by Ellen Vallonga,
Grub Street Editor-in-Chief
I believe that literature is writing that has not only aesthetic and artistic merit, but also meaning that can be felt deeply, like a crack of thunder in your core that fades to a reverberating echo that never quite dies out but rather seeps into your life, long after your eyes leave the page.
What produces felt meaning? From what I can gather, felt meaning is created when various characteristics of literature come together perfectly in a piece.
Nonliterary works can of course produce a sense of meaning in readers, but only works which are free of gimmicks (e.g. sappy writing used to invoke sympathy in readers); representative of the human experience as a whole; unique and ambitious; and relevant over time; and create felt meaning in readers through the depth and complexities that lie beneath the surface-level story – these are works of literature.
Character development, plot, themes, and so on are crucial to good literature, but I believe syntax, grammar, and word choice are often most important in producing felt meaning. The ability to string together exactly the right words is an art, and if done well, the outcome can have an impact on the reader.
This is what great literature does for us. It breaks through the fog of ordinary routine, of mundane life, and shakes us up. It trickles in through the cracks of our aloof, sarcastic façade and makes us feel something. Literature means something to us in a way, say, pop culture novels do not, even if we are not sure why. Pop culture novels leave us feeling entertained; literature should leave us feeling as though a ghost is gliding through our veins, creating chills on our skin. It should provide us with a better understanding of ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies, and our world. It should attempt to capture some aspect of our shared human experience. It should motivate us to immediate, passionate action, or render us pensive and frozen in our chair for hours – the best works do both simultaneously.
I am no expert on literature, but I have learned about literature from experts who have helped me to identify the technique, aesthetic merit, depth, and meaning in works of literature. It is an exciting task, especially if the piece is undiscovered. This is my best attempt at explaining what literature is to me. This is what I believe.
by Jess Sexton
Grub Street Managing Editor
Grub Street Design Liaison
When I was a sophomore in high school, I joined the yearbook team. I thought the class would be an easy ‘A’ and I looked forward to my rising GPA. But to my despair, on the first day of class, the advisor told us that this would be one of our most challenging courses. We had to stick to deadlines and themes, all while producing a memorable book for the entire school. The yearbook would be our baby. And our advisor was right.
We spent nine long months creating a book that captured our school’s spirit and personality. That doesn’t even include yearbook camp that we went to each summer; sounds nerdy, right? It totally was. But that’s where the book was conceived. We designed templates and narrowed down our theme. We stayed up all night writing mock-stories just to have them thrown away the next day.
But it was all worth it. Each year, our yearbook won best-in-show. We knew that if we poured ourselves into the creation of the book, we would be able to publish a masterpiece. I was on the yearbook team for three years; the two years I was a section editor, it was like a part-time job. We would stay after school every Thursday, order Old Bay cheesy fries, a soda, and a pizza from the local pizza shop and work until about nine o’clock.
After those long nights designing, writing, editing, crying, and cursing under our breaths, our baby was born. Published for the whole school to see. I was terrified. Would they like my writing? What about my photos? It didn’t matter now, the 400-page book was no longer in our hands.
There are many moments I’ll never forget. But the most memorable were from when I was complimented by my teachers who loved the stories written about their clubs or classes. I won awards for my photography. Had I actually made something that people enjoyed?
Because of moments like that, I knew I had to keep publishing. The feeling of starting an idea from scratch to having it in my hands was one of the best things I have ever experienced. I cannot wait to experience it once again with Grub Street.
by Nathan Buckman,
Grub Street Managing Editor
One of my favorite writing maxims is this: We do not write to fill a page; we write to fill an idea. With this maxim in mind, I approach literature with something akin to the reverence given holy writ, for literature’s probative exploration into the nuances of thoughts and feelings animates the depth of good literature as it gives testament to what it means to be human. For instance, I love poetry for its concision and its emotive verve. I want to feel something when I read literature, but I don’t want to be bogged down by sophomoric sentimentality.
