From May to May: the Senior Thesis Writing Project (with Video Showcase) by Gemma Collins

Since I stepped into room 227 on my first day in Creative Writing, I’ve known about the senior thesis project. I read long spreadsheets of deadlines and watched the upper-level students disappear into mysterious workshops. For the past three years, it’s been looming over me—and last summer, I finally sat down and began. Beginning a long-term project is daunting. Before my senior year started, my cohort and I sat down with the older grade and discussed the project. “How do you pick what to write about?” “How do you balance writing with everything else in school?” “What’s it like to work with a mentor?” Questions bounced around the small seminar room like balls of yarn. The seniors met our worries with reassurance and promises of how accomplished we would be after. I sat and listened, unable to visualize an end but eager to get started. 

  I’ve always struggled with committing to long-term projects, and I worried that my excitement and inspiration for my thesis would dwindle quickly. Heather, our department head, assured my class that the project would represent our learning in Creative Writing. I felt daunted by the idea that my four years of high school came down to a stack of 50 pages in my hands at the end of the year. I was motivated, however, to push myself out of my comfort zone and enjoy the process. 

As I’ve almost finished my draft, I’m content not to stress too much over the process and use it to rekindle my passion for writing outside of assignments in class. While one of my favorite parts of the project has been the freedom to write whatever I want with minimal instructions, I’ve realized the significant initiative it takes to delve into this project. As a freshman in high school, I couldn’t grasp what Heather meant when she said the senior thesis was our most important graduation requirement. Now, I understand the depth of personal growth it has provided me through growing closer with my peers and enforcing deadlines on myself.

Magical Realism in Playwriting by Raquel Silberman

Ever since beginning our playwriting unit, I have wondered the ways in which I can incorporate magical realism into my plays. I could not help but notice that most of my plays I’ve written, weeks into the unit, have had something missing. Every prompt I wrote seemed bland and unexciting. After finishing our fiction and poetry unit, I was used to expanding on small moments; a ten minute play seemed far too daunting. So I began a mission to thaw out my prose mindset and unveil my passion for playwriting again. It was a rocky road of many short scenes full of yelling, perhaps a projection of my frustration. In our third week, the class was prompted to incorporate a magical character into a scene using subtext. I was intimidated at the idea, how could I communicate anything meaningful through something that isn’t real? Or, how could I do that and also convey multiple meanings? But then I thought of all of the ridiculous magical characters that have imprinted on me and the ridiculous real figures that I will never forget. Both of which could have fishy intentions. This prompt made me think: why not use both? I always thought I was a drama kind of gal, but drama is ten times better when it’s coming from a talking octopus. Here is a monologue prompted from magic and subtext, a dangerous mix.


I am not a horrible octopus. I am very friendly, all of the fish in the sea would agree. But I must address a video of me that’s been floating around all over Fishbook and Instaclam. And I’d like to point out that I am the victim here. All of this has been taken out of context. I never meant to offin anyone with my actions, but you try reacting reasonably when a smelly fisherman picks you out with his load and starts filming you. Things may have gotten messy…but I only inked in self defense! I never intended to make anyone upset, but I also never planned on getting fished out of my house. And I certainly did not expect to be trending on Turtle for the next week! I just wanted to say to all of my sweet generous fins, thank you for all of your support in this huge sandal. I love and appreciate all of your fan mail and will be releasing my revenge music video for “Inked” next Friday so leave a like and comment and I’ll catch you Bubble Babies later. Toodles!

Poetry Negative to Poetry Positive by Emilie Mayer

Similar to the saying, “You are what you eat,” the creative writer often reflects the literature that they consume. Over the past year, I have not read an impressive or even adequate amount of poetry. As a senior in Ruth Asawa School of the Arts’ Creative Writing Department, I am tasked with creating a thesis. I decided last year, in my final months as a junior, that I wanted my thesis to be a novel. Since then, I have for the most part only read novels as a form of research. I was not actively avoiding poetry, but I was neglecting that side of my writing. 

More than six months passed without me seriously sitting down and crafting a poem. On the rare occasion where I tried to don my poet’s hat, I was too much in my head and could not translate my thoughts onto the page. I had fallen out of love with poetry, when poetry was the genre that first introduced me to the craft of creative writing. 

