History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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Gender & Identity Life

I was six when I thought my books would be bestsellers

I have an obsession with words.

Words are my breath, intoxicated by conjunctions, plural multiplying word unto word.

I am obsessed with the feeling of hand cramps after a rampage of stories has been unleashed on to paper.

In all honesty, I can say that I came here to write, even when the letters are uneven soldiers fighting to carve their initials into flaked wood for a single thought. I have wished, prayed, and dreamt of some day being a published author. It’s a dream everyone has at one point: Maybe you aren’t writers, perhaps you don’t even want to write and it’s just the illusion that holds you captive. That someone could be interested in reading something that has your name on it has a certain ring to it.

Even better, that something you thought up is alive, talking words in someone else’s head, giving off a different vibe and personality then you had intended. It’s absolutely beautiful.

I remember my first ‘publishing’ stint like the embarrassing idea was- as I then thought- a good idea.

I had gathered my paper books I had compiled over the two day span it took to pop them out, and sat outside on the stringy grass lawn, expecting a crowd to appear and sell out the stand. Someone from the Scholastic publishing company would smile and start singing like it was High School Musical for me to sell the rights, and I would laugh in my sisters’ faces because, you know, I was a published author, a grown woman!

It was a good idea, I supposed.

Ten minutes later (it felt like hours) I had given up, and I ran inside, melancholy shadowing over me. The questions that followed were what made me reevaluate my motives.

Were my stories not good enough for a world ridden with parasitic ideas that sucked the life out of you? I had written a series based on Ella, a magical girl that could talk to animals and saved them from witches and the dust that lurked under their beds (inspired by my allergic twin). They were bestsellers, I believed, until that moment outside, when reality hit far too close to home.

If the stories I told weren’t interesting, why did I do it?

It was in that moment I knew.

I sat my six year old butt down on the swivel chair and started to write.

I wasn’t writing because what I was saying was a memoir. I didn’t try to be poetic or exceed someone’s expectations with a bestseller, not even a heart-wrenching tale of love, loss, and betrayal.

I started to write for myself.

How I wanted my story to go didn’t entirely depend on Scholastic’s publishing parameters, or my sisters’ praise. It was my obsession to write as it is your instinct to breath – and the best part?

My words are those your mind has uttered. Scholastic, here I come.

Gender & Identity Life

5 times I felt like I definitely didn’t fit society’s expectations

Sometimes, to discover your true self, you need to be put in situations where you feel no support and can relate to nothing. Only then, will you know what you are really made of.

I would be making a wild claim if I say that the situations below have revealed to me my true self, but I can say that combined, they have served as a very helpful thermometer on my journey of self-discovery.

1. As an introvert in an extroverted world:


I am currently a self-proclaimed extroverted introvert and until I discovered that my situation had a legitimate description and that 30% of the population is just like me, I grew up thinking that there was something seriously wrong with me. I’ve been called the two extremes. There’s the arrogant and aloof persona and the shy and timid one.

[bctt tweet=”Only then, will you know what you are really made of.” username=”wearethetempest”]

One thing people don’t get about me is that I am not the biggest fan of weddings.  Well, the idea of celebrating the holy matrimony of two people makes sense to me and all and I even kind of like it.  I just can’t wrap my head around why I, as a guest, am expected to get down and dirty on the dance floor with mega-sized subwoofers blasting painfully loud music right into my ears, THE ENTIRE NIGHT!

What’s wrong with light background music, a LITTLE dancing, and genuine conversations? Consider me confused.

2. As a woman society doesn’t really want me to be:


Newsflash: I do not fit the media’s stereotype of the perfect woman.  I am not concerned about whether or not I’ll be a mother one day, and I love baby animals more than I do kids. I am not into jewelry or makeup or gossiping about the latest trends on the market. I have trouble committing to wearing clothes that match, and as far as I remember, I haven’t gone shopping in more than 5 months. That doesn’t mean that I’m frumpy, ungraceful, self-denying or apathetic. I wouldn’t fit that stereotype either.

[bctt tweet=”Let’s just say again that I am unique, just like everybody else.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Let’s just say again that I am unique, just like everybody else. I just happen not to deliver on the dictation of dichotomous thinking. I have worked so hard and lived this long to learn to accept myself just the way I am.

3. As a creative writer in a materialistic industry:


Driven by passion and curiosity, I took up a job in the creative industry a few years after I had left teaching and academia. I wanted to see what the real world of work was really like and I needed to sharpen my professional and communication skills. I knew this job didn’t entirely match my values but my practical thinking led me to the conclusion that if I waited for circumstances to be perfect, I may never get any of my goals met or any of my old ways changed.

[bctt tweet=”Newsflash: I do not fit the media’s stereotype of the perfect woman. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

However, one year into my job and I still can’t shake off the thought that I am further feeding a culture of consumerism and that the only cause my daily 8 hours of work are serving is the glamorization of stuff and things.

