by DAVY WASHINGTON
In the fall of 2021, I came to UMW in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, wanting to find my place, but worried it would never happen. The social spheres that quickly form and just as quickly dissolve at the beginning of freshman year can be suffocating, and there seemed to be dozens—if not hundreds—surrounding me, even as we were separated by COVID precautions.
As someone who came to college mostly sure of what their major would be—English with a creative writing concentration—I didn’t think that I would give it a second thought when classes started. But my grades didn’t initially match my love for poetry and writing, and I questioned whether English was really the right fit for me.
Aside from my in-class struggles, being an English major comes with a lot of stereotypes. Many think that it’ll lead to struggling with unemployment, but the worst part of my time was struggling with really harsh phases of writer’s block and a lot of self-doubt about whether or not being an English major was socially acceptable. Growing up, I never heard of people being able to major in English, and even once I learned that it was a possibility, those who did follow that path were seemingly few and far between. This academic uncertainty only made the social uncertainty worse.
When the spring semester started, a lot of my friends had found their place, or were at least beginning to, but I still felt a little clueless. That is, until Club Carnival came around, and I found the Aubade’s table. I was greeted by the directors of marketing and layout, Sarah Miller and Layla Barnes, respectively, who immediately struck up a conversation with me, asking about me and why I was interested in the Aubade.
On Jan. 24, 2022, I timidly walked into my first weekly, 7 p.m. Aubade staff meeting, which was just about to begin. The room was packed with masked staff members buzzing with conversation, and that only drew me in. We had a Google Drive folder full of works—poetry, prose and artwork—to discuss that meeting, and people were still flowing in as the submissions director introduced himself and went over the agenda. As the meeting went on, more and more jumped out at me that I wanted to chime in on.
Weeknight after weeknight spent looking at students’ poetry and prose, I felt a sense of ease, like I had been seamlessly welcomed into a group of people so similar to me. I realized, as one staff member eagerly passed out copies of the magazine from the semester before, that things were clicking into place for me.
The officers of the club at the time I joined—Maggie Millar, Sarah Miller, Layla Barnes and Hollis Cobb—created a community that valued student input and fostered a creative outlook.
The staff members of the Aubade made me feel like my voice was heard, as my comments contributed to lively discussions on what we liked and didn’t like about a piece.
Being part of the Aubade meant discussing works that put my college experience—and thus my major—into perspective. After finding a home in the Aubade’s community, I was able to branch out and find more appreciation for the literature scene on campus. Taking an introductory creative writing class was the perfect choice, as it culminated all of the wonderful parts I had experienced in my extracurriculars into a class, and it exposed me to even more poetry from published writers and fellow students alike.
My worries about being an English major, I realized, couldn’t have been further from the truth; there is so much value and beauty within the literary arts, and there is always a need for those who create this art, too. Through the bright minds that populate the UMW campus, always astonishing me with their skill and creativity, I have been able to witness this beauty firsthand, and I am so lucky for it.
As my fears dissolved, I embraced the English major identity, allowing me to be inspired by the faculty in the English department. Dr. Laura Bylenok was my professor for my Intro. to Creative Writing class, and her words allowed me to see poetry as both writing and a form of art. I remember walking in on my first day of classes in the spring being scared of whether or not I’d fit in or find any use out of the class, but I can say with certainty that I’ve grown exponentially as a writer since then and am able to see poetry in many different ways.
Now, I’m enrolled in Dr. Bylenok’s Creative Writing: Poetry class, and it’s been an invigorating experience. She’s the kind of professor that will give you insightful comments and make poetry a playful learning experience. When we’re learning about a specific form of poetry, we discuss example poems in class before writing our own poems in that style. What I love is that she’s all for breaking the rules of tradition, so I’ve never been afraid to add my own twist to the poems I submit for class.
Growing more comfortable in class and in the Aubade not only tamed the nagging doubts in my head, but it also led me to run for a leadership role on the Aubade as the special programming director. When I was elected, I created a committee of people to plan and run our events to make them as fun and enjoyable as possible. One of these events was a Spooky Story competition that I planned for October. It involved a prize basket of Halloween-themed goodies, along with some UMW swag. It might’ve been small, but it was a creative twist on our usual Open Mic nights that ended up being a fun way to engage with the community.
After finding so much purpose in the Aubade, I founded a poetry admiration club of my own called Fine Print with my friend Elsa Howell, which took off this semester. In Fine Print, we focus more specifically on poetry admiration by looking at poems from past authors and discussing themes, topics and what we enjoy about poetry. We also do activities to bolster creativity and fuel ideas for people to write more poetry themselves.
Though so much has changed, when I think back to when I first held the spring 2022 issue of the Aubade—the first one that I contributed to—I felt how much the Aubade valued my words, as my feedback helped determine which pieces were published. The opportunity to create a free literary magazine for students, to contribute to a longstanding UMW publication and to share our art and our love for creative writing with the entire campus, has been unmatched.
In my time at UMW, I’ve not only grown as a writer, but I’ve gained more confidence in my major and the path it’s leading me down in life. I’ve established a solid presence in the department and on campus by working as a writing consultant, joining the Aubade, founding Fine Print and contributing in my English classes. Moving forward, I hope that from now until I graduate I can make a lasting impact on the literature community at UMW through groups or programs that bring even more like-minded people together to keep the art form alive. My goal is to take Fine Print and turn it into an organization that other college campuses can take on and adopt in some form. But no matter what, through these efforts, I know I’ve found my place.