Gabriella Souza, our new nonfiction editor, lives and works as a writer and editor in Baltimore. She received the 2021 Carlisle Family Scholarship from the Community Writers and won the 2020 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest. She recently completed the MFA program at Antioch University in Los Angeles, where she received an Eloise Klein Healy Scholarship. Her work has appeared in North American Review, The Adroit Journal, Essay Daily, New South, BULL, Lunch Ticket, and Litro, among others. She is busy working on a novel.
How did you come to be involved with the journal?
I met Chelsea Lemon Fetzer at a CityLit Project event a few years ago and we had the most wonderful conversation. We stayed in touch on social media afterwards, and when I saw that she had become editor at Little Patuxent Review, I messaged her and threw my hat in the ring to be a member of the staff. I have long appreciated the work of this journal and have good friends and writing comrades who have served in various editing capacities, so I’m thrilled to be a part of this.
As the new nonfiction editor at LPR what kind of work are you looking for?
I’m looking for work that’s exciting, bold, and like nothing I’ve seen before. I love it when a writer takes me to a place I’m not expecting and is willing to take risks with structure and subject matter. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the writing needs to feel true. This summer I heard the writer Michael Jaime-Becerra discuss the difference between authenticity and truth, and I realized I had been using the wrong term for what I meant. For me, truth means that the writing goes beyond accurately depicting a person or place. We need to feel that the writer has lived the emotion in the piece and reached a depth of honesty about the experience that allows us to connect with them and understand a little more what it means to be human.
I’m looking for work that’s exciting, bold, and like nothing I’ve seen before.”
There’s been a longstanding debate (I feel as if it’s existed since the creation of The Iowa Workshop but that can’t possibly be accurate) with regards to the value of the MFA in Writing. Having received yours from Antioch, can you speak to your experience and whether or not you feel it was worth it?
Ah yes, I know that debate well! My MFA program was instrumental to my realization that I really, truly was a writer, and that the work I had written in “secret”—in my journal or in a random Word document when I had five minutes on my lunch break—had value. Beyond that, I got to think and talk about reading and writing, my two favorite things in the world, and do so with some incredible mentors. So, in my estimation, the MFA was worth it. Do I think you could absolutely find experiences similar without shelling out piles of cash? Absolutely. Every writer has to find their own way, and not all of those ways include MFAs.
I notice that you started as a journalist and are now writing prose. Would you be willing to share a little of your writerly path into prose? What writers have influenced this decision?
I have always written—my earliest stories involved My Little Ponies and characters I constructed from magazine ads. My parents were professional musicians and because I really wanted to be able to have a job and earn a living while writing, I chose to get a journalism degree. I continued to write prose but didn’t consider it as important as the other work I was doing. Luckily, I had amazing editors who helped me continue to cultivate my love for good writing. We had a writers group that used to get together during lunch at one of the newspapers I wrote for, and we read and talked about Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. And I always read prose. Some of the writers I leaned on then and continue to carry with me are Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Miranda July, Stuart Dybek, Jeffrey Eugenides, Sandra Cisneros, Zadie Smith . . . I could go on and on. It feels like the right time in my life to be writing prose, as if all of my writing experiences up until now have brought me to this point.
What is your favorite piece of writing advice?
It’s less advice and more a mantra and a good reminder. One of my professors in college always told us that if a particular aspect of your writing kept coming up as a criticism in workshop, that it was either something to work on OR your undeveloped superpower. I try to remember that every time I find myself being harsh with myself or other writers.