Going into the Creative Writing Department’s poetry unit, I was apprehensive. I feared that my poems would be too plot-based: all exposition and no imagery. My fears were confirmed. For the first week or two, my poems—in simplest terms—sucked. I wasn’t connected to anything I wrote. It was all word soup. 

As I read more poetry, I hungered after writing poetry again. And, little-by-little, the prose started flowing. Finding motivation caused the shift. For every poem, I require some sort of exigence. Recently, emotion has been my kindling. As a senior, departure is at the forefront of my mind. I use the complex feelings related to leaving as the core of my poems. When I have a focused intent, I think less about the crafting of the poem and am instead swept into greater purpose.

Poetry still scares me, but now I have rediscovered the joy of finishing a piece. There is nothing quite like the thrill of crafting a perfect reflection of my emotions and thoughts.

Playwriting with Haiku Forms by Pascal Lockwood-Villa

Starting this month, we students at Ruth Asawa School Of The Arts Creative Writing department are working on a six-week unit in playwriting, thanks to our current artist-in-residence Hasti Jafari. In this unit, we are being taught a plethora of new playwriting strategies; I found it appropriate to talk about some of my favorite learning opportunities which I have gleaned from these lessons. 

For starters, thanks to this unit, I got the opportunity to write a variety of new scenes in new formats that felt refreshing and new all at once. One example of this was the “haiku plays” our artist-in-residence had us create. These unconventional little scenes were, like their name suggests, made up of only three line of dialogue in the entire play: the first, a five-syllable line from one character, the second, a seven-syllable line from the other character, and finally another five-syllable line from the first character. This lack of dialogue may seem limiting at a first glance, and many of us thought so when Hasti introduced this exercise to us. But as we would soon learn, the true storytelling elements of this exercise came in the form of expanded stage directions, of which Hasti encouraged us to make far more descriptive and elaborate than what normal stage directions would encompass. With this new format, we were allowed to go all out in these stage directions to compensate for the lack of dialogue. In writing mine, I spent most of my time developing the scene with the free reign I was given in the stage directions. I was taking my time as I worked; I obviously didn’t want to turn in and of my work half-baked. It didn’t take me very long to have a scene in mind, and I was allowed to be as expressive with my work as I saw fit. However, it was only as I was struggling to find what I wanted to write for my dialogue did I realize the true purpose of this assignment: to find a balance between showing and telling in playwriting. While I had placed a lot of detail into the stage directions, it consequently left me unable to find what I was looking for in the dialogue. After I realized this, I went back and edited all of the stage directions to be more realistically achievable and this gave me the space I needed to write my dialogue. I’m grateful for being able to learn this valuable skill so soon into playwriting!

My Personal Muse by Leela Sriram

As I am nearing the end of senior year and finalizing my senior thesis, I have started thinking about how I find inspiration in creating a large body of creative work. While this is an awkward time to think about the muse of my thesis, I have discovered that my little interests such as birds, and knitting have allowed me to step into the minds of my characters. I think of everything I write as a reflection of me. In many ways, through my writing, I take on many different personas. I am an old woman by the seaside, and a runaway cowgirl in other moments. 

The idea of a muse is taboo, and I believe that as a writer I should not wait around for the inspiration to come to me. Rather, I think about the little moments in my life, such as rain on a sunny day or seeing the pelicans on the pier. This is what I see as the muse. Inspiration is what I think of as impressionable in my life. The little moments, while fleeting, are pivotal to creating worlds. They are what make my thesis feel like more than a collection of pages, to me. While writing a deeply personal collection of work has been difficult, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my innermost thoughts and feelings with my fellow seniors and eventually, the entire Creative Writing Department. I am eager to see my thesis come alive in the form of a physical book instead of a google doc. 

Working on my senior thesis, while also completing college applications, and now waiting anxiously for college decisions has been a difficult task. However, I have learned so much about how I can generate more fiction using my perspective on life, and how I can create a cohesive collection of fiction and poetry by myself. I am eternally grateful for this experience, and I know that I am going to cherish my thesis after I graduate from Creative Writing.

