History Poetry Forgotten History Lost in History

You probably don’t know about Hettie Jones, a crusading Beat poet

You’ve heard of a Jack Kerouac, but have you ever heard of a Hettie Jones?

The Beat Literary Movement of the 1950s is coined for its explicit subject matter and bohemian lifestyle. Americans in the 1950’s lived in largely suburban towns and felt threatened by things like communism. Men went to work in suits and women stayed home to cook, clean, and tend to the children.

The rebel, beatnik, group of authors that made up the Beat Generation were iconoclastic. Much of their work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. They experimented with form and structure while writing about sex, drugs, and religion. Traditional literary houses rejected them and looked down on them as a group as being defiant, untalented, and unprofessional. 

I think that their being unconventional was the whole point, though.

They were the antithesis of mainstream American life.

They wanted to publish anything that was deemed inappropriate by society. These people were tired of the routine, and frankly, felt beaten down by the conservative lifestyle that they were stuck in. They were highly controversial in that they were the antithesis of mainstream American life and writing. Many of their works of poetry and prose focused on shifts of consciousness and escaping “squareness.” The stereotype around the Beats is that they were not in favor of what they considered to be straight jobs. Instead, they lived together, packed into small and dirty apartments, sold drugs, had sex with each other, and committed crimes. They are also known for exploring homosexuality, which was a highly taboo topic in 1950’s America.

Though they set many precedents together, the Beats still succumbed to the blatant sexism of the time. Most, if not all, of the women involved in the Beat literary movement were overshadowed by their male counterparts for no particular reason other than gender. These women were just as intelligent and qualified to question society as the beatnik men who have become well-known poets and activists.

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One of the most iconic, and downplayed, female poets of that time who deserves righted acknowledgment is Hettie Jones. 

Hettie Jones published 23 books- and yet, we forgot her

Hettie Jones is most known for her marriage to the famous Beat Poet Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Few people know that Hettie helped run Totem Press, one of the more important beat publishers, along with her husband. She went on to publish about 23 books, one being a memoir of her time spent with Amiri and the rest of the Beats titled, How I Became Hettie Jones (1990). She has also written for many prestigious journals, lectured writing across America, and began the literary magazine “Yugen.”

Hettie is one of my favorite poets, so I think that her writing deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement, right there with the boys who got so much praise for their work. 

Hettie’s writing is rooted in practical idealism. She left her family home in Long Island to go to college and to fully discover herself. When she graduated in 1955, she never turned back, and moved to New York City. She met Amiri while working at The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. He was a young, black poet with just as much intelligence and intensity as Hettie. They quickly fell in love and moved in together. They would go to poetry readings at cafes and bohemian bars, where they met many of the other Beat poets.

Hettie deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement.

When the pair founded their own magazine, they published the writings of many of the iconic beat players who could not find a home for their writing in the traditional sphere. Hettie was in charge of editing the works that were to be published in the magazine. It was here that she honed her craft and found power in the refined writing that makes her work stand out from the rest. 

By 1960, Hettie and Amiri had two children, were married, and lived in New York City. Being a biracial family, though, countless bigoted remarks were directed towards them regardless of the Beat scene. Hettie was on the receiving end of most of these cold stares and was able to see the world through the eyes of her husband and children. This affected her incredibly and eventually became a recurring theme in her writing.  

When Amiri became tightly involved with the Black Power movement, he was criticized for having a white wife. They divorced in 1968. Hettie thrived on her own though and made a living with her children while teaching and editing. Her separation from her husband also gave Hettie an outlet to speak up and finally publish works of her own. She has been quoted to say, “Without a him in the house, there was more space/time for her, and I tried to redefine the way a woman might use it.” 

To this day, Hettie’s writing is compassionate. She writes about her own experiences in a compelling manner while weaving in the issues that she cares about. Currently, Hettie lives in New York City, and is a writer and lecturer. In addition, she runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women where she recently published a volume of writing by incarcerated women.

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Tech Now + Beyond

I almost gave up on creative writing, but Twitter saved my passion

A good half of my life has been dedicated to reading books I’ve always dreamed of publishing novels one day. As early as 11, I began my attempts to write one. Because of this love for literature, I went on to taking Communication Arts in college. I went on to focus on the Writing track of the program. Through that, I got to practice creative writing through the track, but it wasn’t all for the better.

I wasn’t satisfied with my final grades in creative writing classes. For someone who aspired to become a published author, those average marks weren’t something that I could actually be proud of. It seemed as though the time constraint for doing literary outputs drained the creativity out of me.

In my third year, I took creative writing classes taught by a professor who was respected in the field, having won national awards that many writers dream of. It might have been inspiring to be a student of such a prominent teacher, but it was also one of the hardest semesters that I had to endure. Afterward, I actually started to believe that creative writing wasn’t for me.

