The millennials are on the move, and they are out to make their mark on the international literary scene. Encouraging their creative spirit is the international lit and art e-zine Parallel Ink, founded and edited by teens to publish the writing and art of teens. It celebrates its 4th birthday this summer. Puinoon Na Nakorn, Jiyoon Jeong, and Jamie Uy were classmates in seventh grade at the International School of Bangkok. When Jeong had to move to South Korea in the summer of 2012, they decided to create a magazine in order to keep working on cool projects together. And so Parallel Ink was born, first in a pdf format, and now as an on-line journal. Soon after, Jamie Uy herself moved to Singapore, where she studies at the Singapore American School. SP caught up with this enterprising young writer and editor to find out what makes Parallel Ink and her tick.
Illustration / Sue Yoon
SP. Parallel Ink is a great name for an international lit + art e-zine. How and why did you and your co-founders decide on the name?
JU. We were sending each other suggestions via Gmail chat, and Jiyoon came up with ‘Parallel Ink’ on a whim. We fell in love with it immediately. It’s quirky, experimental, and young: ‘Ink’ evokes print and literary tradition, but adding ‘Parallel’ gives it a modern twist. In fact, when you say the full name quickly, ‘Ink’ becomes ‘Link’! We thought that was very fitting for a digital magazine run by millennials.
We also liked what the name suggested about the universality of writing and art. When we were deciding, we already knew that Jiyoon was moving to Korea, and I was moving to Singapore. We thought, oh, PI staff and submitters live in different countries and may never meet – like parallel lines – but our craft grows in similar, parallel ways and our stories share common themes. Through writing and art we can ‘meet’ each other. That struck a chord, since we didn’t know if we would be able to reunite anytime soon. Along with the wonderful functionality of the name as explained in the paragraph above, it’s very much a tribute to our friendship and the internationalism of the online young writers and artists community as a whole.
SP. How is Parallel Ink different from other literary and artistic platforms aimed at a youth audience?
JU. Most importantly, we’re youth, too! All PI staff members are teenagers, just like our readers and submitters. As a result, I feel that we’re more friendly and empathetic when reading submissions than platforms edited by adults. We take giving thoughtful and genuine feedback to every submission very seriously, because we know what it’s like to be on the other side of the screen, juggling school and creative pursuits at the same time, searching for a group of like-minded and passionate writers/artists, and hoping that your work gets read with care and attention. We also know what it’s like to be rejected or accepted for publication and not know why, or how to improve; that’s what we want to avoid. We want to encourage, support, and publish our peers to the best of ability.
In addition, PI is one of the most international e-zines out there run for youth, by youth. We believe that literary and artistic platforms should be as inclusive and diverse as possible, so our staff and submitters come from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. For example, we recently welcomed a cohort of staff members from USA, Singapore, India, Canada, Philippines, England, Pakistan, Thailand, and Indonesia. We’re the only youth e-zine I know that has a translations department. We translate accepted pieces from English to other languages, such as Chinese, French, and Thai, and we feel strongly that translation is important for lit mags, and should be getting more love as our world and the lit/art scene becomes more interconnected, multilingual, and transcultural.
SP. What do you look for in the poetry and art submissions? What makes you jump up and say, we must publish this?
JU. Simply put, poetry and art that’s fresh, combines the best of original ideas and technical mastery. Just to give some context on poetry submissions at PI, over half of all submissions we receive are poetry. We see the same topics again and again: first loves, family, friends, nature, death, growing up, culture, school, and politics are all phenomenally popular. If you can make us feel like it’s the first time we’re reading about that topic in that way, whether it’s by using an unconventional form, turning an idea on its head, weird metaphors, startlingly vivid imagery, etc.; and then you’re well on your way to an acceptance.
As for art submissions, but we get extremely excited over work that plays with different mediums and digital art-making techniques in unusual ways. We’d also love to see more variety in our inbox: send us your films, glitch art, calligraphy, 3D animations, photos of your pottery – anything you create that we haven’t published before!
SP. Congratulations on being an official youth media partner of Singapore’s All In! Young Writer’s Media Festival 2016. At the festival you hosted a panel discussion about how young writers could get their work “out there.” Could you briefly summarize the advice you gave?
JU. Sure! We had three main messages for our audience: 1) believe in the value of your work, 2) be proactive, and 3) have faith in your unique creative process. We encouraged them to find online writing communities, submit their work to a variety of places, get involved with youth zines, be open to feedback, and experiment with different genres/styles. We also shared our personal experiences dealing with rejection and interacting with other teens through PI – stressing that if you truly love what you do, you should keep on writing/making art/translating, no matter what, and you shouldn’t be afraid to call yourself a young writer/artist/translator. It may be tough to get published at first, but thanks to the Internet, there are more magazines than you could possibly ever hope to submit to — trust that you’ll be able to find a home for your work!
