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Quick Take: Finding Her Readers
Manuela Bowles (also known by pen name Manuela Williams) has managed to accomplish in a few short years what many writers hope to achieve over the course of a lifetime—and all before she'll receive her undergraduate degree in English this week. In addition to the 11 individual poems and stories various literary journals have scooped up for publication, independent press Birds Piled Loosely recently published a short collection (or chapbook) of Bowles’ poetry, Ghost in Girl Costume — placing her work alongside that of long-established poets with full-length collections under their belts. Bowles also serves as a guest reader for literary journal Carve Magazine, reviewing and recommending the work of her peers for publication.
Bowles is also a skilled academic writer and researcher. She won a 2015 UNLV University Libraries Lance and Elena Calvert Undergraduate Research Award as a junior for her paper “Margaret Atwood and the Implications of the Word ‘Love,’” in which she explored the portrayal of ideal romantic love in Western literature and Atwood’s rejection of that ideal in the author’s work.
When did you start writing, and when did you realize you wanted to pursue it as a career?
I’ve written stories and poems since I was a kid and was always encouraged by my parents and teachers. I actually started college as a biology major, but during sophomore year, I decided to reevaluate my career path. I switched my major to English after I took a couple of courses with English professor Amy Green, who really values students’ writing and viewpoints. She helped me see the value in my own work, which solidified that writing is what I love and want to do.
Who is your favorite author and why?
My favorite author is Margaret Atwood. She’s one of the first poets I ever read. I like her because she’s to the point and addresses issues that matter to women.
Is that how you came to choose the topic for your award-winning research paper?
I’d written an essay on Atwood’s poem “Variations on the Word Love” for the Writing About Literature course Dr. Green was teaching. Dr. Green liked my essay and encouraged me to expand upon it for the Calvert Award application.
What was your research experience like?
Dr. Green helped guide me through the research process by pushing me to find obscure resources and think more deeply about my subject. At one point, I reached out to a Canadian library’s special collections that housed a one-of-a-kind Margaret Atwood archive. They sent me this huge file containing magazine and newspaper articles with Atwood’s notes in the margins that she had used to research her own books and poems. This is an example of how research for academic and creative writing doesn’t differ as much as one might think. In creative writing you’re constantly reading other people’s work while trying to perfect your own. You’re still studying and learning. I was so excited when I received the materials, I read them all in one sitting.
What do you think of The Handmaid’s Tale series on Hulu?
When I first heard that Hulu was coming out with the series, I was unbelievably excited and hopeful. The original movie, which premiered in 1990, was not very well done in my opinion. I was disappointed that the movie didn’t do the book justice, so I had high hopes for the new Hulu series. I haven’t seen much of it yet but am planning on binge-watching the entire series once the semester is over. From the little clips I have watched so far, I can tell that the series is going to be equally parts horrifying and riveting.
What would you say are the keys to your successes, both creatively and academically?
Having a very supportive family and great mentors at UNLV has definitely helped me achieve my accomplishments. In addition to Dr. Green’s help with research, I’ve received lots of support as a student employee at Lied Library. Angela Ayers, my supervisor and executive assistant to the dean of the University Libraries, really cares about students and has encouraged me in my academic and creative pursuits.
Pursuing creative writing requires resilience. Unfortunately, I’ve had people tell me I couldn’t write or I wasn’t ready to submit my work for publication. It was discouraging at first, but then it stoked a fire in me to push myself and prove them wrong. That’s how I connected with Raegen Pietrucha, who is a published creative writer and director of communications in UNLV’s Division of Research and Economic Development. She provided me with guidance on creative writing and publishing processes.
Once you start submitting work, though, you have to get used to inevitable rejections. Those can be difficult to deal with. The first story I tried to get published was rejected by several journals before it found the right home. The support of my family and mentors at UNLV helped me cope with rejections and celebrate my successes.
What impact do you hope your writing will have?
I hope my work will inspire people to use writing as a tool to address whatever they may be struggling with. I think writing and literature can have a big impact on society in that way. For me, writing is a mechanism of survival. The female body, the relationships we have with our bodies, and mental health issues are all of interest to me as an author.
What’s next on your accomplishments to-do list?
I’d like to go to graduate school for creative writing and get an education certificate. I want to work with kids to teach them about literature and writing because it’s important to build that appreciation of the craft early and support them in their interests.
I also want to start my own literary magazine someday. My goal is to discover new writers and showcase their work, which I already do a little bit of as a guest reader for Carve.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t write. Work hard, have faith in yourself, and know that your writing will eventually find its reader.
Excerpt from the chapbook Ghost in Girl Costume by Manuela Williams:
"ghost in girl costume"
she is allowed to cut
two eyes out of a pale sheet
slip it over her solid body
as if there is nothing
in skin to pinch
she is allowed to wander
musty corridors at night
making “ooooo” sounds
everyone will be terrified at first
but then giggle because
silly, spirits aren’t real
but the minute I try to be something
other than slinking pastel ectoplasm
suddenly, I’m a jerk
my sad songs are ear sores
brushing an icy
tendril across a blood-warmed cheek
a long time ago
the most odd shade of murder red lipstick
but when I pressed the color to my lips,
swallowed it whole
for eight years I existed
with random bits of makeup
floating around in my body:
the strange lipstick, a clumpy mascara wand,
and a whole palette of plum eyeshadow
I try to be a little more
than what I am on a daily basis:
tapping on a girl’s windshield or dust
living under a sagging bed
I like to think
one year, one century
I will walk into a trendy craft store and
use all my collected coupons to buy
pretty felt and hair-colored yarn
I will make myself a costume
and then I, too, will make “ooooo” sounds
everyone will wonder who the ghost girl is
and where they can get one
how they can be one
The poem “ghost in girl costume” originally appeared in The Blue Route.
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