The safest thing to say is that I’m comfortable with the so-called “traditional” way of teaching. The workload and pressure were already strenuous enough to even have to endure emotionally draining treatment.

Image description: Martin Freeman as John Watson in BBC's Sherlock, saying "That wasn't kind"
[Image description: Martin Freeman as John Watson in BBC’s Sherlock, saying “That wasn’t kind”] via
I took a leave of absence from school in the latter half of 2017. In the process of using the time in my hands productively, I found some literary magazines through Twitter. Literary magazines are, as the name suggests, publications solely dedicated to showcasing contemporary literature and art.

My first actual acceptance was from a poetry journal called Black Napkin Press, for an erasure poem that criticized the state-sanctioned Philippine War on Drugs.

It was a thrill seeing my name alongside some poets who already made a name for themselves in the literary community on Twitter. What’s more was that, upon reading my work, a former professor of mine messaged me to say that I should write more. That was when I became inspired to get to know more about the community and maybe get published once more.

Not only did I start writing again, but I also became more active in the community as a staff reader for some magazines. The job was primarily to read submissions and decide whether they should be accepted or not. Through these tasks, I was able to learn and develop my skills in both editing and writing.

Writing to get published isn’t the best motivation to keep you going, but it most definitely was enough to rekindle my love for the craft. The literary community that I found on Twitter, or at least the part of it that I managed to become a part of, has been nothing but supportive and welcoming. Fellow writers and editors soon became friends. What’s best is that I get to work on my pieces at my own pace.

There is a sort of discrimination of contemporary literature in the academy, which isn’t so surprising. People who have a degree in writing are often more likely to dismiss those who have no academic background in the field. As a student, I’ve often encountered professors who’d say that writers shouldn’t dare break the rules of traditional forms without having mastered them beforehand. Clearly, some amateur online writers in the Philippines are being given opportunities to have their work published in print. In their case, the appeal goes beyond tasteful deconstruction of proper structure and downgrades to mere relatability.

However, this is almost entirely different from the case of independent publishing in the literary community. The writers that I became acquainted with are nothing short of brilliant.

If it weren’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t have found such a supportive community that continues to fuel my passion. This revival of passion even drove me to found my own literary journal. Gaps remain in this new-found community. Writers and artists of color do not have enough platforms that are solely theirs, which was why earlier in 2018, I founded The Brown Orient, which exclusively showcases writers and artists from South, Southeast, Middle East, and Central Asia, as well as those in the diaspora.

Image description: The cast of Netflix's Sense8 in a group hug
[Image description: The cast of Netflix’s Sense8 in a group hug] via
This is the ideal learning experience: with people who give constructive criticism while also showing support in your craft. Published works may not always be compensated, but being a part of this literary community was the kind of inspiration that I needed to revive my passion for the craft, and I’m grateful.

Humor Life

7 moments you definitely had when applying to grad school

I’m in the middle of applying for graduate school, and it’s been a stressful and often tedious process. I made the decision to apply for English and literature Ph.D. programs somewhat last minute, so I am obviously partly to blame for the overwhelming amounts of work I’m finding myself buried under. But, in my defense, sending transcripts and GRE scores, coordinating with professors and mentors, getting your personal statement down to a flawless science, proofreading your writing samples, studying (and trying to relearn math, in my case) for the GRE, keeping track of deadlines, and filling out the same info over and over on grad school applications can feel like a wild dumpster fire.

If you have applied to grad school, or, like me, are in the midst of it right now, the following scenarios will definitely resonate with you.

1. Feeling like you’re approaching a mental breakdown from all the GRE studying

[Image Description: A picture of a cartoon character with a worried look on his face and an open book kept on the table.]
This applies to those taking the MCAT and LSAT, of course, but since I took the GRE, I will be referencing that god-awful test. If you saw me at any point in August or early September, chances are my eyes were glazed over and I had a short temper. You could find me shuttered away in my room studying my Princeton Review prep book and wondering if I was going to die of exhaustion before I even took the exam.

2. Proofreading, proofreading again and then proofreading your supplemental documents one last time

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You know that “I don’t really give a fuck at this point, I’m just going to submit my work” attitude you could cop at college when you were burnt out and ready to never see that essay again? Yeah, it doesn’t work like that on grad school applications. I’ll be damned if I’m rejected because of a spelling error.

3. Obsessing over your personal statement because, oh my God, it has to be perfect

[Image Description: A woman wearing glasses looking through a magnifying glass.]
Is it unique enough? Are the people in admissions going to be impressed or bored? Did I write enough about the research I plan to do? Does it seem too cliché? Do I even sound intelligent? These are the questions that will run through your head as you’re writing and editing your personal statement. After you submit it, you’ll probably dream about it.