Yikes!  The good news is, however,  that I made up for this lack of a higher purpose in my job by volunteering at an NGO and everybody’s happy now.

4. As a person trying to teach students from a curriculum I didn’t believe in:


I taught stuff I didn’t entirely believe to students who understandably couldn’t see the benefit of what they were forced to learn. As I was just kicking off my career, I did not have a say about the content I was teaching. I was not expected to ask about its objectives, but rather to make sure that I delivered it in whole and to the best of my knowledge and abilities.

I took that job of mine more seriously than I should have, not realizing that it just wasn’t for me – a person who had to identify totally with what she was doing. I worked 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, whiling away my days in lesson preparation, marking and generally selling my soul to what I still think was a noble cause.

But was it for me? Not really.

5. As an inhabitant of this life, generally:


This I know for a fact, that we do not belong in this world, and that we are not supposed to feel like we do because there will come a point when it is time to go and leave it all behind. This makes me feel at ease whenever I feel I don’t fit in somewhere.

I think to myself that if life itself is temporary, then any given situation I might feel trapped in must be too short to be a real problem.  This thought makes me accept whatever life throws at me.

[bctt tweet=”This makes me feel at ease whenever I feel I don’t fit in somewhere. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

At the end of the day, this body of mine is not built to last and this life I have been given is not designed for immortality. Every situation we find ourselves living is a fleeting representation of the temporariness of life itself.

So, I do my best to enjoy the many good life moments that are interspersed with situations like the above that allow me an opportunity to grow and become a better version of myself.

Books Pop Culture Interviews

Bright fashion, burning words: An interview with Tahereh Mafi

Tahereh is a New York Times bestselling author whose first book, Shatter Me, launched her to fame – the rights to the series have been optioned to ABC Signature Studios. The “Shatter Me” series debuted in 2012, and Tahereh’s newest book, “Furthermore,” is releasing August 30, 2016. The California-based writer spoke to The Tempest about her work and inspiration.

The Tempest: Describe the ‘Shatter Me’ series. What was your inspiration for it? What were you trying to achieve with the series?

The entire series revolves around the evolution of a timid girl on her path to becoming a strong, independent young woman. Juliette, the main character, starts out as a kind of skittish, broken animal in “Shatter Me;” when we meet her she’s weak beyond words – on the brink of insanity – but as the series evolves, so too does she.

Her metamorphosis over the course of the three books teaches her to love herself with or without the validation of others. It is, at its core, a story about a girl trying to find herself in a world trying to tell her who to be.

Courtesy of Tahereh Mafi

What differentiates your upcoming work ‘Furthermore’ from ‘Shatter Me’? What’s changed in terms of your style and your experience writing?

My writing always depends on the voice of the protagonist; the minds of my main characters dictate the touch and feel of the prose. In this case, “Furthermore” is more of a modern fairytale; it’s a love letter to some of my favorite childhood stories: “Anne of Green Gables,” “Harry Potter,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Alice in Wonderland” – and it’s written in a more storybook fashion.

What are you reading right now?

The last thing I read was “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka.

What are you trying to achieve, generally speaking, with your work?

I want to write stories that speak to the complexity of humanity.

What’s your advice to young women of color looking to get into this field?

Your voice is critical – perhaps more critical than ever – and I hope you will never give up. Please don’t ever stop trying. We need you.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Love Life Stories

Becoming a powerful writer was a struggle for me

This year’s been a year of firsts. It’s my first year of college, my first taste of independence, and the first time any writing of mine has ever been published.

My first interaction with The Tempest started as a notification in my inbox. A mutual contact forwarded me the fellowship application on the the premise that I might be interested. I clicked the link. Scrolled around. Read a couple of the articles. Read the fellowship descriptions. Read the “About us” page.

I was sold in less than ten minutes. I immediately replied to the email. “I LOVE THIS! Going to send in an application today.”

And so I did.

I was torn at first — which position should I apply for? Each one offered a fresh, edgy spin on media making, and I wanted to do all the things. I ultimately decided to apply for an Editorial Fellowship. I love to write, and honestly, Editorial made the most sense. This was an opportunity of a lifetime – why wouldn’t I want my voice featured on a platform as awesome as this one?

That was back in September of 2015. Now, six months and dozens of articles later, I’ve developed my voice as a writer and finally found my groove.

Writing for The Tempest is easy. It’s easy because I’m writing from the heart. It’s a blessing to have the chance to write about what’s important to me, in an environment that simultaneously understands and supports my voice.

As an Arab-American female and student, it’s almost too easy for me to get overlooked in the media world. I’m young, I’m hyphenated, and I’m “foreign.” I’m constantly toeing the line between my two cultures, struggling to be “Arab enough” and trying to figure out what the heck an “American” really is. As disheartening as it is, I know there are people out there who want to silence me, and ensure I’m as marginalized as possible.

