December's Author Spotlight shines on 27-year-old writer and artist Marya Layth. Born and raised in New Jersey (USA), Marya's love for the arts started early with her obsession for pens. "My mom always tells me how when I was little, I specifically loved pens. I was too young to use them safely but was obsessed with them and refused to draw with any other writing utensil. I loved them so much that anytime she used a pen in the house she had to hide from me. She had to do everything from writing her checks to filling out paperwork in the bathroom because it was the only room in the house with a door that locked," tells Marya. She also holds the world record for the youngest person ( 7 years-old ) to ever steal a pen and notebook from CVS Pharmacy. Just kidding! But I'm sure if there was a record for that, she would definitely be the title holder. Since her theivery days have ended, Marya has gotten married and is living out her passion as not only a writer but as an artist (painter). More than Bread, Marya's debut poetry collection released August of 2017, is phenomenal on so many levels but let's get to know Marya a little better first shall we?
Describe the first time you wrote a poem. How old were you? Do you remember where you were or what sparked you to do so?
I admittedly don’t have the best memory, but I uncharacteristically have a very keen one of the first time I wrote poetry.
I was in my early twenties and was at the tail end of a yoga certification teaching program when I suffered an injury to my foot. Needless to say, it threw a wrench in my plans. My aunt was helping take care of me because I was basically bed ridden. After a few days I was getting stir crazy, so I tagged along with her on an errand to the grocery store. I will never forget waiting for her in the car and looking at the sky through the bare late autumn trees that lined the parking lot. The sun was just going down and it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen.
There was something about how pitch black the trees looked against this marvelous pink and orange sky that overwhelmed me with such inspiration. I knew it needed to be expressed immediately or it would be lost. Being a painter, I couldn’t express it through the visual arts in that moment because I didn’t have a pen or paper. So I decided to open up the notes application in my phone and began to write.
I had always loved writing essays in college for my philosophy courses because it helped me express deeper levels of myself that I wanted to become better acquainted with, but up until that moment in the parking lot I never considered pursuing writing outside of the academic sphere.
The first lines I wrote all those years ago are actually the first few lines in a poetic novel I have been writing ever since, although that project has been put in the back burner while I explore other forms of poetry.
Describe your writing process. Do you write on your phone or by hand? Do you like to be in a specific environment and if so, describe the environment.
Messy, organic, unorganized, and unpredictable.
More often than not, inspiration comes to me spontaneously.
The biggest obstacle is my willingness to drop whatever I am doing, sit down, and take the inclination to explore that wave of inspiration seriously. Which is why I usually write on my phone and find myself jotting words down anywhere and everywhere.
That being said, I also have mountains of notebooks that I will ultimately have to sift through when I begin to compile the poems for my next collection.
Where do you gain your inspiration from? Does it come from your own life experiences or from others?
I often draw from internal battles, as well as a lifelong obsession with wanting good to prevail over evil; not just in the world around me, but within myself.
More specifically, the circumstances of my childhood and adolescent years are ones that I will always glean from. One side of my family brought pure chaos into my life while the other half were examples of pure love, so I have always been exposed to the duality of human nature and the consequences of our character. This dichotomy is a constant source of inspiration for me.
Describe your writing style. Do you prefer long/short form? Why?
I love a balance of both. On social media, I tend to publish my shorter poems, or a few verses from longer ones that can be found in More than Bread. I also love storytelling and have a short story featured in the book as well.
Utilizing these different forms of writing allows me to express my message to its fullest potential.
You're an artist but specifically a painter. How long have you been painting? What kind of style would you say your painting is?
My mother is a painter and my grandfather was an illustrator so art was just always a natural part of my life. They both attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and I was lucky enough to spend a year there. It really changed my life, because it was there that I discovered my love of painting. Unfortunately, I was unable to afford attending school there for more than a year (there is a reason they call us starving artists) but it was enough to keep the love of painting strong all these years. For the longest time I used to only work in water-based oils because that's what my old painting professor taught us with. But over the past year, I have been primarily working with watercolors. I love expressing concepts, stories, and feelings through color and the human figure. I'm not sure what style you would call that, but it's what I enjoy.
Which do you prefer more: drawing or writing? If you had to do one or the other for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Having to pick between the two is like having to pick between my right and left leg. I need both to stand. I enjoy both equally and for very different reasons. Both have developed at different paces, so this past year I focused on establishing myself as writer publicly while I worked on art in the background. But this coming year will be more about developing myself as a visual artist while I work on writing my next book in the background. It’s a tricky balance to achieve but I absolutely need to do both in order to feel fully whole.
