Between being selected for various writing camps including Young Playwrights, receiving a nomination for a Young Arts award, experiencing a week of exclusive master classes in Miami, being an editor for The Adroit Journal, Polyphony, WHS’s Folio and winning National awards for a number of her pieces, Alexa Derman, a junior at Westfield High School, divulges herself in words every single day.
“I get really excited about words!” she exclaimed, pushing her quintessential writer-geek glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. “Why do I write? Because I have to! It’s like, ‘Do you like breathing?’ I mean, I think you’d be pretty unhappy if you weren’t!”
Derman’s passion for the study and creation of literature began not after reading and being inspired by intellectual classics a la Shakespeare and Homer, but as a little kid looking for something to do. “According to my mom I’ve been writing lame poetry since I was four,” she explained. “If I didn’t have a book, I’d take a crayon and write one so I’d have something to read. Matilda was my idol!”
She always writes. And she goes through writing “phases” as she calls them. “I wear a lot of different hats” is the way she puts it. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘I write fiction’; sometimes I’m like, ‘I am a playwright’; or ‘I am a curator of words.’ Sometimes I’m just a medium for the ‘word gods’ to pass through… Some things are meant to be plays, some things are meant to be poems… If I try to categorize myself as one thing, the form wouldn’t always be true to the content.”
Some of her influences include: Susan Lori Parks, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher In The Rye, Lorrie Moone (“Her short stories taught me that it’s ok to have characters that are kind of greasy and overweight, because they’re real.”) and John D’Agata. She also emphasized how influential the people around her are (“I’m into people the way some people are into cats!”).
Currently, Derman is working on a few projects and recently completed two, which she says are part of her “collaging phase.” In the process of writing Variations on Ophelia, Derman explored tons of different sources, pulling together diverse information on Shakespeare’s character Ophelia from Hamlet. Without these sources, Derman feels that she could not have given her audience a sufficient read: “My personal opinions could never give my reader a completely holistic explanation with a subject that big.
“I try to take big topics and condense and explain them. It’s how I process what’s going on around me,” she said. “I strung together my own interpretation of [Ophelia.] I don’t understand her, so I did this [piece] to try to wrap my head around her.”
Additionally, Derman recently completed a similar work, On Writing Good, for which she interviewed many different people on what good writing is and “collaged” it all together.
In the past year or so, Derman entered poetry and a short story, Kindergarten, in Scholastic’s national writing competition. For her poems she earned a silver key and for Kindergarten she earned a gold key regionally and subsequently won nationally (top 0.03% of submissions) and was honored at a ceremony at Carnegie Hall.
Said Derman: “I love when I give someone something to read [that I wrote] and they pull something from it that I didn’t realize… or when you get a great plot development after weeks of agonizing through pages and saying, ‘I’ll never be as good as F. Scott Fitzgerald!’—that’s what makes it all worth it… If my writing can help people understand the world better, then I did my job.”
In the near future she plans on continuing to study creative writing and expose herself to other opportunities.
To enter Scholastic’s writing and art competitions, visit www.artandwriting.org.