Winner of Best Literature: From an Immigrant Mother by Mary Kamara
Tell us a little about yourself? Do you have preferred pronouns? Are you currently a student, and in what grade/major?
I use She/her, and I’m technically a Junior but I have three semesters left till graduation. I am major in English and minor in creative writing and cinema.
I came to VCU to be a lawyer but realized wasn’t the path for me, and I changed it to international studies because I thought I might want to do politics and study that area. But then meet the coolest people ever who were going to do broadway or be screenwriters and stuff like that and hanging out with them all freshman year I realized that this is what I wanted to do.
I took the fall semester off to figure out what I actually want to do. I knew when I came to screenwriting I wanted to pull from history, such as Hamilton. Pulling from history but putting a creative spin to it. And I knew I really wanted to do documentaries, so that pulled in cinema. And I had been writing poetry my whole life so that was my creative writing minor.
Finally, with English, I knew that someday I also wanted to teach (I have a lot of things I want to do)! I want to teach in a different country, I love to travel and it would be great to get paid for it. So something I am currently looking into is teaching English in France, that would be the first country I would want to go to.
Could you tell us about this piece? Is there an artist statement that you would like to share about this piece?
“The inspiration for the piece is that I have a lot of friends that are first-generation, and I am as well, and it is a very distinct feeling/experience. To have your parents come from another country and for them to not always understand what you are talking about but for them to be trying their best. And I have had conversations with my mom where she does not understand the racism in American, she sorta gets it but not always. She struggles with understanding why people are coming after her because she is African. Having these conversations with my mom is interesting because her point of view is from one of an immigrant and mine is being the first-generation black in America.
It’s funny many people think I am talking about myself, being a mother and having children...I’m 21 that is far off. I tell them it’s from the perspective of my mother. And it’s attributed to her and understanding her experience in America. And how being an immigrant affects her in American.
What is your favorite part of From an Immigrant Mother?
My favorite part, there are a couple of parts that I really like, but the part where it’s the first stanza “The blood dripping from the hands” That entire first stanza is my favorite because of the imagery. Later on, the part where I talk about “even if she can accept America, what would America think of her?”
It’s funny how a year ago the poem was so different, it was a completely different poem. I was inspired by a mentor to push the poem further. Because originally it wasn’t even from my mother’s perspective, it was from the perspective of me talking about my mother. And my mentor said that it would just be so much more impactful it if was from my mother’s point of view - in a performance piece, it would be more impactful from her stance. SO I completely changed it! So really the whole poem is my favorite, but those two stand out to me.
What is your creative process when writing?
Never try to force anything, If I have that feeling I step away from the poem. I have this habit - there’s this quote from an Audrey Lorde book called Sister Outsider where she says “I often have to remind myself that poetry isn’t play-doh.” And I agree that you have to stop yourself from overworking it and playing with it. At some point, you have to step away, to stop playing with. And I have the habit of wanting to mess with my poems until I think they are perfect, but really a poem or anything that comes from a place of creativity can be perfect. It can just be as good as it is at that moment.
There will always be something that can be changed and there will always be times when people won’t like it. I have given up poems that people have really liked because it wasn’t for me. And I knew it wasn’t for me.
So for this particular poem the processes with really just knowing when to step away when needed and then also learning to stop and not play with it anymore, just letting it be.
Another part of my creative process is just meeting new people and going to new places. Traveling always helps me to feel inspired. If I am very blocked going outside helps. Sitting under a tree and seeing the sky is always peaceful, seeing how big the universe is and how small I am, makes me feel better. ALSO talking to people younger than me is so much fun. They don’t have any restrictions and so having workshops with younger poets is so open and a lot of fun.
While writing From an Immigrant Mother did you come across any difficulties? Writer’s Block for instance, and how did you manage to overcome them to finish the piece?
Definitely writer’s block! When I was changing it from my perspective to my mother’s took a couple of months. Only a handful of poems have taken me this long to write. With writer’s block when I was initially writing it I was only thinking about my mother as my mother, but I had to start thinking about it how originally she wasn’t a mother, she was an individual coming to a new land. She is an individual with her own struggles as an immigrant.
It’s funny my mother hates driving yet she gave up her life and came to a new country, came into a completely different culture - which is so scary! Yet she’s scared of driving! She is now a nurse during a pandemic which is crazy!! She came over as her own person and then began life here. She became a mother later.
Did you write From an Immigrant Mother to submit for Pwatem or did you write it beforehand? If you wrote it beforehand why did you decide to submit to Pwatem?
When it was originally done, which was spring 2019, I was in a reading writing class and I shared it with that class, and they encouraged me to submit to a publication. I thought about it and at that time I didn’t’ want to submit it, I didn’t think I could share it just yet. It didn’t hit me that I wanted it to be seen until later on, slowly as the conversation about immigration became stronger (and the climate around immigration became worse) it made me want to submit the piece.
I remember there was this news article that made me want to submit the piece, I can’t really remember the article now but it made me want to share the pieces because I feel like not a lot of stories were being shared about African Immigrants.
Also, My UNIV professor told me about pwatem!
How does it feel knowing that your piece was selected as best literature?
It feels really good! I was excited to submit but to know that people enjoyed reading it feels great! When I got the email I ran to my sisters and said: “I got published and I got an award!”
What is one thing you want people to take away when they read your piece?
I want people to recognize the experience of an African immigrant. Tho usually, I leave it up to the reader, readers take away what they need to take away.
Do you have any advice for future authors? Or what advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t listen to anybody else! Listen to constructive criticism but don’t let negative comments get to you. Don’t get caught up in what you think is bad. Get it on paper without judgment, don’t worry about good and bad, you can fix that later. There is always going to be a revision process.
And then share your poetry! Even if it’s one or two people that’s fine, you don’t have to share it with the world at first. Share with poets but than also share it with people who know nothing about poetry! Because if it doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t poets then it needs to be revised.
What are you plans or goals for the future? And how are you going to continue writing?
I want to get into spaces that I can work with younger poets. In regards to my poetry, I love self-publishing, ever summer I put together a book myself. I love the intimacy of putting together the book and the whole process. So I definitely want to continue that. And of course, I am going to continue writing and finding new ideas. I am also excited to expand my writing into new mediums.