Literature must be salient and must retain its dignity. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter pierced my soul like the stitching of the emblazed A over Hester Prynne’s breast. The tormented Claude Frollo and his Ananke (fate) in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame from the prolific Victor Hugo delved into the darkness of a man driven by his own demons. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein reverberated the cacophony of nature and science—the painfully human tale accentuated the true characteristics of a monster. These stories had gorgeous emotive vitality without succumbing to sentimentality.
Stories have fascinated me throughout childhood, and now, in adulthood, I study them and their effect, their mechanical structure and poetic cadence—and the rhetoric of language. I read voraciously as a child. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer filled my aspiring mind; Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain taught me the connection to nature and the need to nurture wonder; Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Sign of the Beaver gave me an identity. Literature does that—gives an identity to the reader.
Like David Balfour in Kidnapped and Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island from the auspicious Robert Louise Stevenson, I want literature to breathe in that exuberant adventure of life. James Baldwin, a Harlem Renaissance writer, says: “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” Words have meaning and can elevate a person’s soul to the peaks of the Himalayas or can descend that soul to the cavernous heart of the mountain. In that pursuit, there is no nobler an Ananke than reaching for the green light in the distance (reaching as Gatsby did in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby). Through (L)iterature, I reach.
by Megan Clark,
Grub Street Marketing & Publicity Director
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
The first time I was published, I was 12 years old. Sounds ridiculous, I know. It was my middle school's yearly literary journal that highlighted student work, chosen by teachers at the school. The fact that my seventh-grade language arts teacher chose MY short story to be printed in the magazine along with the yearbook inspired me. I felt so important and appreciated. I felt on top of the world.
It sounds so lame but it's true. I ran home from the bus stop to show my mom on the last day of school. The story was from an assignment that Mrs. Colgan gave us. Rewrite a classic nursery rhyme or fairy tale. Seems simple enough but I was stuck between ideas.
I ended up going with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” I wrote about a boy who found a fallen star. The star didn't know how to get back up in the sky, so the boy found a new job for him; to live inside the broken traffic light on his street corner.
It was a pretty cute story, if I do say so myself.
I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a writer. No longer did I hope to be a veterinarian, a computer scientist, or professional basketball player. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to tell people stories and make them feel something.
I had a poem published in the magazine as well. It was about my dog, Charlie, who had just passed away. He was the family dog and my father took it the hardest. I had written a poem as a free-write in class about Charlie’s life from beginning to end, and it made my dad cry.
I wanted to do it again. Not make my dad cry, but make someone feel something that moved them in that kind of way. Whether it was laughter, sadness, or comfort, I yearned to recreate that moment.
Since then, I’ve been published small scale a few times: The Odyssey, school literary magazines, and the local online newspaper. Each time is a rush that I never want to stop experiencing.
To be a soldier, must maintain composure at ease
Though life is complicated, only what you make it to be.
–Tupac Shakur, “My Ambitionz Az a Ridah.”
Music colors the world we live in, at least for me. Many times I was able to find strength and empowerment through my favorite artists and songs. To introduce myself, I must introduce Hip-Hop first. Hip-Hop music has negative and positive aspects, as do most artistic genres. The evolution of this genre has showed the power of words as many songs have had the power to both divide cultures and unite races. Just as literature can be controversial, music can be as well. Artists connect to their listeners through their beats and lyricism. Many times the purpose is to show fans that regardless of what someone goes through, success is always attainable.
Tupac Shakur revolutionized music when he began educating his fans through his lyrics and words. Being an artist in the 90s, Tupac said many things that other artists were afraid to say. His words have spoken to me and many others of what it means to be an educated person of color. His lyrics, along with those of several other rappers, were the first English lessons I learned. I explored wordplay, puns, similes, metaphors, character development, and more through the intricate and purposeful use of language in my favorite songs. Tupac showed me the power of words, which gave me the love that I have for writing. Just how music has saved some rappers, writing has saved me and has inspired my ambitionz az a writer.
