Interview with Penelope Richards, Runner Up in the WOW! 2021 Q4 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, November 28, 2021


Penelope Richards—nicknamed Penny—is a freelance writer and student at Brigham Young University. She was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and currently resides in Provo, Utah. Her work has appeared in Inscape and Wingless Dreamer. Penny is currently writing a collection of essays on feminism and womanhood. When not writing, Penny works at her university International Study Programs Office. Having spent her high school years abroad in Switzerland and a university semester in Mexico, she enjoys traveling and helping other students explore their world. 

Read Penelope's essay here and then return for an interview with the author. 

 ----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW:  Hi Penny, and welcome! “Unlatch” is such a powerful essay that I know many of our readers will relate to. What was your starting point when developing this piece? 

Penelope: Originally, I wrote about an experience I had when I was a child— the experience the narrator talks about during her confrontation. I really was the kid who was too afraid to touch the sting ray. I used that example to show that I never took risks. But I didn’t know where to go from there. Then, I worked on the piece in a creative writing class and decided to give the story more dimension using dialogue and character development. 

WOW: I love how you repurposed an original piece of work and layered it with another segment to give it more depth. When did you first know you wanted to become a writer? 

Penelope: Pretty much always. I’d like to think I’ve been a writer since I was a child. 

WOW: You’ve had the opportunity to spend time studying abroad while in high school and college. What are some of your fondest memories of those times? 

Penelope: I’m a major swimming and water sports zealot. I loved boating across Lake Bled in Croatia, diving into cenotes in Mexico, and lounging on the beaches of Majorca. But my most favorite moments are the simple ones I share with my family, like hot cocoa drinking contests every Christmas in Germany and snowball fights in the Alps. 

WOW: Ah, that all sounds magical! Shifting back to writing, you're currently working on a collection of essays focusing on feminism and womanhood. What inspired you to start that project? 

Penelope: As a kid, I would write stories about princesses who took boxing lessons and saved themselves from dragons. So, I’ve always been on Team Girl Power. But in high school, I learned just how prolific sexism is. It made me feel powerless. Then came the realization that I could do something by sharing my experiences. That’s what catalyzed the collection. 

WOW: I absolutely love that. Because writers are also such huge advocates for reading, what are three books you could read over and over and why? 

Penelope: "The Merchant of Venice" by William Shakespeare. I first encountered this play in a high school English class. We talked about anti- Semitism in the Elizabethan era and Shakespeare as a possible equal rights activist. I loved that. And I think Portia is a great heroine. "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman. This book is like a surreal fairy tale. It’s simple but deep. When I read it, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of a wonderous magical world. "Frankenstein" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I have so much respect for Shelley. Frankenstein is iconic, and it’s one of those classics that’s easy to read. I like to reread it during October to put me in a spooky, Halloween-y mood.

WOW: That is not the first time I've seen "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" recommended by a winner in this contest. I'll have to check it out! These are great choices, thank you for sharing your perspective behind why they are such great reads. Congratulations again and keep up the great work!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Thanks for doing this interview, and for giving us a link to Penelope's essay. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Penelope--Congratulations. Your essay is quite powerful. I imagine most women have at least one past partner that deserves to get a barb stuck somewhere on their body.

Good luck with your collection.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top