travelling circus and must save the performers’ souls from dybbuk (malevolent possessing spirits from Jewish folklore)—without losing his own.
I see that you are a mentor for the Incandescent Summer Studio. How wonderful! Do you feel like you’ve learned from your mentee? Is it rewarding to be guiding an aspiring writer?
I’ve learned so much from my mentee (shoutout to Emilee)! I was so nervous about the mentorship because I had never been the one actually teaching the lessons before, but we made a good match. I loved that we could talk about life and not just the Studio because by the end it didn’t even feel like a formal mentorship. I learned a lot about her perspective and her own strategies for writing, and I learned how to be a better teacher (so thanks Emilee for putting up with me despite my initial awkwardness and unpreparedness).
I definitely recommend the experience to other experience and aspiring writers. Being a mentee and being a mentor are two entirely different challenges, but both will improve your writing—and gain you new friends in the process.
In what ways would you recommend teen writers to become more comfortable in the writing world, i.e., workshops, mentorships, writing communities, etc.?
Finding a writing community is responsible for making me so comfortable in the “writing world.” As I said, I’ve always been an introvert, so I never used to share my writing with anyone, even my family. In retrospect, that only made me feel more isolated, and it meant I couldn’t improve from other people’s feedback. Workshops and mentorships are also very helpful in that they are often more specialized and professional than just asking a friend for assistance—but they are also more of a time and financial commitment, so they are by no means a necessity. I found workshops and mentorships more useful after I had already formed a bit of a writing community because I was more comfortable—and more productive—around familiar faces. But if you want to leap right into those opportunities, go for it!
Do you have any favorite literary magazines or authors right now?
Literary magazines: The Adroit Journal, wildness, Waxwing, Longleaf Review, Cheap Pop, Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine.
Authors: Emily Skaja, Kaveh Ahkbar, R.F. Kuang, Nghi Vo, Ada Limón.
I know that a lot of teen writers are nervous about sharing their work. What is some advice you would have wanted to hear when you first began writing?
I would have wanted to hear that accomplishments—winning awards, publishing pieces, etc.—are not the important part of writing. The best thing I’ve gained from meeting other writers is community. I still talk to young writers I met almost four years ago! We’re lifelong friends, workshoppers, and some of us are even college classmates now.
So, if you’re ready to start sharing your work, you can still start small—send it to friends and teachers and don’t worry about literary magazines, competitions, or seemingly prestigious programs. Of course, the latter are all incredible opportunities, and you should take advantage of them if you’re able and comfortable, but your identity as a writing should never hinge on your publishability or publicity. You will always be a writer as long as you choose to be one.
Thank you for your time!