Interview with Shayla Hawkins: Winner of The John Edgar Wideman Microstory Contest

Shayla HawkinsLast Tuesday, we announced Shayla Hawkins as the winner of The John Edgar Wideman Microstory Contest. Her microstory, “A Test”, was selected to be included in future copies of John Edgar Wideman’s latest book, Briefs.

When I read the announcement that Shayla Hawkins had won the contest, I couldn’t help but wonder who this amazing talent was. And I couldn’t help but think that others might want to get to know her as well. I was ecstatic when she agreed to answer a few questions for the Lulu blog.

What do you do for a living and what do you aspire to do?
I’m a freelance writer and editor, but my dream is to be a successful novelist so that I can write great stories with memorable characters whenever I want, wherever I want. And, although it sounds silly because there’s no money in it, I would love to have books of my poems published, too, since I was introduced to literature by way of my early exposure to poetry (fairy tales, nursery rhymes, Bible stories, etc.), and the love that I developed as a child for the rhythm, rich language and concision of good poetry remains with me to this day.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was five years old. But my first published pieces of writing (two poems) appeared in my high school newspaper when I was 15. Although I have yet to publish my first solo book, I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of my creative and academic writing published in journals, magazines, anthologies, literature guides and encyclopedias like Poets & Writers, The Writer Magazine, Windsor Review, The Caribbean Writer, Passages North, Carolina Quarterly, Vwa: Poems for Haiti, and The Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers.

What was your inspiration for “A Test?”
Late one Saturday morning about four years ago, I was standing in the express checkout line at one of the mega discount stores behind this teenaged boy who couldn’t stand still to save his life. Normally, I don’t pay attention to other people in the checkout line or what they’re buying; but this kid was fidgeting so much, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. Then I saw the pregnancy test in his hands and a look of anger and sheer terror on his face. Unlike the teenager in “A Test,” this kid never saw me looking at him and he didn’t throw the test on the floor. But right when it was his turn at the register, he got out of line, put the pregnancy kit on the magazine rack and walked out of the store. I’ve wondered often about him since, and I wrote “A Test” to remember the confusion and dread I think we both felt at that moment.

What do you want readers to take from your microstory?
Well, I would hope they see that even the smallest, most routine moments of any given day are rife with choices to be made and stories just waiting to be told. It also would be useful, I think, for readers to analyze the dichotomy of personal versus collective responsibility. In other words: Are you really your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper? How much (if any) input or responsibility should you have over a stranger’s decision, especially if it’s an awful decision? If you see a teenager (or anybody else) messing up, how much can and should you or any one person intervene? Why? And what does that action or indifference say about the larger society?

Who are your favorite writers?
Oh, Lord!! I could be here all day answering that question. So here instead, and in no particular order, is a brief list of some of my favorite writers: Emily Bronte, Zora Neale Hurston, Laura Esquivel, Pablo Neruda, Charles Johnson, Lucille Clifton, Jean Rhys, Li-Young Lee, Ann Petry, John Donne, John Keats, Wislawa Szymborska, Gwendolyn Brooks, Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, King David (for the Psalms), King Solomon (for the Song of Songs), Daphne du Maurier, Christina Rossetti, Edwidge Danticat, Edward Hirsch, Carl Hiaasen, Langston Hughes, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and, of course…John Edgar Wideman!

Everyone here at Lulu wishes to congratulate to Shayla Hawkins on winning The John Edgar Wideman Microstory Contest. We are certain this isn’t the last we will hear of her success, and look forward to more of her wonderful writing.

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