My entire life I attended predominantly white institutions for my schooling. It never got easy. My friends were different; they were more privileged, they got along better with the teachers, and they were white. I grew up trying to ignore where I came from in order to feel that I had a place in the crowd. Yet every time, for some reason, I was always ten steps behind. So eventually I gave up. It’s exhausting pretending to be someone you are not and it’s depressing to turn your back on your heritage. With so much confusion in my head, what did I have left to do? I did the only thing that felt right in my heart, I listened to music. The lyrics became my safe haven and the artists became my friends. I listen to Rap and Hip-Hop because I feel exultant from the intellectual words coming from people who society wishes would fail. Exemplary people that prove it is possible to make it on your own. The way these artists deal with their everyday struggles is what I dream of being able to do.
The faith that artists place in their words and skills of lyricism has saved them from repeating cycles of poverty or of a painful life, as well as, saved their fans. I was weary about majoring in English because I thought that I would always be undermined for being a Latina attempting to make a career out of her second language. Yet, now I understand that this is what sets me apart from the many writers already existing in the world. I have a story of triumph to share, and I have a responsibility to reach the youth of my culture. Like Tupac said, I might not change the world, “but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will.”
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
Poetry is an art form that everyone can read, but all may not understand it right away. The way in which poetry is phrased, constructed, and handled is different from the ways writers will create and mold their stories. This isn’t to say that poetry is an isolated art form to a select group, but instead is something that can be looked upon and interpreted in a multitude of ways. Such an aspect creates an open door for anyone wanting to step into the world of poetry and get a better understanding from either the reader's point of view, the poet's point of view, or both perspectives. The first step into the world of poetry is to understand the type, the style, of poetry that speaks the most to them.
There is no set length on how long, or how short, a poem needs to be. The length can determine the style a person would be interested in. Now, I won’t be covering every single type of poem, but I will be covering some of the well-known types that will cover different lengths and styles. For those who enjoy short pieces, a haiku would be a nice place to start. A haiku is typically three lines that follow a format of 5-7-5 for the syllables of the words that are used. With such a length it is easy to read right through them, but they can also offer insight even at such a length. When looking for longer pieces, sonnets and dramatic monologues are some examples of mid-length poems. While sonnets follow a fourteen-line rhyming scheme, a dramatic monologue is written in first person and has the poet take on a person, or role, that is not them. Poems like these, and of similar length, offer a greater depth of the world through a variety of lenses. The depth sometimes even dips into the world of the “other,” those who are not us, which offer things we as readers and/or poets may have never imagined. Lastly, if you’re looking for a story, but still in the realms of poetry, the concept of epics and mock epics is where you will feel comfortable. Epics tell the story of hero’s and their adventures while mock epics tell stories of comedy, and they are written in great lengths with such examples as Beowulf as an epic or Don Juan as a mock epic. Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, and once a reader or poet finds what they enjoy then it comes down to word choice and how they wish to use it.
Wordplay, in my opinion, is the part of poetry that makes it fun. Poetry relies on more than just the structure of the words, but also how they are used and sounds. A previous type of poetry that was mentioned, a sonnet, is a good example of how the wordplay of a piece is going to sound. Rhyming, a repetition of similar or same sounds, is considered pleasing to some poets/readers, which furthers along the refinement of what type of poetry they are interested in. Poetry isn’t just about how it is written, but also how it is read out loud which is why some will enjoy the rhythmic patterns that particular poems will offer. The other style of wordplay that I have previously mentioned, when describing haiku’s, is when the wordplay is based on the syllables of the words being used. At times poets will use certain phrases within their works that when read over may appear “off” or “unexpected” because there are different variations that could have been used, but there is a reason for it. One reason could be that the poet had wished to imply multiple meanings because of how they worded their piece, and another reason would be that the piece is following a pattern, similar to rhyming poems, that is based more on the syllables of words and not if they sound similar. Wordplay is the second main aspect of poetry, besides the style that they come in, and they are used to help poets/readers find their comfort zone within the realm of poetry; however, sometimes even with these two aspects at their disposal the answer isn’t always clear. There is one part of poetry that I have yet to talk about; free verse.
