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2024 Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium Program

The 2024 Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium is one of two annual symposium events being organized by the Writing Studio this spring, alongside the 2024 Undergraduate Writing Symposium, both of which give student authors selected for the event the opportunity to present and reflect on their written work alongside their fellow students.

Schedule-at-a-Glance: Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium (Wednesday, April 10)

When: Wednesday, April 10, 3:00-6:00 PM | Where: Alumni Hall, 2nd FloorThis colorful image promotes attendance at the 2024 Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium and Arts Showcase being held Wednesday, April 10, in Alumni Hall.

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

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

Additional Event Links

Online Galleries

  • Read each panelist’s submission in the 2024 UCWS Online Creative Writing Gallery (Password: 24ucws)
  • Coming Soon! Visit the Arts Showcase’s portfolio page to view the incredible works created by undergraduate students.

Full Schedule: Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium (Wednesday, April 10)

When: Wednesday, April 10, 3:00-6:00 PM | Where: Alumni Hall, 2nd Floor

3:00-3:15: Opening Remarks by Major Jackson, Professor of English & Director of Creative Writing Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities

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

  • Faculty Panel Chair: Justin Quarry (English)
  • Panelists: Liam Betts ’24 (fiction), Elyse Sparks ’24 (nonfiction), Avery Fortier ’24 (fiction)

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Liam Betts ’24: The Waves of Light

  • Presenter BioLiam Betts is a senior double majoring in computer science and english. He is originally from Portugal, but now lives in Pleasanton, California. He is the president of VandyWrites and prose editor for The Vanderbilt Review. His story The Waves of Light was selected as First Runner-Up for The Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing in 2024.
  • Abstract: The Waves of Light is a neo-Victorian story that reimagines Charles Darwin’s voyage aboard The Beagle to include his two young children, William and Anne. When circumstances thrust both siblings into an odyssey from the Atlantic to London, Anne is forced to reckon with a strange metamorphosis. While William performs street magic to keep them alive, Anne studies and experiments, dreaming of becoming a natural philosopher in nineteenth century England, a world where every door is closed to her. The story is told in the form of a letter from Anne to her father.

Elyse Sparks ’24: The Golden Child

  • Presenter Bio: Elyse Sparks in a member of the class of 2024.
  • Abstract: The Golden Child is centered around my mental health struggles, sexuality, and my relationship with my pastor parents. I explore how my mom, despite her religious views that seemingly contradict loving a gay child, has stood by my side in a decade-long fight with major depression. Through coming out and hospitalizations and hard conversations, I have watched my mother grow into my biggest advocate.

Avery Fortier ’24: A Clean Mind

  • Presenter Bio: Avery is a member of the class of 2024.
  • Abstract: This is a piece of fictional prose meant to prompt consideration of mental health experiences across contexts and roles. I wanted to reflect the importance of protecting those responsible for treating others’ health as well as those who more obviously fall into the role of “patient.”

4:15-5:00: Session 1

  • Panel A (Fiction) – E. Bronson Ingram, MultiPurpose Room
    • Faculty Panel Chair: Fatima Kola (Medicine, Health, and Society)
    • Panelists: Sawyer Sussner ’24, Shadhvika Nandhakumar ’24, Claire Marie Tate ’24, Sanat Malik ’24
  • Panel B (Nonfiction) – Alumni Hall, Room 206
    • Faculty Panel Chair: Sandy Solomon (English)
    • Panelists: Molly Buffenbarger ’24, Franklin Udensi ’27, Sarah Wermuth ’27, and TaMyra Johnson ’27

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Sawyer Sussner ’24: Power to the Players

  • Presenter Bio: Sawyer is a member of the class of 2024.
  • Abstract: On her last shift as an employee at the failing gaming giant Game Stop, seventeen year old Twitch streamer Cass must navigate uncomfortable conversations with leering customers along with the impossible expectations of her boss, the washed up manager known to customers only as “The Bobcat,” determined to save his failing store. In a reflection of the gaming world’s treatment of women, Power to the Players explores misogynistic cycles of behavior and how to leave them behind.

