Mimi Lok by Jude Wong

On December 3rd, I attended a reading at Green Apple Books for Mimi Lok’s new publication Last of Her Name. During the reading, another writer, Dave Eggers, asked Mimi Lok multiple questions about her book. One of the most appealing parts of Mimi Lok’s reading was when she actually read from the book, which she did with confidence as if she had memorized the excerpt. I  noticed that she made successful jokes. The feeling was as if she was at a dinner party, trying to lighten the mood. 

Lok tried to look into everyone’s eyes while she read so that they would pay attention. It worked very well, when she turned towards me, I immediately grasped onto every word. During her reading, Lok often asked if she was loud enough or too slow, to make sure everyone there could understand what she was saying.

Since it was such a small space, it felt like I got close and personal with the author, allowing me to soak in everything she said. The main thing this reading got across was that she represented many unheard and ignored voices in the world. For example, an old homeless lady who had nowhere else to go. Right before Lok opened the floor for questions,  she briefly discussed her editing process. She would often send half-written stories to her editor, who is a Buddhist priest who understood underlying patterns in Lok’s work. One pattern was the fact that Lok tended to-do lists of images, so the editor learned to work with that. Dave Eggers asked, “How do you get inspiration for your stories?” Lok replied by saying that she had heard a news story about a woman living in a man’s closet for a  year, so she wrote about a granny who decided to live in a man’s closet. She wanted the audience to know that real-world inspiration is a great inspiration.

While listening to one of the stories in Last of Her Name, Lok used lists to make imagery. She would list images like all the foods Granny Ng planned to steal then pulled them together by showing how they all connected. Making them all form a setting in which the reader could imagine. In the end, as a bonus, there was an array of Pocky and White Rabbit candies. 

By Jude Wong

Class of 2023

Teacher for a Day by Benny Leuty

There are two classes in Creative Writing, CW1, and CW2. CW1 is generally freshmen and sophomores, CW2 two is juniors and Seniors. For a sophomore, graduating to CW2 is not a guarantee. Heather, our department head, judges whether or not to allow a student to graduate into the next class on a variety of factors including how they contribute to the community and their maturity and work ethic. So for a sophomore, a lot rests on their cultural heritage lesson.

Each year, every sophomore puts together a one day lesson on their cultural heritage centered around its poetry. It is, for sophomores, the ultimate chance to demonstrate to Heather their maturity and growth and with CW2 on the horizon, the stakes are even higher.

For my sophomore lesson, I decided to teach Philip Levine’s poetry on the industrial midwest. Initially, I was intensely dreading teaching my lesson. Yet as I began to work on its outline over Thanksgiving Break, I had a change of heart. Through researching the poet and Detroit during the 1940s and 1950s, (the time in which Philip Levine lived) I connected with my home state of Michigan more than I ever had before. I also discovered quite a lot about my family history as my father told me about his hometown after the washing machine company Whirlpool closed their factories, my mother told me about her time working in a Detroit factory during college, and about how my grandfather covered the raging war between the auto companies and the unions during his time as a photographer for the Detroit News.

All in all, I learned more about myself, my family, and of course Philip Levine than ever before. And when I eventually gave my lesson, it was a great time.

By Benny Leuty

Class of 2022

Workshopping by Isabella Hansen

Workshopping in Creative Writing has helped me be more self-critical of my work. Before entering CW, workshops mostly involved comments such as: “This is so good! Maybe just include some more details in this part, but only if you want too.” These comments did not prepare me for the real world of workshopping. The idea of sharing my work with more experienced upperclassmen was daunting to my freshman self. At my first workshop, I read my poem aloud and nervously waited for my peers to give their feedback. I came out of the experience more comfortable sharing my work with others. It gave me a renewed want to improve my writing. Workshopping made me notice points in my poetry where I could grow and expand on my ideas where I wouldn’t have noticed them before. I realized everyone just wanted to improve my work and to make it the best it can be. A part of me was wary of workshopping my writing because it felt personal and the critique would feel like a judgment of my ability as a writer.  When going through all of the poems that I wrote for my portfolio to get into the Creative Writing department and compared them to my revised poems, I saw how much I have improved thanks to examining my work through a critical lens and in a group setting. 

