Meet a Grubbie: Shawnna Thomas

GrubStreet runs on coffee, printer ink, and community. This series features just some of the Grubbies who make our community strong. In this edition, meet our first ever Emerging Writer Fellowship recipient Shawnna Thomas. The Fellowship aims to develop new, exciting voices by providing one writer per year tuition-free access to Grub classes and the Muse conference. Shawnna was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her B.A. degree in English and African American Studies from Yale University in 2015. She is a recipient of the Elmore A. Willetts Prize for Fiction and the Second Place Wallace Prize for Fiction. She is currently working on her first collection of short stories. 


What author, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with and why?
Mildred D. Taylor. The Logan family series books (The Land, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, etc.) were the first books in which I found someone I could relate to as a kid. I was Cassie Logan. Taylor shaped so my childhood perceptions of myself, my culture, and the world around me.

What are you working on right now?
A story about an African-American editor who travels to Nigeria on a risky mission to save her small press.

What is the toughest criticism to give or receive on writing?
It's tough to hear that a main character isn't working, because characters are our babies. But main characters who work are characters whose desires drive story. Just because a character is hilarious and engaging and comes alive on the page does not mean the story being told is that character's story to tell. Sometimes our favorite characters need to find their own, different stories from the ones we try to squeeze them into, and that's okay.

When do you feel most like a writer?
I actually feel most like a writer before the actual writing starts. I know a lot of writers keep notebooks which is probably a much better idea than what I do. I carry around Post-its when I am out. Sometimes I get little ideas or big ideas or imagine snippets of dialogue or a dress description that I don't want to forget. So I pull out my Post-its, write the ideas down, and spread them out on my desk when I get home. Those are the moments when I feel like such a boss. Those are the moments when I feel like a writer.

Most interesting hobby?
Not sure if it's interesting or just odd, but I love researching soap opera history. I'm a huge Days of Our Lives fanatic and a bit of a history nerd. It's amazing how much history is retained, lost, or completely changed over a fifty-one-year writing arc featuring characters I pretty much grew up watching. 

What’s your go-to karaoke song?
"Higher," by Rihanna. That song is so dope, so raw, so imperfect, and so beautiful. 


A huge congratulations to Shawnna! 

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