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2023 Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium Program

Schedule-at-a-Glance: Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium (Thursday, April 13)

When: Thursday, April 13, 3:00-6:00 PM | Where: Alumni Hall, 2nd Floor

Follow the links in the schedule below or scroll down for the full program of  presenters, which includes their bios and abstracts.

From 3:00-6:00 pm. all attendees are encouraged to make time to peruse the adjoining Vanderbilt Undergraduate Arts Showcase.

Additional Event Links

Full Schedule: Undergraduate Writing Symposium (Thursday, April 13)

When: Thursday, April 13, 3:00-6:00 PM | Where: Alumni Hall, 2nd Floor

3:00-3:15: Welcome and Event Kickoff

3:15-4:10: Spotlight Panel (Alumni Hall, Room 206)

  • Panel Chair: John Bradley (Writing Studio)
  • Panelists: Lola Daley ’25 (poetry), Lily York ’26 (nonfiction), Farouk Ramzan ’26 (fiction)

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Lola Daley ’25: “Become What You Are”

Presenter Bio: Lola is a member of the class of 2025 from San Francisco, CA majoring in Psychology and minoring in Cinema and Media Arts. Writing–whether in the form of short stories, plays, or songs–has been a creative outlet for her since she was a kid, and she hopes to pursue it in the future along with a career in research and clinical psychology. In addition to writing, she loves running, playing piano, analyzing movies, and (attempting to) bake.

Abstract: Are you what you become or do you become what you are? This piece addresses that very question, proposing that the artificial form into which we try to shape ourselves cannot hold.

Lily York ’26: Femininity in the Seasons

Presenter Bio: Lily York is a member of the class of 2026 at Vanderbilt University, majoring in Political Science and Environmental Sociology. She is from Louisville, Kentucky and doesn’t have much experience with writing, but loves to share about feminism, sustainability, and mental health.

Abstract: For the first paper of the year, I was forced to think of a time in which I was gendered. After much reflection, I decided to tell the story of how I imprisoned myself to femininity during the time in which I struggled most with my Chronic Depression.

Farouk Ramzan ’26: Anima Candida

Presenter Bio: Farouk Ramzan, a member of the class of 2026, is majoring in psychology in the College of Arts & Science. Farouk is from San Antonio, Texas and runs his own podcast called, “Notes from Nash.” In his free time, he fishes, does film photography, writes novels, screenplays and skeet shoots. He is interested in a vast era of topics ranging from statistical theory to architecture to Russian literature.

Abstract: In 19th century Denmark, a sickly aristocratic rots his body and inherited land away as he obsesses over economic theory. One day, however, he attends a ballet show and becomes intrigued by one of the dancers and how she wavers when she lands on stage. He eventually meets her and becomes friends with her and remains intrigued by her odd behavior. The dancer shows him a way of living that embraces work and living in accordance with the wild which leads him to abandon his book and embrace a folk lifestyle.

4:15-4:50: Session 1

  • Panel A (Nonfiction) – Alumni Hall, Room 100 (Grad Student Lounge, First Floor)
    • Panel Chair: Paige Oliver (English)
    • Panelists: Matthew Celecia ’23 and Hunter Graves ’24
  • Panel B (Poetry) – Alumni Hall, Room 206
    • Panel Chair: Caroline Stevens (English)
    • Panelists: Ilana Drake ’25, Qwynn Foster ’25, Christabel Hammond ’23, Sidney Vafaie-Partin ’24

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Matthew Celecia ’23: Scrubs and Smoke

Presenter Bio: Matthew is a member of the class of 2023.

Abstract: This is a creative non-fiction piece that is based on a real experience. I am working on an English Thesis & Immersion Project that contains stories that revolve around death. In this post-covid world, it seems to me that the act of dying has been dehumanized – reduced to numbers, figures, statistics – so my goal with these works is to rehumanize death through stories centered on the individual.

Hunter Graves ’24: The Two Lives of Trevor Warren

Presenter Bio: Hunter Graves is a member of the Class of 2024 studying History and Russian Studies. In his free time, he enjoys reading, going on hikes, and visiting his family and hometown of Franklin, Kentucky. When he’s not in class or at home, he can be found in his happy place, either at a library or the local cathedral.

Abstract: Trevor Warren, a college student, analyzes his family’s past and present as he examines their different realities. The piece follows Trevor as he visits his home and his family.

Ilana Drake ’25: “frome here, my mountain lakes, changed.” / “power of language”

Presenter Bio: Ilana is a member of the class of 2025 studying Public Policy Studies, and she is a student activist and writer. She serves as a United Nations UNA-USA Global Goals Ambassador for SDG 4 (Education), and she is a Clinton Global Initiative University Fellow. Ilana is recognized as one of the forty undergraduate changemakers on Vanderbilt’s campus by the Chancellor and Vanderbilt Student Government. Ilana’s writing has been published in PBS NewsHour, Ms. Magazine, and The Tennessean, and she has been quoted in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and Teen Vogue. Her poetry has been published internationally in literary magazines and zines. She is a trainer with the Vanderbilt Unity Lab, and she is involved in The Hustler. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, exploring Nashville with friends, and searching for the best coffee.

Abstract: My poem, “from here, my mountain lakes, changed.” focuses on the end of high school and spending time with my grandparents in their hometown. I highlighted memories of my grandparents from when they were younger and more able-bodied. I was inspired to write “power of language” because of my own experiences as a student with a disability in the classroom. This piece highlights how language can be weaponized to cause damage.

Qwynn Foster ’25: “Ghazal of Those Unloved”

Presenter Bio: Qwynn is a member of the class of 2025.

Abstract: This piece comes from a poetry anthology I made for my Intermediate Poetry class. This particular poem is about a Siren reflecting on his understanding of love and what that means now.