Shadhvika Nandakumar ’24: circles

  • Presenter Bio: Shadhvika is a member of the class of 2024.
  • Abstract: This realistic fiction short story discusses the experiences of a young girl who finds out that her dad has had a heart attack. Told from the perspective of someone looking back over time, it is filled with various musings about the nature of life and relationships.

Claire Marie Tate ’24: Ocular Mistrust

  • Presenter Bio: Claire Marie Tate is a member of the class of 2024 from Baton Rouge, LA. She is studying Neuroscience and Medicine, Health, and Society and will begin medical school this fall. In her free time, she enjoys running, dancing, discovering new music, reading, and, more recently, writing as a creative outlet.
  • Abstract: “Ocular Mistrust” is a short piece which was inspired by the notion of the eye as the window to the soul and the unreliable nature of the visual pathway. This piece puts artistic themes of eyes in conversation with the physiology of visual processing.

Sanat Malik ’24: Ishak’s

  • Presenter Bio: Sanat Malik is a Senior at Vanderbilt University. He was born in Hong Kong, spent some years in his native India, but primarily grew up in Singapore. Sanat is an Economics and English double major who has a passion for short story writing and journalism. He writes mainly about cultural topics with which he has personal experiences and perspectives. After college, Sanat will be working in an Investment Bank as a Raid Defense Consultant. He hopes to continue to grow in his career as a writer beyond college, and ideally would like to pursue investigative journalism in the future.
  • Abstract: Ishak’s is a fictional piece about Ishak, an Indian Immigrant who has recently moved to New York to start an Indian fine-dining restaurant with his friend, Jai. Vying to win customers, Ishak creates an open kitchen in hopes that the smells spill onto the streets and draw in customers. In exploring Ishak and Jai’s pursuit of success in the culinary world, the story explores themes of immigration, assimilation, the pursuit of excellence, and the relationship between meticulous Ishak and laid-back Jai.

Molly BuFFenbarger ’24: Night Watch

  • Presenter Bio: Molly is a member of the class of 2024.
  • Abstract: I wrote this memoir about the night I spent alone in the hospital with my mother, when I was in sixth grade. After my mother completed chemotherapy for breast cancer, she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction. However, her reconstructed implant got infected, which meant she ended up hospitalized after emergency surgery.

Franklin Udensi ’27: The Igbo Anglican Church

  • Presenter Bio: Franklin Udensi, a budding author from Lagos, Nigeria, finds deep inspiration in the works of his favorite author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and his piece, “The Igbo Anglican Church,” reflects this influence. Beyond literature, Franklin enjoys diving into the immersive worlds of anime and manga, getting swept in the melodies of Jon Bellion, and delighting in the ever-changing landscape of construction sites, where the promise of unfinished structures sparks his imagination. With each stroke of his pen, he blends his varied influences into narratives that speak to the human experience.
  • Abstract: “The Igbo Anglican Church” is a story of my first encounter with a Nigerian diaspora community in the US. It’s a story that captures the feeling of seeking connection in unfamiliar places as an immigrant, the awkwardness of not fully fitting in within your culture, and the humorous yet poignant contradictions that define immigrant community attempts to hold onto their “roots” in a place far from home. This piece invites a personal reflection on the nuances of identity, belonging, and the eternal dance between tradition, defiance, and assimilation in a new society.

Sarah Wermuth ’26: I’m Not (Wilmeth) Smart

  • Presenter Bio: Sarah is a member of the class of 2026 majoring in Political Science with minors in Gender Studies and Creative Writing.
  • Abstract: In 2023, I took a creative nonfiction English class at Vanderbilt, and an essay prompt was: “Write a personal essay exploring one way your identity has developed in opposition to your family of origin.” As a result, I wrote “I’m Not (Wilmeth) Smart.” It tells the story of how growing up in a family of brilliant individuals while simultaneously struggling in school made it hard for me to see myself as smart despite getting into Vanderbilt, one of the top universities in America.