Touching Emotions by Sophie Fastaia

On the last two days of January, Speak (Easy), our poetry show began. A week before the show, we had chosen and workshopped the poems that we were to read to an audience of about three hundred. I remember on a Friday when we spent the whole two hours allotted memorizing our poems in pairs. Kenny, a Creative Writing freshman, sat with me, as I tried to recall each line. While I read the poem in my head, it felt like it was not being absorbed, like my mind was a strainer that couldn’t retain the words. I had written about a great loss in my life that happened when I was eleven and even though I was not talking about the event directly, I realized that it was hard to memorize because of how it made me feel; I was almost reliving the experience and felt so much sadness building up behind my words. 

The first night of the show began at six. I recorded myself reciting the poem and listened to it multiple times to get the lines to stick. When it was my turn to stand under the yellow spotlight, I felt confident, holding the poem in my head, but then the poem fell from my mind and I blanked. I staggered through, taking long pauses and skipping multiple lines. I was disappointed and surprised because I had never had so much trouble memorizing a poem. I felt vulnerable on stage and had chosen to share a piece of writing that was based on a heartbreaking event in my life. Even though sharing vulnerable pieces can be painful, opening up helped me to slow down and feel emotions that dwell deep. Creative Writing has given me the ability to explore internal emotions and share vulnerability with the support of the people I love around me. I was able to drop down into my wound and touch my grief when I shared it with others. Touching emotions is at the root of what Creative Writing brings forth.

A Cure for Writer’s Block by Gabriel Flores Benard

Creative Writing recently went on a trip to the Botanical Gardens. Although the frigid winds and potential threats of torrents loomed over our shoulders, the Creative Writing class went to see the magnolias bloom. I dislike the rain, and I constantly noticed the clouds above. Puffy clouds peppered the skies as we left, clumps of cotton balls strewn together as they failed to cover the sun. As we arrived at Golden Gate Park, the clouds congealed and darkened, filled with water like an antsy child. I felt droplets kiss my face. 

By the time we entered the Botanical Gardens, the raindrops had faltered and stopped. The congealed clouds roamed close but allowed the sun to peek through. Heather took the Creative Writers along endless trails of flowers and other flora. Large, magenta petals littered the floor and poured over us. The trees grew in twisted ways, yet their branches wove intricate webs that diluted the sunlight. Heather stopped us along the trail to point out the coloration of the flowers, the sunlight peeking through the leaves, and the trees felled by strong winds. A few of my friends and I took pictures while others strung words together in their notebooks. My friend gave me her earbud, and we danced as the sun peered into our eyes; the clouds left us alone, and the wind left the trees to revel in the cold. 

The trip to the Botanical Gardens allowed the Creative Writers time to unwind. Fresh, virescent sights also inspire us writers before entering the next CW unit. Do not let anything stop you from relaxing, observing, and taking time to reignite your literary fire. The cold, sun, rain, wind, and flowers all have stories to tell. Take advantage of every sight and memory; you may find inspiration without trying.

Sluggish, But Fast by Filip Zubatov

I am stalking the clock persistently, like a killer to its prey. The hand’s fingers are frozen, but I wait. My eyes never shift from the clock, for the fingers would sprint away. I would stand helpless, like a deer on the road, trapped in the headlights of a car. Why aren’t you making more friends? Why are you eating that? Exercise. I’ll do it tomorrow. A plethora of hopes, goals, and accomplishments waiting at the end of these minutes; both academic and personal. So I rushed through my days, like something was chasing me. Expecting something, without working to make that expectation a reality. I sit, glued to a desk, watching time pass me by, hoping when the day, week, month ends, my work and self will be improved in some way or another. At the moment, life seems to be going by like a turtle walking a marathon. After the turtle has crossed the finish line, I realize that I let each mile go by uncounted, when I should have utilized each one to create something better of myself and what I can achieve.Start tomorrow. I should have started today. The lit crit isn’t going to write itself. Everyday, putting off the goals you have, expecting results. The quality of my work, no chance of improvement, a stalemate, or so I thought. Waiting weeks without pushing myself, the same results. How could my work for Creative Writing or work towards personal goals have a chance to improve without time spent? Spending time you have for worthwhile activities will ultimately help you achieve any goals you have in mind. There are a plethora of ideals I wish to achieve in the near future, and I haven’t done anything to help myself reach them and rather watched time slip through my fingers. A message to everyone reading this piece; don’t watch time pass in hopes of your ambitions coming to fruition, and rather make your expectations a reality with diligence.

