Austin Davis is a poet and student activist currently studying Creative Writing at ASU. Austin’s writing has been widely published in dozens of literary journals and magazines, including Pif Magazine, After the Pause, Philosophical Idiot, Soft Cartel, and Collective Unrest. Austin’s first two books, Cloudy Days, Still Nights and Second Civil War, were both published by Moran Press in 2018.
A Conversation between Austin Davis and Lily Bechtold
1. Hi, Austin. We’re so happy to have the opportunity to speak with you today! How did you get started with writing and getting your work published?
Hello! Thank you so much for this opportunity! It’s an honor! I wrote my first poem when I was in 6th grade, and I really fell in love with the way writing a poem made me feel. In junior high I continued to write poetry, and I took a creative writing class, but I didn’t really start to take it seriously until my sophomore year of high school. I remember one day it kind of just dawned on me, and I knew that THIS is is what I wanted to do with my life; THIS is how I wanted to make a positive impact on the world.
I submitted my first batch of poems to my high school’s literary magazine and one poem to Sleet Magazine. The editors of these publications wrote me back promptly and accepted my poems. I was so excited that my poetry was going to be published. I made it my goal to write, edit, and submit every day, and although I’m positive I haven’t followed this every day, I try to do it as much as I can.
2. Since 2016, you’ve built up a seriously impressive résumé of publications and awards. Do you find there are specific strategies creators can use to increase their chances of success, or do you think the process is more ambiguous than that?
I think that consistency is key. Dedication is an incredibly valuable skill for a writer. Read as much as you can and never stop trying to learn more. At the end of the day, I feel like the biggest goal should just be to get your heart on the page, and see what happens from there. I think the best things creators can do to get their work published is to read and write as much as they can, and submit their work constantly. Perseverance is important. There’s a home out there for your poem. Also, I think that finding a really good writing mentor is a big asset as well.
3. The ins and outs of submitting to journals, querying, and publishing can be seriously intimidating for a young writer. Were there any resources that you used to get yourself started, or did you learn on the fly?
It certainly can be intimidating. I was lucky enough to have met Daniel Pike, an amazing English teacher who introduced me to submitting, querying, and publishing during my junior year of high school when I transferred to ASU Preparatory Academy. Mr. Pike has really supported me the whole way, and he still supports me in so many different ways to this day. After taking his Creative Writing class my junior year, Mr. Pike created an Advanced Creative Writing class for me to take during my senior year, so he could continue to help me grow as a writer more and more. I was in the same room as the students taking his Creative Writing class, but I had different, personalized assignments that were specifically tailored to my writing career. He took videos of me reading my poems, critiqued my writing, gave me advice on how to advance in my career, and gave me a specific portion of every day dedicated to writing poetry. He even let me teach the poetry unit of his creative writing class during my senior year of high school to introduce me to teaching and to help me understand poetry on a more complex level. Mr. Pike’s teachings have really had a lasting impact on me and my writing, and I’m very grateful for all he has done for me. Having a mentor who guided me from the very beginning really jumpstarted my career.
4. As well as in literary magazines, your work has been featured in quite a few zines and anthologies. How do larger projects contrast with the process of individual publications?
I love to be included in publications with other people. I really like having my work published alongside other writers because it introduces me to more amazing people and I get to discover more beautiful writing.
5. Your chapbook, The Moon and Her Ocean, flows so beautifully and is so cohesive; how did you go about putting together the collection? What advice would you have for a young writer thinking about creating a similar work?
The Moon and Her Ocean was my first attempt at assembling a chapbook of poetry. I wanted the collection to read like a narrative, where each poem leads into the next. My goal was for people to be able to read the poems from start to finish and see something or feel something they wouldn’t have felt if the poems weren’t arranged in the way they were. If a young writer was thinking of creating a similar work, I would say they should print out all of their prospective poems, arrange the poems in piles that have something in common, and try to put the poems in an order that feels like pieces falling into place in a puzzle. I think that without even knowing it, we often write multiple poems around the same experience. We often create a series of poems that add something to each other when arranged as a group, and the key is figuring out where to put each poem. The Moon and Her Ocean was my first attempt at trying this, and I believe that I learned a lot from creating that chapbook, but I think my book Second Civil War is a better representation of this arrangement tactic, and the book I just finished writing is an even better example of this.
6. How did the process of creating your full-length collections, Cloudy Days, Still Nights and Second Civil War, differ from the process behind The Moon and Her Ocean? Do you have a “standard” process that you use for major projects like these, or does your process change depending on the work?
I think the process definitely changes depending on the project, but I always try to make each collection cohesive. Cloudy Days, Still Nights was my first full length collection of poetry. The process in getting this book published took way longer than anything else I had ever worked on. It started out as a 5 poem “mini-chapbook” Moran Press accepted for publication, and it grew from there into a full-length collection of poetry over the course of the next year. With Cloudy Days, Still Nights, my vision was to tell a story about growing up and falling in love. After I write a couple poems that I know are going to be in my next book, I always sit down and think about the story I want to tell, and I let it grow from there. I knew exactly what I wanted Second Civil War to be like from the beginning. Second Civil War is a short collection of progressive protest poetry. With this project, I worked tirelessly over the last summer until September, when Moran Press released it for the midterm elections. With this my book my goal was to use my passion to make a political difference.
7. Out of all the projects you’ve worked on and pieces you’ve created, is there anything that holds a special place in your heart? Why?
I recently finished writing the manuscript for my next book, and it’s the most raw and personal body of work I’ve created so far. It’s all about the loss of innocence, letting love in, and becoming the person you want to be. I’m really excited to share this book with the world.
8. How has being so involved in the literary world changed your perspective on writing and the publication process? Is there anything you learned that was surprising to you?
Everyone I’ve interacted with has been so incredibly supportive. They’ve all done what they can to teach me new things and help me grow as a writer. The writing community is a beautiful group of people.
9. Do you think that being a “teen writer” has ever affected the way that people see your work? What does that particular label mean to you?
When I first started trying to get published, I think that some people saw me as less professional because I was young, while other people thought it was really cool that I was a teen writer. That label is really empowering for me, and I think it should be empowering for all teen writers as well. To me, it means that you’re a young, passionate person who is following their dreams from the very beginning.
10. What kind of creative endeavors do you see in your future, and how can our readers keep up with them?
I’m currently working on a few projects. I recently finished writing my new book, which should be coming out sometime in 2019. I’m also going to try to work with some jazz musicians on a jazz/poetry hybrid piece, and I’m planning on recording a spoken word album this summer. To stay up to date with my projects, you can find me on Twitter @Austin_Davis17 and on Instagram @austinwdavis1. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me! It’s been such a pleasure!