TaMyra Johnson ’27: Racial Imposter Syndrome: Personal Experience + Interviews

  • Presenter Bio: TaMyra Johnson is a part of the class of 2027 from Louisville, Kentucky. She plans on double majoring in Communications and Culture Advocacy Leadership with a minor in film.
  • Abstract: This piece talks about my personal experience with racial imposter syndrome. Racial imposter syndrome can be described as being unconnected or feeling inauthentic to parts of their racial identity and culture or as when a person feels internally connected to a racial identity that is not perceived by others which causes doubt in their racial self perception.

5:15-6:00: Session 2

  • Panel C (Poetry) – Alumni Hall, Room 206
    • Faculty Panel Chair: Mark Schoenfield (English)
    • Panelists: David Lemper ’27, Nicole Reynaga ’26, Ilana Drake ’25, and Eli Apple ’24

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David Lemper ’27: Shakespeare Rap

  • Presenter Bio: David is a member of the class of 2027.
  • Abstract: This rap was written for an assignment in which students had to cast a scene of a Shakespeare play into rap lyrics. The concept was inspired by Shakespearean rap lyrics from Margaret Atwood’s “Hagseed,” a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Rap as a genre—specifcally an African-American born genre—calls back to the theme of freedom, which is a very prominent theme within both Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet,” so using this genre to express these narratives evokes the theme of freedom.

Nicole Reynaga ’26: In one breath, we escaped together

  • Presenter Bio: Nicole is a member of the class of 2026.
  • Abstract: For this workshop’s penultimate poem, we were tasked with writing a prose poem (a poem not split into verse lines). As prose poems typically lack any rules of poetic form and do not visually appear as poetry, they heavily rely on the use of other poetic elements and metaphorical language. The theme of my piece falls into a more personal/self-aware realm.

Ilana Drake ’25: on rapid decline

  • Presenter Bio: Ilana Drake is a junior studying Public Policy Studies and English, and she is a student activist and writer. She serves as a United Nations UNA-USA Global Goals Ambassador for SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), and she was selected as a Clinton Global Initiative University Fellow in 2023. This year, Ilana was appointed to the Inaugural Student Advisory Board for the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy. Ilana was recognized as one of the forty undergraduate changemakers on Vanderbilt’s campus last year, and she is a Delegate for the 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Ilana’s writing has been published in InsiderMs. Magazine, and The Tennessean, among others, 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. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, exploring Nashville with friends, and searching for the best iced coffee.
  • Abstract: This poem is about the importance of time and health. I wrote this piece following my grandmother’s death in November 2023.

Eli Apple ’24: Autoimmune (Selected Poems)

  • Presenter Bio: Eli Apple is a writer of fiction and poetry. He has lived his whole life in Tennessee and is currently a senior at Vanderbilt University, where he is studying English, Spanish, and Portuguese. In addition to writing, he loves reading, traveling, and going on walks with his dog.
  • Abstract: My submission includes eight poems that will appear in my English Honors thesis. My thesis, entitled Autoimmune, is a poetry collection that investigates literal and metaphorical illnesses and their effects on the body. These poems belong in Part Two of the collection, which examines homosexuality and internalized homophobia as illnesses together with the continuing effects of the AIDS epidemic on American society.

Access the UCWS 2024 Online Gallery

Visit the UCWS 2024 Online Gallery of Creative Writing to read each of this year’s featured works along with a reflection from its author. (Password: 24ucws)

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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 Event Co-Sponsors

The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons

The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries

Our Faculty Panel Chairs

Fatima Kola (Medicine, Health, and Society)

Justin Quarry (English)

Mark Schoenfield (English)

Sandy Solomon (English)

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

Langston Cotman

Ajla Dizdarević

Sydney Mayes

Our Writing Studio and Tutoring Services team members

Beth Estes (Assistant Director), Lead Coordinator for the Undergraduate Creative Writing Symposium

Lucy Kim (Academic Support Coordinator), Assistant Creative Writing Symposium Coordinator

Drew Shipley (Academic Support Coordinator), Lead Coordinator for the Undergraduate Writing Symposium Coordinator

Cameron Sheehy (Peabody), Graduate Assistant Symposium Coordinator

Tim Donahoo, Administrative Specialist for the Writing Studio and Tutoring Services

all Writing Consultants Events Committee Members and all consultants present to support the event today

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