Literary Ditches by Natasha Leung

At the beginning of my first year in creative writing, the seniors gave the fresh peeps a lesson on what might be the most important assignment in the class: literary critiques. We got a lesson about what literary devices were, and how we would have to write an essay about them, but I focused more on the exciting new aspects of writing—poems, skits, and other fun games. While the topic had been mentioned over the course of community weeks (and quite heavily complained about), I didn’t imagine an essay to be the most difficult part of the class. In middle school, I loved writing essays, especially about works of literature. I had thrived in analyzing tiny aspects of topics, and sharing my perspective on the meaning of situations. I had, naively, hoped that I would be one of the few people who at least semi-enjoyed writing literary critiques. However, my hopes were dashed as soon as I got back the comments on my first draft. A slew of comments, mostly repeating the same message: I was completely all over the place, didn’t stay on topic, and overall had a horrible ability to be concise while still making sense.

Wrapping up our fifth literary critique for this year, I’m beginning to find myself closer to the knowledge of what in the world I am even supposed to be writing about. I chose my own poem to critique for the first time, which I found a liberating while also quite stressful experience. The ability to handpick a poem that specifically stood out to me after paging through websites for a good hour seemed to help me get into a groove of digging through layers of literary dirt. After finishing the first draft, I counted four printed-out copies of the poem, each page so covered in annotations I wished for a pair of binoculars. As the due date loomed closer, I traded drafts with a fellow classmate and felt my inner professor kick in, as I peppered their analysis with responses of my own. I spent what felt like years condensing every note, every question, every single thought that crossed my brain in regards to the poem into four pages of connections and realizations.

None of the process I went through is to say that I’ve gotten particularly good at writing a literary critique, one that doesn’t leave my reader scratching their head and wondering how I managed to write something so completely nonsensical. On my most recent one, for example, while doing peer revisions I received at least three comments simply asking “Natasha, what the heck does this even mean?!” I admit I asked myself that many times while writing: “Natasha, what does anything you’re thinking even mean?” Despite this hagarring inability to do what appears to an outside view a simple assignment, I haven’t given up on ever writing a perfect literary critique, something that makes my reader think to themselves, “Yes, you took the words right out of my mouth!” I still believe that I’ll be able to sound intellectual instead of spewing randomness. Despite the randomness, I would have to admit I love the feeling of getting into a poem. I love spending the day as an archeologist, sifting through mounds of gold in the form of words, and finding pieces that connect like bones creating the skeleton of a newfound perspective.

To Speak Easy or to Speak Easier? by Isabella Hansen

Since I am a senior in Creative Writing, I should be a pro at public speaking and performances. Unfortunately, before our annual poetry show, “Speak easy,” I felt nerves twist inside my stomach. Since the pandemic occurred, I have only been able to participate in two poetry shows on the main stage. While one would imagine that performing in front of hundreds of people rather than one hundred would be more daunting, I felt a strike of nerves I had never felt before. 

I imagined who would be sitting in the audience. My family, of course. My friends, maybe. My old Chemistry teacher? Probably. One common misconception is that we sit and write for two hours within Creative Writing. However, our curriculum is more robust than that. Throughout my years in CW, I have learned public speaking and performance skills that have helped me throughout my life. As I stood behind one dark curtain, I felt my hands shake from nerves. While I’m sure most of it was internalized, I felt an absurd amount of pressure. Since it was my last poetry show as a student in Creative Writing at SOTA, I needed this show to be perfect. But as I paced around in circles with friends backstage, frantically chanting the lines in my poem, I realized that this show was not the final moment of my high school career. It was the people I met along the way. I will never forget my cohort, who have made the past few years of my life so special. While the show ran smoothly and everyone was great, my favorite part was the last bow I took with my friends on stage. And if you missed Speakeasy, come check out Speak Easier at Manny’s!