After my realization that the process of editing my writing isn’t as daunting as it first seemed,  I find myself looking forward to working with poems that I feel need help. For Thanksgiving break, we are supposed to revise three poems for Monday and after the workshops, I now have notes and edit suggestions to use. I see where I went wrong with clichés and vague images. While I still haven’t eased out of my shy shell, I can now receive feedback without shock and bewilderment.

Recently, I had the opportunity to workshop with some of my fellow freshmen. I was proud of the progress we all made and I could see the improvement in all of our poetry. Workshopping was a valuable way to close off the week and to take a look at the progress we all made, and relish the fact that we survived three whole months of high school.

By Isabella Hansen

Class of 2023

Filipino Cultural Heritage Poetry Unit by Parker Burrows

Over the summer, I had the daunting assignment of preparing a lesson plan about the poetry of my culture. As I thought about my cultural background, I realized that preparing a unit on Filipino-American poetry would be perfect. Historically, Filipino and Filipino-American history have not been taught in most schools, and most people don’t know about topics such as Filipino immigration, and the Philippine-American war, which I believe should be basic history education. 

I also decided upon the lesson because of my own desire to connect with my culture. I haven’t met many Filipinos my age, and I hadn’t learned anything about Filipino culture before I began research on my lesson. I was feeling disconnected from myself, and by researching this lesson through the internet, books, and talking to family members, I began to gain a deeper appreciation for my family and my cultural background. 

The lesson itself was quite successful. I decided to focus on the late Filipino-American poet and activist Al Robles, a native of San Francisco who was strongly involved in pro-Filipino movements, such as protesting the demolition of the International Hotel, a popular shelter for many Filipino immigrants. Although the poetry was all from the same author, Robles writes his poetry from a range of voices and topics; one poem was about a wandering immigrant, another was about ethnic empowerment. Each of the poems had various cultural references, which I explained individually, using a slideshow. There was an overarching theme of desperation to assimilate and fit in to American culture, which I felt both related to the theme of my lesson (teaching about forgotten Filipino stories) and to my personal identity (feeling lost and disconnected from oneself). The whole class was engaged and participated enthusiastically in each of the poetry discussions. I wanted to help the class understand the different emotions that Filipino-American immigrants felt during their journey to America, so I gave relevant writing prompts. I asked people to write about a poem about a character who undertakes a difficult journey (like the Filipinos on their way to America), and a poem about feeling extreme desperation (like the Filipinos who are desperate to assimilate in order to have a prosperous life).

I was not the only one who shared my personal experiences. Assistant Principal Monette Benitez, and Spoken Arts head Aimee Suzara were both invited to participate in my lesson, and they spoke about growing up as Filipina women. They echoed similar sentiments as I did, such as feeling disconnected from their heritage and “whitewashed.” Suzara even shared poetry from her book Souvenir, including one striking poem about challenging her high school history teacher to teach about Filipino history. 

At the end of the lesson, many people wrote in their feedback cards that they previously had little to no knowledge about Filipino culture, and that my lesson was informative. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to educate people about important topics that I care about and are frequently ignored.

Creative Writing II Poetry Unit by Tess Horton

The Creative Writing II poetry unit has spanned over the course of the past month. Our artist in residence, Emily Wolahan, structured the six-week unit in a refreshing way: every other week, we read poetry and essays concerning poetry at home, then discuss them in class. Every week in between, we workshop the poems we’ve produced throughout the previous week. This intensive poetry-production-process has tested my ability to constantly keep up the motivation to write. I’ve written poems I like, I’ve written poems I don’t like as much, but the important part of this exercise is that I am writing at all.