4. Trying not to worry about your lack of a Plan B if you don’t get accepted somewhere

[Image Description: A woman with short blonde hair saying “I’ve just never been so scared in my life.]
Many grad school programs are small and highly competitive, so you probably feel a lot of pressure as you’re applying. It’s scary to think about what you’ll do if you aren’t offered admission anywhere. Scary as in, “I really don’t think I have any life prospects” if you can’t go back to school. But why put yourself through more mental suffering? Try to ignore this horrible potential reality for as long as possible.

5. Letting the sticker shock of those pricey application fees sink in

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There goes my entire savings account. I feel like I have to take out a loan just to apply to grad school in the first place. Paying over 100 dollars per application is painful and cruel. Also, I’m not going to be able to afford food or gas after all this.

6. Feeling incredibly honored when your past professors enthusiastically offer to write your letters of recommendation

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I was super humbled and grateful, but that might also be because I’m just super cheesy. But let’s be honest, it’s a great feeling to know that someone is writing good things about you and truly wants you to succeed. Shout out to the professors who are taking the time and effort to help me out.

7. Having a sense of peace wash over you after you click the “Submit Application” button

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Ahh, this harrowing part of the journey to grad school is over! What’s done is done, and you just have to hope for the best and see if your hard work pays off. It’s out of your hands! Now you get to nervously wait for the next several months to know if you got accepted.

If you’re applying to grad schools, hang in there and try to retain some sanity. If you’ve already applied or are currently enrolled in graduate courses, relish the fact that you’ve successfully navigated this difficult process.

Tech Career Advice Now + Beyond

I would have never advanced in my writing career without Twitter

The process of applying for a job is grueling.

Even after devoting an entire afternoon to tweaking your resume and writing a perfect cover letter, many times you never hear back from the company or hiring manager. If you’re one of the lucky ones who do manage to cure an in-person interview well, that comes with more nervousness and preparation.

The job-searching cycle is stressful enough for a person without anxiety. For a person with anxiety, the process seems completely insurmountable.

I am a writer, but writing as a profession has brought me imposter syndrome. I am constantly comparing myself and my career to other writers in my field. I’m always comparing their milestone to my own milestones. These feelings of insecurity get magnified once my anxiety gets a hold of them, they cause me to doubt my own abilities. For a long time, I felt as though I wasn’t “good enough” to take necessary career risks.

Social media, more specifically Twitter, has been crucial to breaking out of my self-imposed shell.

I first made a Twitter account way back in 2008. At the time, I was a junior in high school and I had only signed up for an account because the members of my favorite band, My Chemical Romance, had all made profiles on Twitter. I used the platform mainly to keep track of my friends and of my favorite celebrities. I continued using it this way for years, decades even. I didn’t realize how much Twitter could help me professionally until very recently.

Last summer while lazily scrolling down my timeline I noticed a small food and lifestyle blog that tweeted out a call for freelance writers. Hmmm, I thought to myself. I like food and I love writing, I could totally do that.

I quickly typed up a cover letter, fixed up my resume, and sent them over an email.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting to hear back.

But I did. Almost immediately.

Twitter allowed me to secure my first freelance gig and I was in awe.

Approaching new people has always been difficult for me. Though I’m a “fake it ’til you make it” sort of girl when necessary, the act of mingling in a room full of strangers has never felt comfortable or natural to me.

But, the internet is a whole different story. I’m a product of the early 2000s where sites like Myspace and Tumblr reigned supreme. I am very comfortable navigating murky internet spaces but it never occurred to me that I could use this skill to help propel my writing career. After securing that first freelance position, I started following editors and writers I admired on Twitter.

It was honestly like opening a door to a previously unchartered world.

I had completed revolutionized my timeline. I managed to construct my own little creative space where I was confronted with witty and thoughtful pieces each time I opened up my Twitter app. Suddenly all of these new opportunities were quite literally at my fingertips. The process of reaching out and connecting with these new people, something that had once felt impossible, was now more attainable.

In April of this year, after seeing the application for The Tempest fellowship program being shared and retweeted on my timeline, I decided to take the plunge. I did my best to force my anxiety down and complete the form.  Just like when I applied for that very first freelance gig, I never expected to get accepted into the fellowship.

But I was.

The Tempest fellowship has been one of the most enriching experiences of life thus far and I have Twitter (and of course, my own badass skills as a writer) to thank for that.

Being a writer with anxiety in such a cutthroat industry that constantly stresses the importance of “the hustle” is difficult but not impossible.

I’ve learned that sometimes you simply have to find tips and tricks that make it easier for you and your mental health to thrive. For me, Twitter becomes an unexpected but valuable tool in accelerating my writing career and I could not be more grateful.