City Boy Thesis by Jude Wong

Every year each senior creates their own thesis, which might be a play, long-form fiction, or a collection of poems based around a single theme. I began writing last September, working to create content within or at least somewhat related to my theme— the city of San Francisco. I chose to write poetry because I have only published poetry before, and I love how I can break and blend existing writing structures. Last week we had to turn in our first drafts of our complete thesis, which felt like a relief but, at the same time, a reality check. I realize people will actually be seeing this and reading it, and I will eventually have to narrate these poems for audiences. It’s scary to think about, but at the same time, if I want to be a writer, I’ll need to do this plenty more. Writing so many poems and then reading them aloud and editing them several times takes focus, and it is easy to get stuck, but that’s the writing process. Working on the thesis has taught me many things besides what it’ll be like to live as a professional writer. Like discipline when attempting to finish work before deadlines and eradicating procrastination. Also, I’ve honed my  style and voice, my writing style has become more distinct. In my freshman year, I was writing about things I had never experienced. I thought poetry was a race to explain profound ideals and abstract concepts with verbose and articulate descriptions. Now I’ve learned to describe the world I move through and make my poems accessible through the simple language I use, and through humor. My thesis is me trying to express to people that poetry doesn’t necessarily have to be about love and nature; it can be gritty, dirty, and honest. It can be about an unhoused man insisting on buying your mask or a death in the subway station you pass on your way to school. Many descriptions are concrete and accessible. Sometimes I read poetry and think, “if I wasn’t a writer, I’d have no idea what this means.” I find it sad because, in a perfect world, all people can enjoy poetry. Here are some of the rough-ish drafts included in my thesis:

Can I Buy Your Mask? 

The collarless puppy nervously circles its own turd like a dreidel

It’s eyes quiver with each rotation, searching for its owner, 

you follow it to two men. 

One rocks back and forth on the curb sucking his thumb, 

a small pool of red blood 

colludes within the creases of his forehead 

and slithers down his nose.

The other shuffles in a puffy parka, 

hands in pockets 

he whistles some canary song.

Seeing you pass

compliments your x-ray skull mask,

before asking Can I buy it?

A swift refusal, given your need for it on the bus

Rosie! The dog  springs forward as if only

having one merged leg in the front and back,

She gobbles up his hand with her tongue

he lets his soot darkened fingers be ingested by her sable fur

He remains solitary like a  bronze monument, before his face crinkles 

and he begins screaming prices as if it were an auction:

HOW boutta FIVA! NO, a TENNA!

Various colored crumbs hop from branch to branch 

Within his forested beard

You firmly decline, your hands pats your own

imaginary dog. The man’s petaled eyes close

as if regressing in the blooming process.

He fires again, 

Fifteen! Or final oFFer, TWENNY!

And at this point even if it would just be easier to 

give in and get the cash.

you continue to say no, 

Still, he persists like an alarm clock on the first day of school.

He steps one booted foot forward, as if two people in a 

coordinated tango, you step one back

His somber curb friend then rises to join in the uneasy dance,

As if suddenly possessed, you run

They lurch forward like a stealthily stalking wave

Their hands seems to ever reach towards you like 

heatseeking missiles, lurching through the feathered breeze

In the nick of time, a silver Prius swerves behind you 

Kissing the curb, it fires a barrage of honks, 

The men fly backwards as if flung by a hunky leaf blower,

Before fading into their darkened tents.

You nod your head to give a brief bow of gratitude to Prius,

Before sprinting to the possessive but safe embrace of the bus stop.

Bart Night Casket

It wasn’t urgently in-your-face like emergency teams on tv shows

The ambulance wasn’t wailing like a newborn in the early morning

The stretcher didn’t speed down the escalator like businessmen at rush hour. The men gathered together, whispering ‘someone died, someone died’

There weren’t any rushed panicked yells like in a house on fire

The trains weren’t on time as if in a high class secretary’s position

The stretcher wasn’t full like a swimming pool in the Summer

The tracks weren’t clear like a freshly washed car

The tracks wasn’t crammed like trains in rush hour

The stretcher didn’t rush back up as if a bomb threat had been called in

The ambulance wasn’t blurry out of focus in the water like a picture in movement

The EMT’s didn’t smile and laugh like it was their birthdays

They remained solemn, faces indifferently clear as if they were at their own funeral, 

In the casket.