Part of the weeks when we aren’t revising is to respond to various in-class prompts that Emily gives us (usually in some relation to a poem/essay we’ve read); one of the prompts I have particularly enjoyed so far was the haibun prompt. A haibun is a three-paragraph prose poem followed by a haiku at the end. Here is the haibun I wrote in response:

The Tambourine Man Haibun

I met the tambourine man behind the carousel when I was a good age. I am not sure whether I was supposed to meet the tambourine man or not. He was sinking in his pinstriped cloak and the hairs shaking on his upper lip seemed to shine, like the black armor beetles sport even on hot Saturdays. The tambourine man was red in many unnatural places. Red on his scalp. Red on his chin and only on the tips of his fingers. Red on the sagging parts of his pants where his skinny knees were supposed to fit. Skinny knees, I thought. The air was hot and I was suddenly glad I wasn’t wearing anything underneath my dress. The tambourine man looked down at me and slapped his hand on his wrist as if he were expecting hard cow skin instead. I was three feet and his bulging sunshine boots were perfect.


Yellow morning was the time I put on sunscreen. The day is early and cold with the promise of heat and pink skin later. White cream becomes a pocket item. I hare that white cream. That white cream is sticky, it sticks to my tongue for many hours after I taste it on my thumb. Soap, like soap. Tied down to a felt seat backwards: is this supposed to be fun? I am sad with the white cream. This morning feels like a white box, sterile from its lack of color, and I feel as if I am suffocating in its whiteness, its medicinal taste.


The circus is wet and dark. The tent is orange, tethered firmly to the dew-grass beneath the tarp, and when my father opens the front curtain and we enter as a family, the white cream against his lapel smears. This tent is large and dark. The tambourine man plays his cowskin arm off to the side, quiet. I smile at him from my mother’s shoulders.


With a gentle hand

The tambourine man leans downwards to greet me

The cream on my hands is sticky, yellow shoes slip against the mud


-Tess Horton, class of 2021

Workshops, Change, and Community By Nadja Goldberg

On Monday, November 18, I taught a portfolio workshop at 826 Valencia with three fellow juniors in Creative Writing. As I looked at the applicants hovering over sheets of loose-leaf paper, I remembered sitting in the same room when I was an eighth grader.

At a journalism workshop I took at 826 when I was eight, I wrote an article titled “Too Many Walgreen’s!” prompted by a record store near my house turning into a Walgreen’s. I took another workshop in which each student brought in a special object to draw and write about. Unlike these previous two workshops, the one in eighth grade amounted to something more. I was not in the warmly-lit back room seeking only a writing activity. I was seeking acceptance into SOTA’s Creative Writing Department in which workshops would become part of my everyday life. Students around me read their work to each other and made playful comments. I became doubtful of myself and my writing when the boy next to me told me my poetry was “bad.”

A student in Creative Writing read my short story about a magician in a crisis after losing his suitcase full of equipment on his way to perform a show in Moscow. I scanned the book titles on the walls over and over as she surrounded my writing with notes. “This is so cute!” she said aloud as she read. I gave a slight smile, relieved. When the student finished my piece, she expressed her feedback, telling me to make the magician’s mother a more relevant character. I revised my story based on the comments I received that evening, and now, three years later, I am immersed in the Creative Writing Department.

As part of the workshop we led, my peers and I discussed teachers, homework, commitment, and details about the department. Afterwards, I reflected on the way I could easily ramble about Creative Writing, and how I did not hesitate to spend my Monday evening helping younger writers join this community that I have grown so fond of.

The two prompts we gave as we taught the workshop were, “Write about an experience that changed you,” and “write about a meaningful friendship.” I considered how I’ve changed since eighth grade and how Creative Writing has played a big role. I thought about the perceptive lens I have learned to use when looking at writing and the world around me. I thought about the friends who bring so much joy and companionship to my life.

-Nadja Goldberg, Class of 2021

For I am Possum, and Possum Isn’t Perfect by Emily Kozhina

I’m at a stage in my life where the most helpful thing for me to do is look to the future. With college applications due in just over a month, all my thoughts have been preoccupied with who I will be and what I will do, as if I’m supposed to have a clue. This stress seeps into my writing, as since the summer, I have found myself introspecting far deeper into my future, writing about the more gruesome and lonelier meanings of what it means to grow up, and eventually, to grow old. But it’s always good to think ahead, I’m told, so I try. 