What happens when a poet can’t decide what style they wish to write in? How they want to handle their wordplay? This is where free verse comes into play. Free verse has no limit; hence the “free” in free verse. There is no set length or style that a poet has to follow when it comes to free verse. This type of poetry offers a gateway to a vast land for the imagination for the poet, which in turn offers much to the reader. In my opinion, free verse is where I think a beginning poet should begin with their work. No need to set up barriers and restrictions at the beginning of their poetry career whether it be as an actual career or a means of entertainment.
From my own experiences, I started out in free verse and often remain as a free verse poet. After a while the structure of the poem flowed naturally. It has become as easy as breathing for me. Sometimes, when writing, the poem will take on a style or a certain variation of wordplay that is well-known. Other times I enjoy a challenge and will attempt to write a few pieces in a certain style. Its relieving and a means to express things even when the words don’t always make sense, but that is the best part of poetry. Poetry is an art form, a craft, that will take on many forms and variations becoming a means of entering a world of unlimited possibilities with the ability to express oneself however they wish. As for the reader, reading poetry brings about a new world of the unknown. Each piece could be filled with one meaning, multiple meanings, or even no meaning but instead is just a stream of thought from the poet. Poetry is a wonderful art form that everyone should get into whether it be reading it, writing it, or both.
Christopher J. Enos
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
Image Source: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/the-magnetic-heart-1252781
Before I left England for America, I remember one of my teachers informing me that ‘I’d be in for a culture shock.’ At the time, I disregarded it--How? I had thought, when we speak the same language? Oh, how naïve I was. Aside from being constantly asked to repeat myself or that 80% of Americans seem to assume that being from England means you’re from London, we are more at odds with each other than I initially thought. In the 10 months that I’ve lived here I’ve been asked if I’ve had tea with the Queen, whether black people exist in England, and if people in the UK play quidditch like Harry Potter. To make matters worse, that has been the least stressful part of it all as it is the differences between our language that tops it.
I feel there is only one man to blame for that, and that is America’s very own Noah Webster. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t admire his effort towards making America lexically unparalleled to Britain, but I could’ve avoided many awkward encounters if he hadn’t. Five weeks ago, during a class for Grub Street, I asked for a rubber to correct an error I had made whilst copyediting. I imagine the look I was given after asking this was the same Einstein may have received when he first mentioned his theory of relativity. After several moments of awkward staring, I realised I hadn’t used my American tongue and corrected myself by asking for an eraser. It turned out the odd look was given because he thought by asking for a rubber, I was implying a condom.
In fact, there have been several circumstances that have forced me to feel like E.T. reincarnated or a stand-up comedian. I remember telling some friends in a film studies group that eggplant in America is known as aubergine in England. One of them found it that hilarious, he shed real tears whilst laughing and renamed our group chat aubergine is better than eggplant. Then there are the words that possess entirely different meanings, but are spelt the same. The most common one that comes to mind is pants, which in American English signifies a piece of clothing that covers each leg, but in British English is associated with underwear. The misunderstandings I have encountered over trying to comprehend the context within the way words, like pants, are being used has been endless as the case of this extends to other everyday words such as football, biscuit, jumper, trainer, and chips.
So here I am, in an American editing class with my British lexicon, where a full-stop is called a period, colour is spelt color, and even the size of paper is no longer A4. Whilst I love being part of such a great and rewarding project, it has most definitely been challenging. I don’t consider myself a master of British English as it is, so to copyedit American English when I already have much to learn about my own language has been a head-spin. However, this has caused me to acknowledge the differences between the two. The first being that in British English we tend to use a plural verb after a collective noun whereas American English prefers to use the singular. So in Britain it is more common to state: “The government are withholding information.” Whereas in American English it is more likely for the are to be replaced with is, especially when referring to a group of people.