SP. What questions did the audience have for you? Any that took you by surprise?
JU. Two students asked us about how they could join PI and submit their work, which was really sweet to hear! Another student asked us about the origin of our name. I was caught by surprise on the last question, which was how we managed to do PI work along with schoolwork during the term. I confessed that I found it kind of funny since I constantly ask myself that, too.
SP. You are a writer yourself, and have won plaudits as a Commended Foyle Young Poet, a winner in the Cape Farewell/Poetry Society’s SWITCH Challenge, and a member of the Adroit Journal Online Summer Mentorship Program. How did your love of writing begin? What has encouraged it along the way?
JU. My love of writing begins and always circles back to my love of reading. But by reading, I don’t mean just the written word. I’m obsessed with stories in all forms, be it poetry, music, film, television, or animation. My parents have this great story that when I was one year old, they put on an episode of Barney & Friends, thinking I would fall asleep – but instead, they fell asleep and woke up to find that I had stayed awake the entire night, watching the episode over and over again. In a sense, I’m still that kind of reader — happy to spend hours in or thinking about fictional universes. That’s helped give me the focus and energy to write. When I was a little older, my mom was concerned that I was becoming addicted to TV, so she splurged on a set of Enid Blyton books for me, and I became hooked on reading instead. As I read, I started writing in journals – at first, diary entries on friends and school and vacations, but eventually I moved to short stories that mimicked Blyton’s and plot summaries for a fantasy novel that I meant to write, that borrowed heavily from Harry Potter. I started writing poetry in third grade after reading lots of Shel Silverstein. Learning from and interacting with texts I loved, through fanworks, imitations, or my own original characters helped me think more imaginatively, to practice different styles, and play with genres.
I’ve known since I was seven that I wanted to be some sort of story-teller, but it wasn’t until middle school that I started submitting my work. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have parents who wholeheartedly support my strange hobby, and will listen to my random dinner table rants/raves about literature and movies. I’ve also had the most wonderful experiences in school – all of my English teachers have been amazingly supportive of my writing (to the point where they even gave me class time to work on my projects). And I’m fortunate to have a fantastic community of other young writers to talk to through Parallel Ink, the Adroit mentorship program, and my school’s crazy fun Creative Writing Club.
SP. You have lived in many countries and encountered a rich array of experiences, even at the ripe old age of 17. How does this peripatetic upbringing influence your writing?
JU. I’ve never felt like I belong to any one culture. My parents are Filipino-Chinese, but the majority of my life has been here in Singapore, studying at an American international school. I spent my formative middle school years in Thailand, where I started writing more seriously. I can’t speak Tagalog, Kapampangan, or Hokkien, which are the languages and dialects my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins speak at home. I use writing to try and figure out the world around me and negotiate/explore my hybrid cultural identity, so cities, travel, homesickness, nostalgia, and nuclear families appear frequently in my stories.
However, on a happier note, not belonging to any one culture as I’ve lived/visited family in other countries has also been a blessing, in the sense that it’s allowed me both an insider and outsider perspective on so many stories of people from all walks of life. My third culture kid experiences are also a big part of my Parallel Ink work, and why we emphasize internationalism and transculturalism so much in our platform.
SP. Who are your favorite writers, and what have you learned from them about writing and becoming a writer?
JU. My favorite writers are Banana Yoshimoto and Haruki Murakami. I’ve always admired Murakami’s discipline, and how healthily and cleanly he goes about writing. He manages to make even the weirdest, most convoluted stories make sense. As for Yoshimoto, I love how she can transform the everyday – a kitchen, a katsudon meal – into something miraculous and life-saving. She always manages to lift her heroines from despair. Her writing is so hopeful. I’d like to write like that one day.
SP. What are you working on in your writing right now?
JU. Poetry has been my sole focus for a while now, so I’d like to shift and try my hand at more prose and fiction. I’ve been experimenting with prose poetry and short stories for the past year, and I’m currently polishing up a research paper that analyzes cultural hybridity and racial representation in the Disney-Pixar film Big Hero 6.
SP. What is your favorite quotation about writing? Why does it mean so much to you?
JU. I’ve always found the advice of Rainer Maria Rilke particularly comforting. My favorite book on writing is Letters to a Young Poet. It has so many great lines. One of my favorites is, “To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come.”
The energy of the online young writers community is exhilarating, but sometimes I do feel peer pressure to enter contests, publish more work, produce more content. Returning to Rilke’s words always helps ground me, and remind me what’s really important: to nurture my craft, be honest to myself, and trust that I’ll find a home for my words when I’m done.
Jamie Uy is a seventeen-year-old poet & pop culture enthusiast. Her writing has been recognized by Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and Cape Farewell/Poetry Society’s SWITCH Challenge. You will probably bump into her sometime at the library@orchard, where she likes to edit Parallel Ink and research films and fandoms.