I’ve been a senior for just about two months now. 

What I’ve learned so far are two things: 

  1. It’s much harder than you’d expect, and
  2. It’s not that bad.

What senior year is, is that insatiable hunger to be the best. I need to be the best for colleges so they’re all crawling to me on their knees, begging me with full scholarships in their fists for me to accept their pleading offers. I need to be the best writer, with a published flash fiction collection under my belt, because after all, what would these past three years in Creative Writing have been for? I need to dedicate every moment of waking time to work, to write, to work on writing, and writing about future work, and only take a pause to breathe when I sleep.

Obviously, this is unrealistic. I am sitting in my pajamas, avoiding eye-contact with my college to-do list and my writing revisions I have yet to make. I am drinking tea that tastes bitter because I left the bag in too long, my library books are long overdue, and I have yet to write back to my pen pal (Sorry, Esperanza). 

Most days I find myself looking in the mirror and seeing a possum staring back at me, wearing my jeans and my sweater, taking too long to tie my boots. This isn’t me, this can’t be me! I want to think, but the possum looks back at me with a sad expression and confirms my fears. When will you come to accept me? It asks, tears whimpering at the corners of its tired eyes.

 I am possum, I have always been possum, and that’s fine. I’ve spent far too long expecting myself to be perfect, and getting frustrated when I am not. Possums are smart, mostly immune to rabies, and sometimes, in the right light, have a sort of glow coming off them from the bottom of the garbage bin. 

I’m trying to get to know the possum in the mirror, and it turns out, she’s not that bad, after all.

Emily Kozhina, Class of 2020

Idea House by Zai Deriu

This last Friday, Creative Writing had our yearly poetry show. We spend the week before rehearsing and reminding everyone we see to come to the performance, and in that time, I reflected back on how much I’ve changed and grown since last year’s show.

My writing has become far more precise and interesting, for one. It’s so much simpler for me to transfer my thoughts into words than it was last year. The fact that I know I’ll only continue to improve through my time in Creative Writing and through the rest of my life is incredibly exciting to think about.

Things that would have terrified me last year, like being the first to read their poem, was not quite so scary. After Heather opened the show and the first sketch was performed, it was my turn to read. My legs started shaking a bit halfway through, and I switched two words around at one point and had to backtrack, but I felt fine. There was no moment of oh god I can’t do this. Then I just got to relax backstage. I took off my shoes so I could walk backstage without the audience hearing my footsteps and listened to everyone’s poems. I didn’t have much time to stress over reading my own work before I did it.

It’s occurred to me this year, especially this past week, how nice it is in Creative Writing now that I know everyone better. In my freshman year, everyone already in the department was open and accepting to me, of course, but this year I feel even more solidified and comfortable in the department in a way I didn’t even realize I was lacking last year. It’s not as though I’m sharing my work with strangers or even close acquaintances but actual close friends.

Creative Writing has an incredibly strong and close-knit community, I might even go so far as to say a family. It’s not just a class that we all happen to be in together, we’re friends who care about each other on a deep level. As we all took a bow to close out the show, it struck me just how quickly last year passed by, and that it will likely continue to pass just as fast. It makes me sad to think that one day I’ll graduate and I won’t get to see my department five days a week, but it also makes me value the time I do have. I don’t want to take any of this time for granted or leave with any regrets in mind.


Zai Deriu, class of 2022

Struggling With Poetry By Otto Handler

Performance poetry is usually the first unit of the year in the Creative Writing department. Last year, as a freshman with two weeks of workshopping summer work, I felt like I wasn’t ready for the unit ahead of me. Not that our performance poetry unit last year was unsatisfactory, quite the opposite. I’m sure I would have appreciated it more if I didn’t have the case of the freshmen nerves.