There is also the matter of tense. In British English, when an action in the past is having a direct effect on the present we prefer to use the present perfect tense: “Have I already asked you that?” In America, the past simple tense is used more often, so the sentence would appear as: “Did I already ask you that?” Similar differences also transpire in the present simple form of have and have got, in which the latter is used more often in British English, for example, “I’ve got to take my brother to the dentist” versus the more American, “I have to take my brother to the dentist.” It was cases like this that made my editing experience a little more frustrating as I found myself either resisting the need to rectify something because it didn’t appeal to my British lexis, or questioning the basis of what I thought may be an error because I was British. I even learnt (which would more commonly be spelt learned in America) that the way in which we use prepositions differ. For instance, when referring to periods of time, the word through is used more often in American English: “I work Monday through Friday” but the words to or till are more likely to be used in British English: “I work Monday to Friday.”
Though there are many other dissimilarities, there is no need to go on and on in attempts to identify every distinction as the point has now been made. Today, I like to consider British English and American English to be a lot like tea and coffee—both are present and known in each other’s worlds, but one is favoured and given more privilege over the other.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
Image Source: https://pixabay.com/en/cream-puff-tea-cream-puff-pastry-1829525/
I have always loved reading. Well, there was a time in my childhood where I thought reading wasn’t so great. However, I grew to love it after discovering some pretty awesome books that took me to Egypt, back to the time of dinosaurs, and even to the magical kingdom of Camelot. I was probably around six or seven when I read these books. You didn’t have to strictly use your imagination. At some points in the story there were pictures to help guide you through the landscape, or through what certain people, objects, or animals looked like. The books were fun reads.
I grew to love reading and the more I read, the more adventures I got to go on. I have a small library of books at home because of the books I read in middle and high school that still have a fond place in my heart. I can pick up one of them and remember little moments about when I was reading them.
I’m now finishing my years at Towson University as an English major. As an English major, I experience all kinds of feedback when I tell people I love to read. I get people who are also excited in books, but, for the most part, a lot of my friends, coworkers, and family members don’t read. My boyfriend doesn’t really read either.
I think part of the reason is because of the rise of video games, social media, and too much forced reading in schools. I’ve asked people why they don’t read, and the majority said it was because of the books they had to read in high school. When I hear this, a part of me dies, and I do offer suggestions. However, that doesn’t really fix the problem.
My goal in life is to introduce people to books that are fun, but also comment on society, religion, politics, or other areas relevant to today. I know a few of my coworkers would love to start a book club with me, and I’m trying to get my mother on board for a Christian book club, similar to the Bible Study group she’s in now. I want people to see that reading doesn’t have to be a chore. I want people to have fun, but also leave having learned a little bit more.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
I have always been a lover of books. Reading has been a big part of my life. My parents started reading to me when I was little and my love of books just kept growing. They became a constant, something I could rely on no matter what I was going through. They saved me during my awkward middle school years; expanding my small existence and making me feel less alone and invisible. Books were there for me in high school when my I felt like I would never fit in. They gave me an escape, so when I first starting applying to college I always thought that I would be an English major. I loved books, reading, and writing, therefore, it was the logical choice. Every school I applied to I checked English major, except for Towson. When applying to Towson, I randomly picked Mass Communications with a track in Journalism and New Media. After deciding to attend Towson, I decided to stick with journalism because, even though reading and analyzing books was something I loved, the Journalism major would forced me out of my comfort zone and allow me to grow. I learned different skills and a new fast-paced, factual way of writing.
Once I became an upperclassman and was able to take a class called Literary Journalism, I realized that creative writing could be found in journalism too and it made me crave the English classes I loved in high school. I started seriously thinking about how I could combine my love of English and my new love of journalism for my future. That is when I thought of publishing, a job where I could work with books and use my journalism and marketing skills. I got a summer internship in publishing and enrolled in Grub Street. I never expected Grub Street to be the experience it has become. It has allowed me to get an inside look into what the publishing process is from multiple perspectives: editing, designing, and marketing. Taking this class has allowed me to see the beauty in writing again and expand what I find aesthetically pleasing. I have learned a lot and hope to take these skills when I enter the next phase in my life. Grub Street allowed me to get one last taste of English before I graduate with a degree in Journalism and New Media.