When did you first make the jump to posting your poetry to social media? What was your intention or goal when you decided to create your account?
I actually didn’t even know this entire community existed until last year. When I found out about it, I didn’t really know how to approach it so I impulsively opened up an account in the middle of procrastinating editing the book I previously mentioned.
I had vague intentions of using my account to promote that book, but because it was more of a story told through poetic verse and less of a collection of individual poems, I didn’t know how to share the excerpts. That led me to start writing individual pieces to share on Instagram, which quickly led to me discovering an entire community of writers, poets, and artists that I eagerly wanted to join.
Within weeks I had begun to shift gears and discover the love of writing individual poems.
Do you think social media created a platform or paved a way for writers? If so, how? What are some positives and negatives about social media for writers?
I am so proud of contemporary writers (and artists in general) for what they have done with social media. It seems to me that poetry is no longer a secret kept among the literary elite. Poetry is now available and relatable to both the serious reader and the casual one.
Before this new wave of highly relatable and free verse poetry, I knew many who wrote off poetry as something only enjoyable for academics and people willing to sift through challenging symbolism and formal verse. But this new wave of indie writers has introduced a newborn side of poetry that is drastically different and more personable than its predecessors.
I know some consider “instapoetry” to be illegitimate, but I think more find it to be refreshing. To quote one of my favorite bands, “Art is hard”-it’s important for the art community to survive and have a place outside of institutions that are impossible for most to get in. Social media allows the everyday artist and writer to leave their footprint and stay present in today’s world. It shouldn’t be up to just a handful of people to decide who gets to make a difference in this world with their art.
For writers, Instagram’s biggest negative is also its positive. On one hand, it’s revolutionary to have so many poets and readers in one place. On the other hand, because it’s so saturated there is a pressure to post original and authentic writing on a daily basis in order to stand out. I can’t think of another time in the history of literature when it was mandatory for writers to publicly produce at such a rapid pace.
The pressure can often stifle creativity, and can be a distraction for those also writing books. It’s a difficult balance and can water down content for the sake of quantity over quality.
How do you manage writing fresh content, being active on social media, and maintaining your “real life” responsibilities?
It’s a difficult balance, and one I’m not sure I will ever fully master. If I were writing content just for social media and not for books it would still be challenging but not as overwhelming. But being that I also write as someone looking to publish future collections of poetry, it can be arduous at times.
The hardest part is being strategic about where to allocate new material: does it go on social media? Or do I save it for my book?
On one hand, if people are paying to read my work, I want to deliver fresh material never seen before. On the other hand, people also expect fresh material on your public account, and sometimes it’s not clear what to post where.
What advice would you give writers who are just starting out their IG accounts. What are some do’s and don’ts you would suggest. What do you wish someone would have told you when you first started?
First and foremost, never let your reception on social media define your sense of worth as a writer. By all means, learn from constructive criticism and people’s feedback, but try not to feel invalidated in instances when you feel disappointed that your posts don’t get a ton of attention compared to other accounts.
Do post to social media from a pure place of a love for the art. Do connect with other writers from a genuine desire to be part of a larger community that inspires you. Do dream, and do take steps to connect and grow your audience.
Don’t just connect with other accounts as means to advertise yourself (it’s counterproductive). Don’t lose your voice for the sake of matching others. Don’t open an account with the sole intent to become “Instagram famous”.
Ambition is important, and we all want to succeed-that is only natural. But I think that, oftentimes, desiring success on social media can become a distraction from enjoying the act of writing itself. You don’t want social media to destroy your initial love of the art. It goes without saying that writing and promoting your work is difficult, but the second you lose the love of writing for the sake of it, you know you need to touch base with yourself and ask if you are writing for you or social media.
At the end of the day, people are attracted to authenticity. That being said, be authentic not for them, but for your own sense of well-being. In my opinion, it’s the only way to last during the inevitable obstacles a writer faces with social media.
If ever given the opportunity, what would you say to your 15 year old self?
I would definitely tell myself to use my free time to create and read more. I was a very social teenager who avoided having free time because I had all this energy that I didn’t know how to channel alone.
I was drawn to an alternative crowd because people had a passion for music and artistic expression, so we were always busy going to local shows and listening to music. I had friends in local bands who I would occasionally write lyrics for. In retrospect, those were hints of what my passion would become, but I was totally clueless at the time. I wish I could have had the foresight to pursue writing sooner.
stayed tuned for part 2 of Marya's Spotlight interview where she gives us the inside scoop on the creation of her book baby More than Bread.
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love & light,
e l e v e n