Interview with Youna Fradin

Short Story UNC Editor Jo Snow reached out to Short Story UNC resident Youna Fradin to discuss her writing.

JS: Obviously, inspiration is always a large topic for writers, but before I ask more about what inspires you, I am curious to hear about how you begin the process. Is there a method to the madness, an ever-changing artistic process or something in the middle for your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you when you decide to write?


YF: I wish I were at a point in my life when writing could take up a large chunk of my day! I always read about other authors and how they’ll write every day at a certain time for a large chunk of time. For me, fitting writing into my schedule is not as clean. It is keeping a notes entry on my phone for little lines that inspire me or observations of lovely things. It is going to a coffee shop and sitting in a corner and not moving for three hours and then not writing again for a week. The one consistency in my writing process is that I don’t write pages and pages to pare them down later. Perhaps it is my poetry background, or maybe just the pacing of my thoughts, but I tend to write slowly and intentionally. Once I get to the end, I rarely need to cut anything, just edit some things around later. Because of this, when I’m writing, I tend to get stuck a lot without being able to write around it. Music and movement are two of my closest friends: music to keep me focused, movement to keep me motivated. To begin writing, I’ll find the right music to inspire me (often techno, indie, house, or folk, or some combination of these) and write until I hit a wall. Then I’ll get up and walk through my house or take my dog on a walk and untie the knot in my mind. And the cycle repeats for as long as I have time.


JS: What is your earliest memory associated with writing? 


YF: I was extremely interested in reading and writing in preschool. I loved being able to express myself and also to understand the written words of others. I wanted to be able to read to my younger sibling and my friends. My preschool in San Diego would push us to write tiny hand-sized books about whatever we wanted and I remember writing a short story about my favorite fuzzy black sweater that my grandfather had sent me from France. It must have contained 25 words total, spread out on five pages, and stapled between two sheets of Crayola colored paper.


JS: The term practice makes perfect isn’t lost on writers and many of us gather years of experience from adolescence into adulthood before we consider ourselves part of the “writer” identity. When is the time you wrote something, and you felt the distinction of “I write” to “I am a writer”? 


YF: This is a very loaded question for me. My writing journey has been full of insecurity and doubt. I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I could put pencil, pen, marker to paper. I always knew I would write and publish work alongside my other “real” job. The words “I am a writer,” however, are still difficult for me to wear. I have everything to thank for my creative writing teacher in high school. She pushed me to keep honing my craft, to explore more genres, to read more experimental work. She organized poetry slams and public readings at local bookstores for me and her other students. She called me a writer and I began to accept it then. But I guess the most tangible moment when I felt it was when I performed at a poetry slam. I had that voice in the back of my head that told me that my writing didn’t matter. I read my poem “Ode to Grief” which is currently in the Short Story Machine in an edited form. I got second or third place, but what marked me wasn’t the judges’ reaction. It was that, after the slam, a stranger came up to me with tears in her eyes. She told me she had just lost someone and how much my poem had meant to her, had made her feel less alone. She asked me if she could take a copy with her home. I only had one copy, but I gave it to her. I felt it then. I felt like I had something worthwhile to give. I felt like a writer.


JS: Your writing is distinct in its motifs ranging from loss, ghosts, nature, bodies and more. What is a topic you want to/have written about that we haven’t seen yet? 


YF: No matter what I write, it is going to contain nature. It’s the only lens through which to look at life that makes sense to me. The motifs often appear, unplanned. However, I’d like to write more short stories, in general. I want to write narratives that are rooted in the present and that follow one plotline for longer than the span of a memory. I want to write more about mental health. And I want to write more about my mother and the others around me who make me happy. I’ve spent so much time in the grieving stage, using my writing to process my myriad of losses. I’m finally feeling ready to write happy things, too. To evoke some Ross Gay, some unabashed gratitude! Or at least to take myself less seriously and write pieces that are fun and silly, too.


JS: What do you want a reader to gain most after reading a piece of your writing? 


YF: I want a reader to feel seen and inspired after reading a piece of my writing. Though I’m a writer, I’m a reader first. My favorite authors are those who are able to communicate the world in a way that I’ve often felt but couldn’t quite convey. They write in layers of many textures so that I feel wonder, but also some joy and melancholy. They put me back in touch with a part of me I may have lost along the way, or at least forgotten about. I want to do the same for my readers. I want to give them a friend with which to explore the different parts of themselves and perhaps inspire them to express themselves in their own way. I guess, boiled down, I want my readers to feel less alone.

Youna Fradin is a Franco-American writer from Asheville, NC. She is a senior at UNC Chapel Hill pursuing a degree in Creative Writing. Her life’s mission is to exist in the fluid spaces where poetry, memoir, and fiction intersect, where she believes this blending of the real and surreal is vital to answering the all-consuming question of the human condition and placing the human body in the limitless natural world it exists in. When she isn’t writing, you will most likely find her in the woods with her rescue dog, a corduroy jacket, and an earful of tunes.

Along with Katie Leonard and Grace Stroup, Youna Fradin is a resident writer for Short Story UNC during September and October 2021. Check out more work by Youna at the dispenser inside Epilogue Cafe in Chapel Hill, NC!