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Meet The Fellows

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Photo credit: betterself

Hello everyone, here I am, back at it again blogging, after a fairly long hiatus. I say hiatus because it sounds purposeful, but it's honestly just because I got hit with a wave of work that left me floundering on my living room floor, shoveling alfredo into my mouth while editing children's books at 2 in the morning.

I'm super excited about this post. A few weeks back I had reached out to my communities and proposed a new literary fellowship for people interested in breaking into the publishing industry and looking for education, resources, and using this as a space to cultivate creative work and jump start their career. I received an overwhelming amount of interest. It genuinely brought me so much joy and filled me with warmth to know that there are so many people who trusted me with this process and wanted to collaborate with me. During the process of finding someone to work with, I truly fell in love with the passion and wildly brilliant people I got to meet. It had been so thrilling, but also gave me such a crushing realization of how many people are out there with the vision and brilliance to bring incredible books into the world, but with literally no access to do so. There are so many barriers to even get into "entry-level" positions that are really positioned as mid-level requirements for less pay. There are curtains pulled over the industry and I listened as people shared their experiences and frustrations. I met more people with such an unshakeable passion for storytelling than I have in a long time.

So, after a lot of personal reflection and with my own support systems and communities, I welcomed not one, but six literary fellows. Each of these fellows have such beautifully personal stakes in children's literature and desires to uplift voices not traditionally supported within publishing. I'm so stoked to work with them on their projects and with their entry into publishing.

Seriously, each of these women are ones to look out for. Check out each of the fellows below and get to know them a bit more.

Michelle Rajan is a South Asian-American kidlit writer pursuing a bachelor's degree in neuroscience and creative writing at Muhlenberg College. She hosts a weekly college radio show on 91.7 fm WMUH called "Continental Drift" that features her favorite songs in Malayalam, Hindi, Korean, Spanish, and English. These songs are what inspired the heart of her young adult novel, a contemporary story with speculative elements, that explores her thoughts on immigration, sisters, higher education, and the language of music. Michelle will graduate from Muhlenberg this May and relocate to Philadelphia where she will serve as a mentor in AmeriCorp's City Year program. This is her chance to work in addressing the education inequity in the U.S. plus also tell her students all about her favorite books like Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, and My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. She hopes to take all of these experiences into the writing community and create spaces for marginalized authors to explore their nuanced identities in every stage of publishing: from their stories to the covers of their novels, from their marketing materials to their editorial feedback. It's a huge goal but Michelle prides herself on keeping an open mind and she can't wait to see where her book-lover journey takes her. If you want to follow along, you can find her on Twitter @michelle_rajan

Alaa Al-Barkawi first fell in love with literature after reading Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street when she was a sophomore in high school. Since then, Alaa has always had an affinity for raw, poetic storytelling. An aspiring novelist herself, Alaa draws upon her heritage as an Iraqi-American and is hopeful for more underrepresented voices to enter the publishing world. Alaa earned her degree in English and sociology and currently works with first-generation, low-income students at a community college in Salt Lake City, UT. She is excited to be apart of the first cohort of Literary Fellows for Bookends Literary Agency.

Kiana Krystle Lew is a fourth generation Asian American, born and raised in California. She graduated from San Francisco State University in 2020 with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. During her time in undergrad, she worked as a copy editor in children’s literature and tutored English to immigrant students at under resourced schools through 826 Valencia. Kiana currently works as an editorial intern at North Star Editions for their Young Adult and Middle Grade imprints, Flux Books and Jolly Fish Press. She is an aspiring Young Adult Fantasy writer herself, currently querying her first novel. Kiana loves cottagecore, romance, fairytales, and the sea. Some of her favorites include: Bridgerton, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, Disney Princess movies, and fairytales by Hans Christian Anderson. You can connect with Kiana on social media @kiana_krystle on Instagram and Twitter.

A lover of all things book and food-related, Elba Luz is a Latinx student finishing up her B.A. in Creative Writing. When she’s not watching anime or piling up her TBR list, you can find her desperately trying to get over writer's block. She’s excited to expand her knowledge of the publishing world alongside her peers. No matter where her role falls, she’ll be uplifting stories from BIPOC and traditionally marginalized authors. If you catch her on Twitter live-tweeting about video games, please remind her she likely has an essay due @Luzz_rosado

Ramona D. Pina is a chameleon. One moment she’s an x-ray tech, the next a poet, writer of novels, writer of poetry in multiple languages. Ever changing to blend in with the cultural anthropologists, a native Bostonian but at home in the world. She's comfortable in conversations in a range of subjects from the golden ratio to Lecrae. Whatever skin she’s wearing, she is always unapologetically herself.Her imagination was fed by her youth in inner city Boston, and strangely dark 90’s classics. She constantly lost and found herself within those stories, identifying with characters who didn't look like her. This lack of representation led Ramona to explore other places and cultures of people who also did look like her. She thrived in the world of cultural anthropology and the richness of the stories of various cultures and languages. She earned a BA in Cultural Anthropology, and those experiences continue to influence her work to this day.Ramona has always felt that her voice was her strongest weapon. Being heard, present and represented was crucial to maintaining social progress. Through her writing and performances she laid herself bare for others to examine, inspiring those to display the other within themselves. She’ll continue to push people to identify with the common humanity we share and to elevate WOC and OWN voices.Currently Ramona is pursuing her passion. She is a successful publishing specialist at BookBaby, an independent publishing co., and is enthused to join Bookends Lit as a fellow. She has recently published a chap book and a combination of her fiction, poetry and spoken word are published in various literary zines. A lover of fall and all things cozy Ramona is true to her native New England roots. A born contrarian, she believes in eating ice cream in the winter and baking in the summer; and that food is love.

Kaitlin Smith is a 22-year-old writer who currently resides in Georgia. She is studying creative writing and classical studies at Georgia State University where she spends most of her time writing in between her classes. Her writing primarily focuses on poetry and young adult fiction. She has poetry forthcoming from Allegory Ridge and has been published in Genre: Urban Arts, Rose Quartz Journal, and other various publications. She intends to work as an editor or a literary agent after college. She also has a career interest in writing young adult fiction professionally. You can connect with her on Twitter at @ladyandthebooks and on Instagram at @_ladyandthebooks. Her cat is her biggest fan.


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