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
What do you think of when you hear the term, “video game?” For some people, video games could be seen as a simple, mindless form of entertainment that doesn’t have much value outside of pressing buttons and a few hours of distraction. If you would have asked me what value they had outside of entertainment a few years ago, even though I spent a lot of time gaming, I would have probably agreed. Nowadays, however, I have come to realize that video games have potential to possess as much value as literature. Video Games are more than button-pressing time wasters. They can be filled with great stories, complex and relatable characters, and thought provoking themes. Before I continue, I should give a potential spoiler warning for some games.
In literature, a good character is going to be one who is three dimensional, one who can be analyzed beyond what is represented in the pages, or presents a commentary on an issue. When talking about character analysis, I think a good example to present my point is Kratos from the God of War franchise. At first glance, Kratos seems to be a one-dimensional savage who kills everything in his path due to rage issues, but, after analysis, Kratos is also a Spartan who was tricked into killing his family, betrayed by his god and manipulated by every other person he trusted.
Such rage becomes more understandable once the reasons are made clear. He also has more humanity than most gamers give him credit for. He still has a caring side, primarily toward children, showing love to his daughter in the underworld and protecting Pandora (who is a young girl in the game). At the end of the third main game, he sacrifices himself to save the rest of humanity, releasing the hope that was inside Pandora’s Box. It is interesting that some people who have played the game miss the sympathetic aspects of Kratos’ character, to the point where I feel like I am the only one who holds this point of view. Much like a book may have aspects that are totally missed by readers, video games can divide opinions based on whether or not information is obtained. Stuff like this can make “mindless” beat-em-up games much more interesting and valuable.
Video game characters and events can stay in the minds of players much like in literature. I will never forget the ending to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, because I periodically think back to the final act (well, minus the secret final mission). The events in the last mission stay with me years after I have played it. Night in the Woods, an indie game that I played in late February and completed in early March, has a cast of characters that continuously find their way back into my mind almost every day due to them being so relatable, interesting, and fun. The end of the game left me wanting to hang out with them one more time. It doesn’t hurt that the game acts basically like an interactive story.
Infamous 2 has one of the best endings in media that I have seen and I still think back to it, getting the same chills that I had upon the initial experience. Not only did that game have a character that made me feel like I lost a close friend upon his death, Infamous 2’s story was a video game with commentary on what is humanity/what is good or evil. Near the endgame, there is a situation that presents the difficult decision as to what is the greater good, giving two courses of action that includes mass sacrifice.
Such themes and commentary, like in novels, are in quite a few video games. The Metal Gear Solid series is filled with commentary on war, ethics, science, and so on. It also holds a confusing yet interesting story that most likely requires multiple times playing to connect all the dots much like a book or short story may need to have a second or even third read. Shadow of the Colossus, a game with little dialogue, presents a story of desire that ends up being self-destructive.
The Wolf Among Us is another game that presents questions of what is good and commentary on justice, asking if necessary “evil” should be punished, and addresses negative consequences of stopping that “evil.” Also, its ending has potential to give rise to discussion as to what it is implying and what exactly does the ending entail. Literature often creates discussion and the fact that video games have that potential gives them greater potential value.
The best example of this that I know of resulted from the game, Bloodborne. The story is almost nonexistent at first glance, but upon digging deeper the story can be found in pieces due to item descriptions and other small bits of lore. This creates room for discussion, theories, and analysis due to nothing being clear-cut. What is extremely impressive is that a player wrote a 90 page analysis of the lore of the game called “The Paleblood Hunt,” presenting his theories and interpretations of the deeply hidden story. This, interestingly enough, reflects the underlying premise of Bloodborne which is finding the truth that is hidden to the rest of mankind.
The fact that there can be so much woven within the code of a game, much more than on the surface, makes me believe that video games certainly have potential for being similar to literature. Now, not all video games can be considered masterpieces in this regard much like not all literature is good or successful. However, when enough care and thought is put into a game, it can definitely be equivalent to literature in value.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
The image above is "Flight" by Gillian Collins.