1. When did you start writing?
"Like many writers, I started early. I wrote a picture book when I was six which was my first experience with creative writing. I got really inspired by a talk our elementary school class had with a visiting author. He told us that writing was something we should want to quit but couldn’t, and I felt like that was one of the first times I really identified with another person.
A fourth-grade friend and I wrote poetry together, so I really have her to thank for getting me started as a poet. More serious fiction writing started happening around 7th or 8th grade and continued for many years, with fits and starts, until I decided to leave my graduate program in philosophy and become more serious about creativity. More recently, I took a break from writing to deal with real life issues and came back in October 2019."
2. What drew you to write poetry?
“In addition to collaborations with Liz as a child, my parents and I employed poetry as a love language, writing each other poems on special occasions. In my teenage years, poetry became a way to connect with others in my friend group and express my identity—and, as for many, emotions and problems I couldn’t quite manage. Poetry was one of my favorite genres, and even though my education was quite traditional and limited, I loved getting lost in Poe, Blake, and foreign language poets like Rilke, Lorca, and Borges. However I became really discouraged in college and even in my MFA program. I took a guilty pleasure poetry workshop on the side because I felt like I would never be good at poetry, but I couldn’t quit writing it. So I boxed myself in as ‘solely’ a fiction writer and poetry as a ‘hobby.’
When I returned to writing in 2019, I felt freer to explore my interests and primarily came back as a poet. I took a workshop in early 2020 where our motto was “run towards what scares you” and for me, what scared me the most was trying my hardest and still being terrible at poetry. So I ran towards that.”
3. What drew you to write prose?
“I think imagination encapsulates it, as well as the many many wonderful books I read especially as a child. I wanted to create that type of immersive world you could get lost in, characters you could resonate with. Even when the canon writing was flawed, I’d find myself returning to those lands in my imagination over and over again. Growing up as an adoptee, I was hungry for representations of myself that could fill this gap I perceived in my world. I had no words to even begin to express this, but I knew I could read and, for a time, forget myself.”
4. Where does your inspiration come from?
“I go through periods of input—sometimes repeated input—and output. When I feel my way into a kernel of an idea, I get a good instinct for what I need to see or do to close the loop. I’m working on a Loki/adoptee prose poem at the moment and I’m watching old Marvel movies. I’m not even sure what I need to see in them, but I know there’s more material there I can unlock if I go over to that place.
I used to be someone who forgot inspiration quickly and thought you needed to be inspired to write, but graduate school and juggling a million other things broke me of that.”
5. On your author page you say you had originally intended to become a professor. Instead, you pursued creative arts. What lead you to this decision?
“It might sound a little morbid, but in my doctoral program I came to a fork in the road and I asked myself, if I die without doing this which will I regret more? I realized that I had always wanted to pursue arts and music, but I had always thought they were not practical enough. I got my heart broken, actually, in classical music before I applied to MFA programs. I couldn’t pursue that dream, so I turned to writing instead—that makes it sound lesser, but writing, visual art, and music have always been tantamount in my life.
However, philosophy has been an enormous benefit to me. I don’t have a traditional writing education in many ways, but philosophy is all about distilling language, analyzing structures, establishing a way of seeing the world, and using metaphors and concrete details to explain big abstract ideas. So I don’t consider that a waste.”
6. What do you hope people take away from your work?
“I hope that others will read my work and be as inspired as I was—not just to write, but to exist. That they’ll find some essence of belonging there, some reflection of themselves or a place they’ll love and want to revisit. I had so many struggles with my own existence in so many ways; I want to put that on display not as trauma porn, but to assert autonomy in my own personal story, and lead others by example. I see so many writers leading the charge into a better world, and I hope to be part of that.”
7. Currently, you are an editor at Chestnut Review, Uncharted Mag, and The Hanok Review. You’ve also worked at other magazines. What have these experiences taught you so far? Has it influenced your writing?
“I cannot describe how wonderful it’s been to collaborate with authors, readers and staff to publish amazing new work and pitch in at lit mags. It’s taught me so much about working with and respecting others, not just their writing but as people. And it has both honed my own critical eye towards my own work and my appreciation of the editorial process. I don’t like it when editors don’t exercise basic courtesy towards submitters on the one hand, and I don’t support that, but I also know how little time editors have and how much lit mags are labors of love. So although I expect some standards to be met like informing submitters of rejections, being transparent with their guidelines etc., I also know how many good pieces we have to reject and I can shrug after a rejection and move on.”
8. What other project(s) do you hope to take on?
“At the moment, I have my hands full just trying to work on the projects I have now. I keep pushing my timelines back, which sounds bad, but it’s because I’m learning so much and expanding on what I thought was possible for me. I’m working on a literary science fiction microchap/chapbook about adoptee identity, space travel, colonization and climate, my main poetry chapbook on adoption, and I’ve recently come back to writing a novel project as part of GrubStreet’s Novel Generator. I’d love to write a speculative poetry chapbook on Korean and Korean American identity, especially centered around women. I have a couple other hybrid chapbook ideas in the works, as well as some mind worms for an essay collection. So maybe what I should really work on is either getting super rich and quitting my day job, or cloning myself so one of me can just dedicate time to writing and not worry about like, emptying the dishwasher and spending quality time with other human beings!”
9. What’s the best writing advice you’ve been told or happened to overhear? Or, what writing advice would you offer?
“A philosophy professor once told me never back down, never apologize. This was really bad advice for Maria the potential professor, but it was great advice for Maria the human being. I think you can own anything or break any rule in writing if you do it well enough, so you should keep becoming more you-like, if that makes any sense. Now, I’m not saying to hurt others and/or own your mistakes, and I’m also not saying to just mythically believe in yourself above all else and never take feedback or conventional wisdom. But you need to stand your ground somewhat and have a vision for your work. If you bend and bend eventually you will break; you will quit writing or give up on the project that’s the most important to you, because that one is the most painful to work on.”
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
“I love online lessons, workshops, and classes—not just about writing but about almost anything. I’m the type of person who is sad when they’re not actively learning new stuff, sometimes too much stuff at once. But I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills I can apply to my writing, hobbies, job, and/or all of the above. My friends always come to me if they need help with finding classes, degrees, upskilling, etc., and I love recommending stuff to them and giving advice.
If I had more time and money I would have a zillion certificates, degrees, and random credentials. I already do have way too many compared to the normal person. There are a couple courses I’d like to complete on EdX this year, a couple tracks in language apps, continuing my language lessons on sites like Italki, and of course I’m signed up for seven writing workshops—thankfully, mostly one-offs!—as well as the Novel Generator. I have a Trello to keep track of it all so I don’t overcommit in time and/or mental energy, and that’s even with not being able to afford a lot of interesting opportunities that I see. I love researching these kinds of things and I kind of thrive on the chaos of it all. I had a very demanding undergraduate experience and I’m used to balancing a lot of things at once. So, definitely reach out if you need my help with writing programs, opportunities, specific workshops etc. I love talking about this!”
Hear Maria read her poem "Prose Poem for Representation."
Maria S. Picone is a Korean American adoptee who won Cream City Review’s 2020 Summer Poetry Prize. She has been published in Ice Floe Press, Bending Genres, Whale Road Review, and more, including Best Small Fictions 2021. She has received grants from Kenyon Review, Lighthouse Writers, GrubStreet, The Watering Hole, SAFTA, The Speakeasy Project, and others. She is the prose editor at Chestnut Review, poetry editor at The Hanok Review, and associate editor at Uncharted Mag. Her website is mariaspicone.com, Twitter @mspicone.
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