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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Writing in 2020: Interview with poet and novelist Savannah Brown

3 December 2020
Literary and Creative editor Julia Dezsö talks to Savannah Brown about her latest self-published collection of poems, success as a teenager and the experiences of being a writer during the pandemic

Savannah Brown is a young poet and novelist that any aspiring writer can look up to: beautifully articulate, deliciously dark, and keenly aware of the anxieties our generation. In her recent interview with i-D, she was asked why she describes herself as a “very troubled girl” in her Twitter bio. Her response: “I’m troubled by the state of the world, I’m troubled by all these books in my living room, I’m troubled by the process, I’m troubled by day-to-day life.” Yes. 

Born in Ohio in 1996, her career began as a teenager when a spoken word poem of hers went viral. She then self-published her first poetry collection Graffiti at age 19 after moving to London. In 2019 she published her first novel with Penguin Random House UK entitled The Truth About Keeping Secrets and last October she graced us with another exquisitely existential self-published poetry collection, Sweetdark. 

Transported by the experience of reading Sweetdark last month, I reached out to her in hopes of finding out more. In this short interview she tells us all about writing Sweetdark, her experience of 2020, what inspired her and what it’s like to be a self-published (and published) author in your 20s. 

How has 2020 been for you?

Weird! Fine! My average day hasn’t changed at all and I’ve been on deadline after deadline throughout the various lockdowns. Keeping busy. I don’t wish to imagine the state I’d be in now had I not had something with which to occupy myself.

How did you start your career? 

A spoken word poem of mine went viral back when videos still went viral. An audience found me from there (I say ‘found me’ to stave off questions about intentionally growing an audience, which I’m asked how to do often, despite having literally no idea). I kept sharing poems, and there was eventually interest for a physical collection from me. I was at university at the time and had a retail job that I despised and was inordinately miserable, so self-publishing Graffiti became a business venture as much as an artistic one (true of anything published but hey-ho) and I’ve been writing full-time since. 

What made you return to self publishing for Sweetdark?

I see Sweetdark and Graffiti as almost a tidy little duology so I thought it made sense for the process and their subsequent existence to match closely. There are a lot of good things about self-publishing (speed, autonomy, control, both professional and creative) and poetry is quite manageable to self-publish in my opinion, more so than a novel which I don’t think I’d attempt. I’d eventually like to move my poetry into the traditional sphere but for now I’m happy occupying my strange and cozy niche.

Was Sweetdark at all inspired by the pandemic? If not, what inspired the collection?

I started writing it early last year – semi-hilariously, as it does have a distinctly panic-written-in-2020 vibe. I was really overstimulated then, a great number of ludicrously high highs matched by debilitatingly low lows (in my relationships but also as it related to my identity and self-image) and I found the horrible whiplash of it worthy of discussion. It just so happened that those feelings mirrored the universal experience of being alive during a solitude-based global crisis so, lucky, I guess. Since I was still editing three or four months or so into lockdown leaning into the pandemicverse definitely occurred to me. But I also didn’t want them to be overly bound to the time. 

What is your favourite poem of the collection (you can name a top 3, if it’s too hard to decide!)?

I don’t know! Top three I guess are ‘enough’, ‘if i’ve ever made something beautiful’ and ‘the universe may stop expanding in five billion years’? Probably? I guarantee if anyone ever asks me this again I’ll have changed my mind.

What is your creative writing process? What inspires you?

I am a firm believer in my knowing nothing – like, I know things but I’m never not aware that there are people more knowledgeable, better versed or practiced in just about everything than me – except when it comes to the self! I am the only one who lives in here! The initial seed always happens internally, concepts as they relate to my fears and relationships and experiences. As I write the concept morphs to suit whatever I decide my point to be, which means it becomes more fictitious than autobiographical (maybe more in my novels as my poetry tends to stick closer to reality than I’d like). My themes stay the same. I’m interested in nature and our relationship to it, identity, existence, vulnerability, existence-as-vulnerability, end of the world scenarios. These are of course massive ideas at odds with my tendency towards the small and personal so I think what’s evoked from a lot of what I write is like, here is how I felt once, and here is what I think that says about literally everything.

Do you have any advice for young writers looking to get into self-publishing or to publish their writing? Where do you begin?

Because what I did was largely silly and unsound I’ll advise them instead to do what I wish I’d done: don’t rush. Your debut will always be your debut and it’s in your best interest to let it simmer. Your initial intention shouldn’t be to grow an audience but to cultivate community. Don’t rush. Readers of poetry are writers of poetry; reach out to similarly-experienced poets who you enjoy. Read widely and voraciously. Do not rush. 

Sum up your writing style in one sentence

She is clearly afraid of many things but is trying very hard.

Thank you so much to Savannah for taking the time to answer these questions and sharing her wisdom. Get your own copy of Sweetdark here. 

 

Words, Julia Dezsö