Our artist-in-residence, Preeti Vangani, has helped me look at poetry with less tribulation. Now, as a sophomore, many things have changed, I have chosen the elements of writing that I feel I am better at. I am becoming more confident in my work as the unit progresses. Poetry is still a form that I need the most work on. I am fine with this fact and still have two more years to work on improving my writing skills in general.

I was able to fully experience and participate more like a full member of Creative Writing during this unit. I have written a more promising peace for the show coming up in late October. I am looking forward to the show because I now have a piece I feel more confident and generally happy about and that I didn’t just choose this piece a few short hours before school. I’ve actually had some time to type up some of the prompts, that I had written throughout the week no matter what I had thought about them originally. This is a poem that I wrote for this year’s performance poetry unit:



You don’t like that word?

You like that word?

Burn in hell

I don’t care

Because I hate it

So, we’re gonna change it


And I mean NOW!

The world will immediately and without noise bend to my will.

No one and nothing will ever describe anything as unchangeable again

No more unchangeable ADHD

No more unchangeable slow processing

No more unchangeable other things


How ‘bout

We knock the two letters “U” and “N” off a cliff

Never to be heard from again.

Let’s see what we have left.

You see, everything just becomes changeable.

Unsatisfied becomes satisfying

Uneven becomes even.

Unfortunate becomes fortunate

How does that sound.


I know and don’t care if its not grammarly correct.

That’s not the point.

What is the point one asks?

To change that mental mindset everyone carps about

No those words suck too

When one uses those words

They make me want to run away screaming






I know all of this

Small stupid rant

sounds too positive

So full of sunshine

So full of promise

So full of hope

So, I assure you

It will never happen

The two letters are

way too important to the English language.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope.


-Otto Handler, Class of 2022

First Field Trip as a CW Freshman by Isabella Hansen

On the first Wednesday of the school year, Creative Writing takes a trip to the Asian Art Museum. This being my first field trip as part of the CW community was a bit daunting. It started with me trying to work the terrible evil MUNI machines to try and get a ticket and having to hurry after the rest of CW. But after that, the trip turned out to be quite fun. We were all assigned a writing prompt and spread out around the many exhibits that inhabited the quiet space. One thing that I noticed was how easy it was for everyone to pull out their notebooks and write. I chose an interesting painting and sat down to examine it. Then I started writing. After we all finished with the prompt, we assembled down in the main entrance. A few other freshmen and I took the elevator with someone already in it to get down. One of my fellow freshmen was wearing a SOTA hoodie, so the guy asked us if we went to SOTA. And at that moment, packed into a tiny box, I realized that I go to SOTA for CW, and all the work that I put into my application paid off. And I was very pleased with my younger 8th-grade self for not giving up while writing another poem for the application. The poem I have written while gazing at that painting is one I treasure because it’s what I call my first “official” creative writing poem.


Their naked bodies glistened with sweat,
Squirming as the hot flames licked their smooth backs.
The putrid stink that flew out of the shell they pressed their ruby-red lips to
Drifted and landed on the shiny colorless beads that adorned their long beetle shell black hair.
A long white shell necklace that hung well past their quaking knees,
Swayed with the slight breeze they lapped up like a dehydrated dog.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder
But only a lucky few can stare at the two dancing creatures
And dive deeper
Past the scars
Past the hideous smiles
And descend into the lair
Of the kindness that landed the creatures there
Forever dancing with the fire.

Their eyes are flat as stiff paper
From the decades they have spent up
In the red sky of lit flames
Twirling with the embers that never stopped burning
Much like the tiny bit of hatred hidden away in their hearts.
Because even though it was the kindness that tossed them there,
Hatred is what kept them.

Some say it’s a warning,
Gawking at the apparent pain that these creatures exhibited.
Do not be too kind;
Just look at what happened to them,
Cursed with scars and pain
All because of the pity they chose to show.

And now,
The gawkers have passed
Learning to keep their eyes away
In fear that their once long-passed kindness
Can awaken and devour them whole.


-Isabella Hansen, Class of 2023