By Marlena Chertock
If you walk into Jiménez Hall, Room 1215 on Wednesday nights, you will be covered in conversations about form, word choice and details.
“There’s an emotion behind why someone is scared or hesitant, maybe explain or show it more than just dot-dot-dot,” one editor said on Nov. 2. “Punctuation is a visual explanation of emotion versus actual explanation of emotion,” another said.
This was the fourth meeting of the Promising Young Authors (PYA), a new group on campus that makes the University of Maryland the eighth school with the program. It offers student writers feedback on their pieces and the opportunity to be published in the Washington Pastime Literary Magazine, in Washington D.C.
Senior Vanessa Munoz, who runs the PYA chapter at university, started it by accident.
“I found out about the program from the English Department Friday Facts email about three weeks into fall semester,” Munoz said. “I applied for the position of student support manager thinking that the group already existed on campus. I was surprised to find I was being asked to start the group from the ground up.”
Now PYA at UMD has four staff members. Munoz is the student group manager. Garland is the senior editor, and senior Brittany Britto and junior Dex Fitch are also editors.
Fitch, an English major, joined PYA because he transferred from Temple University in Japan and wanted to get involved on campus. “I really want to see a University of Maryland student get published,” he said.
The editors and Munoz complete the first round of editing, pointing out flaws in the plot, grammatical errors, too many clichés.
Then Garland reads through the submissions for the second stage of editing, refining the pieces and not changing too much. “I look to see if the writers listened to the suggestions our editors have,” she said. “I’m just another sounding board, basically.”
By the end of finals, the editors will collaboratively decide on the best two submissions and send them to the Washington Pastime Literary Magazine, along with submissions from other colleges with PYA groups.
Munoz is happy with the submission process. “The number of people who have expressed interest in the program is exciting,” she said.
The most difficult part of editing is turning down a submission, according to Fitch. “I feel bad letting people down,” he said.
Submissions have to be less than 6,000 words and can’t contain elements of erotica. They can be fiction and literary nonfiction. The magazine is mostly looking for short stories, so PYA tries to let students know that, Fitch said.
Workshops generally consist of a calm or heated conversation about someone’s writing, style, what readers liked and connected to and where the plot became confusing or less strong.
“I love walk-ins,” said Fitch. “Every time someone walks in unexpectedly and joins the conversation, it’s great. It’s an extra voice.”
Junior Krystal Moore’s short story about a boy with wings who was kidnapped and trapped in a carnival for years was workshopped on Nov. 2. “The fact that they told me it’s better to have more in a story than less was most helpful, because I was always told if you can say it in less words, do it,” she said.
One member travels from DC every Wednesday for the meetings.
“You have to make your own community,” said Madebo Fatunde, a junior creative writing major at George Washington University. “It’s always good to meet other writers.”
George Washington University does not have a PYA program and there’s nothing like a group of students who edit each other’s writing there, Fatunde said. He heard of the program through Britto.
“The most rewarding part has been the opportunity to give other students a chance to get their work published,” Munoz said. “It’s really what all young writers aspire for. It’s really nice to be a part of that.”
To find out more or become involved with PYA at UMD, you can attend the weekly meetings on Wednesdays, in 1215 Jiménez Hall, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
View more photos on The Writers’ Bloc Facebook page.