Interview with Sophia Zhang: Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest Third Place Winner

Sunday, May 21, 2023
Sophia’s Bio:
Sophia Zhang is a young Chinese-American writer born and raised in the California Bay Area. Her writing has been awarded by Scholastic and Youngarts, and is pending publishing in The Blue Marble Review. She’s interested in exploring intergenerational family dynamics, her Chinese heritage, grief, beauty, and love in her work. Apart from writing, Sophia loves history, pickles, and Taylor Swift! 

If you haven't done so already, check out Sophia's award-winning essay "Ungrieved" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Sophia: I began writing my essay during a period when I was reprocessing some of my 'grief' and childhood years. The essay really just began as a list I brainstormed and jotted down of different core memories during that period. I then wrote short vignette-like scenes of each, slowly edited and structured them in a way that compelled me, and finally completed the last touches and revisions. It was during this process that Ungrieved evolved from many word-vomity paragraphs to a cohesive piece. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing insight into your writing process. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Sophia: I think writing my essay really did help me reprocess and self-reflect on my grieving process as a child. While I had obviously experienced the emotions I touched on in my piece like shame, loss, and fear in my piece, as well as rationalized some parts of my reaction to my father's death and illness e.g. (it’s normal for children to be scared of disease markers, even if it's on their own father) prior to writing Ungrieved, the process truly forced me to grapple again with those emotions and stitch self-understanding together around my grieving process in a way I'd avoided tackling and never been able to voice really previously. And that understanding has been really helpful to my healing process. As someone new to writing, "Ungrieved" was the second piece I've authored. Finishing it and seeing it get a positive reception from my community members was incredible and encouraged me to continue to write. In terms of craft, the piece taught me the importance of paying attention to sentence structure and not letting a desire for lyricism take away from clarity or impact. 

WOW: It sounds like writing this piece – and writing in general – has been a very powerful and healing process for you. You mentioned that you’re new to writing. What has inspired you to start writing or keep up a writing practice? 

Sophia: I originally picked up writing as a tool for self-expression and catharsis. I especially value the personal insight writing can bring to me; I find that when I write, I can recognize and better understand aspects of my personality, beliefs, experiences, and relationships with others that I might otherwise have never thought about. I continue to value writing for that purpose but since then, especially as I read the work of other writers more, I've been more and more amazed and inspired by the way writing can serve to build community and solidarity. 

WOW: Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Sophia: There are so many it's hard to choose! I really enjoy Joan Didion's work, especially The Year of Magical Thinking. I really respect the way she was able to write with such candor and rawness yet convey such power and emotional impact. I'm also a big big fan of Ocean Vuong's poetry and On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous—the lyricism and the way he uses form is such an inspiration to me. I'm also literally in love with the way Chen Chen balances optimism and lightness with pain and gravity in his poems, as well as the way Winniebell Xinyu Dong creates such striking images and nuanced depictions of intergenerational relationships in Chinese families. 

WOW: Wonderful examples! What do you hope to accomplish with your writing or what are your writing goals? 

Sophia: I'd really love for my writing to bring comfort and/or inspiration to those who read my work. Specifically for "Ungrieved," it'd be my greatest dream if anyone who has ever felt similarly isolated and ashamed of their grief to find solidarity in my piece and understand that there's nothing to be ashamed of; everyone grieves in an individual and unique way. My current writing goals are to, of course, improve my writing. Specifically, I'd like to try writing more frequently, experiment more with literary styles/genres, and disseminate my pieces more. 

WOW: Excellent and exciting goals. I hope sharing this story with WOW will help you to find your ideal audience. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Sophia: I'd just like to thank you and all of the other WOW staff for your efforts in reading through submissions so carefully and organizing quarterly competitions. I'm incredibly grateful for this honor and space. I'd also of course encourage anyone who's potentially hesitant about entering to just go for it! 

WOW: Thank you for sharing your writing with us and for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Engage on Twitter or Instagram @GreenMachine459


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