Christabel Hammond ’23: Common App Essay

Presenter Bio: Christabel is a member of the class of 2023 studying  Medicine  Health  and Society on the pre- med track where she hopes to improve health equity. Although , she was born in New  York, Christabel describes Accra Ghana as her home  because she spent her formative years there. She  currently lives in Ohio with her family where she hopes to return to after she graduates. In her free time, she enjoys exploring her various hobbies  such as travel, fashion, books, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.

Abstract: The “Common App” explores the complexity of navigating  institutions as a minority. It uses themes of family, traditions and race to spark conversation about the power dynamic of affirmative action and its impact. The poem draws inspiration from Christabel’s Ghanaian heritage where a significant amount of slave trade happened in order to make comparisons and reflect on progress since then.

Sidney Vafaie-Partin ’24: “Snake Stories”

Presenter Bio: Sidney is a member of the class of 2024 majoring in Biology with a minor in creative writing. He is inspired by poets like Seamus Heaney, Ross Gay, and Federico Lorca.

Abstract: This piece is a retelling of a bedtime story my mother used to tell me woven with details and tidbits she has given me about her life in Iran before her immigration to the US. I think the poem focuses mostly on the divide between generations especially in immigrant families. The work also examines storytelling and its power.

4:55-5:05: Remarks from Vice Provost of Arts and Libraries Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting (Joe C. Davis Memorial Hall)

5:05-6:00: Session 2

  • Panel C (Fiction and Poetry) – Alumni Hall, Room 206
    • Panel Chair: Kelsey Rall (English)
    • Panelists: Isabella Lough ’25, Robert Diez ’26, Jessica Cobbinah ’23, and Joy Lin ’25

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Isabella Lough ’25: Scattered Chrysanthemums

Presenter Bio: Bella is a member of the class of 2025 majoring in psychology and minoring in business. She has a passion for mental health that extends into her love for psychological thrillers. If she is not busy writing, you’ll find her singing with the university musical theater club, texting her sister, or working with kids in a social cognition lab here at Vanderbilt.

Abstract: Scattered Chrysamthemums follows Charlie’s journey to the Bell Witch Cave in Adams, TN as she grapples with the recent loss of her best friend. The family Charlie encounters is also grappling with a recent loss, and the reader can see in them a hopeful future. A mysterious voice in the cave pushes Charlie to stop pushing away her emotions and fully digest the situation at hand.

Robert Diez ’26: He Saw Me and Smiled

Presenter Bio: Robert Diez is a member of the Class of 2026 from Miami, Florida, studying Economics and Climate Studies with a minor in Cinema & Media Arts. He seeks out any opportunity for self-expression, and how that intersects with the rapidly-changing world around him.

Abstract: This piece is my take on the College Scholars application prompt in which we had to write a two-page paper featuring a grape, giraffe, and guitar. I saw them as metaphors for a fragile mind state–the confrontation of which was the only way to grow. Blending the abstract with reality, He Saw Me and Smiled illustrates that as daunting as it is, taking the first step–however small–means the potential for something great.

Jessica Cobbinah ’23: Takes One to Know One

Presenter Bio: Jessie is a member of the class of 2023 from Nashville studying Secondary Education and English. She has been writing since she could hold a pencil and hopes to continue for the rest of her life. After graduation, she hopes to find a job that allows her to combine her passion for writing with her passion for education, and she is so thankful to Vanderbilt’s English department for giving her so many opportunities and making her a better writer.

Abstract: “Takes One to Know One” follows two college students whose increasingly toxic friendship allows them to enable each other’s hyperfixation on an unsuspecting classmate. Things come to a head when one of them takes their game too far.

Joy Yin ’25: Natural Enharmonics

Presenter Bio: Joy is a member of the class of the class of 2025.

Abstract: A father sits down to play piano while ruminating upon his relationship with his son and his own father, with his relationship to music as a framework.

Rafael Rodas ’26: “Empty Cube,” [Unable to Attend]

Presenter Bio: Rafael Rodas is a member of the Class of 2026 from Santa Tecla, El Salvador. He is majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering and in his free time enjoys writing poetry and short fiction.

Abstract: “Empty Cube,” was inspired by an empty exhibition at the Frist Art Museum. The poem simultaneously explores the scenes of a new wave of visitors arriving and the emotional impact that comes with being a misfit in a such prestigious environment.

6:00: Closing Remarks

Please join us for closing remarks and a chance to speak with the presenters.

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Access the UCWS 2023 Online Gallery

Visit the UCWS 2023 Online Gallery of Creative Writing to read each of this year’s featured works along with a reflection from its author.

  • Gallery Password: ucws2023

Password required for access.

You can also find our first-year presenters’ creative works and listen to each author reflect on their piece in Scaffold: A Showcase of Vanderbilt First-Year Writing, Volume 5 (Spring 2023).

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Special Thanks and Acknowledgements

The Writing Studio offers special thanks to all those who helped make our event possible and have contributed to its success.

Our Event Co-Host and Partner

The Office of Experiential Learning and Immersion Vanderbilt

Our Invited Creative Writing Reviewers from the MFA Program in Creative Writing

Tandria Fireall

Alissa Morgan Barr

John Mulcare

Em Palughi

Anika Potluri

Jess Silfa

Caroline Stevens

Our Writing Studio and Tutoring Services team members

Beth Estes (Academic Support Coordinator), Lead Symposium Coordinator
Drew Shipley (Academic Support Coordinator), Assistant Symposium Coordinator
Will Krause (History), Graduate Assistant Symposium Coordinator
Tim Donahoo, Administrative Assistant II for the Writing Studio and Tutoring Services
Writing Consultants Events Committee Members and all consultants present to support the event today

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