I won’t let them do that to me.

The power to tell someone’s story, amplify his or her voice, and subsequently uplift an audience is an incredible feat. And this is exactly what The Tempest is doing right now. 

Ensuring that underrepresented voices are strengthened and amplified in the media is a goal I completely stand behind. The world consistently underestimates and brushes off voices like mine, and this is exactly why The Tempest exists – we have something to say, and everyone needs to hear it. 

Confession: I struggle to be a person others would consider as “outgoing.” By nature, I’m pretty quiet – I like to listen and observe my surroundings. My teachers in high school spent all four years trying to get me to open up. Every semester, their comments went something like this: “She’s a great student, but I really want to see her speak up more in class. She has so much to share!” The old me would rather watch a storm from afar (albeit with admiration) and report her findings on it later.

[bctt tweet=”The old me would rather watch the storm from afar. Not anymore. “]

I’ve now learned that while it’s okay to stand at the periphery sometimes, you really have to just close your eyes and jump right in.

There have been several times when I’ve doubted my ability to produce interesting content. I’ve hesitated when I think of whether or not people will see me as “cool” or “intriguing.” There are people out there who want me to feel this way, and I can’t let them win. I remind myself that this is a platform for everyone, and that my voice is important. That, in itself, is reason enough to swallow all my doubts and push forward.

Publishing dozens of articles this year has definitely made me a more confident writer. Through the various writing I’ve done this year, I’ve been able to fine-tune my voice, and delve deeper into my interests. And through it all, I’ve learned to weather through some of my struggles.

I can say that now, more than ever, I’m ready to field any storm that comes my way. 

“Words are…our most inexhaustible source of magic,” as best said by J.K. Rowling (yes! I’m a Potterhead). This is probably my favorite quote ever, because it’s so undeniably true. I should never, and will never, underestimate the power of my story.

[bctt tweet=”I can say that now, more than ever, I’m ready to field any storm that comes my way. “]

I went from being someone who watches storms from afar, to being part of the movement that’s starting one. I’m so glad to be a part of a team of empowered, fierce women. We’re shaking things up, changing the status quo, and supporting one another in more ways than one.

Love Life Stories

7 very significant questions to ask myself in 10 years

When I was 14 or 15 years old, I started a to-do list I called “metrics of adulthood.” It was a list of 40 items my precocious teenaged self considered essential to being called an adult. “Get a credit card,” I instructed myself. “Tip someone. Be able to navigate the public transit. Sign a contract. Have my own keys. Be able to wear heels easily.” Sure, I’ve nearly given up on that last one, but over the years, I’ve ticked off nearly half.

Now that I have a better grip on my plans, prospects and fears as a woman starting her twenties, I think it’s time I revisit this topic by asking few extremely important questions of my future self. So, Aysha of 2026…

1. You don’t feel old, do you?

If you do, don’t. Right now, the phrase “30 is the new 18” is all the rage. The creative writing teacher at your high school who all the boys drooled over was at least 32 when you graduated. You’re probably doing alright. Honestly, you still have time to change your career twice, pick up a few degrees and turn out to be an award-winning professor or something.

2. You’ve turned into our mother, haven’t you?

Do you say things like “Go ask your father” and “You’ll understand when you have kids of your own”? Don’t try to lie to me — I can feel the transformation happening as we speak. What can I do to halt this process in its tracks? Has the medical field not advanced at all by 2026?

3. Are you still writing?

Please tell me you’re still writing. Or reporting, or editing. Coding? Designing? Tweeting? Heck, even photographing or filming? Anything to prove that your college education, internships and hours of redesigning your resume weren’t total wastes of time and money.

4. Things have gotten better, right?

When you look back at your youth, do you think of it as the worst part of your life or your golden era? By which I mean, like, is this as good as it’s gonna get? Please respond with something motivational about the beauty and excitement of the New World ahead of me so that I don’t refuse to get out of bed tomorrow morning.

5. Are listicles still a thing?


Related: Is BuzzFeed still a thing? Have they taken indeed over the journalism world, too, through a savvy strategy of stealing investigative reporters and producing high-quality storytelling alongside admittedly trashy but utterly relatable ~content~? These questions keep me up at night.

6. Did my undergrad GPA have any effect whatsoever on your life?

Half the people in my life told me very knowingly that I should have dump all my extracurriculars and focused on keeping my grade point average as high as I can; others say your college years don’t matter at all. So, O Enlightened One…what’s the dealio? Did anything I did before graduation have any impact on how you’re living your life today?

7. Before you go — is J.K. Rowling still releasing random tidbits of Harry Potter-related information?


Who am I kidding? Yes. She is. Of course she is.