Recognizing Student Talent: Hannah Pearson, Winner of the English Department Creative Writing Award (Fiction)
Hannah Pearson is an English and American Sign Language double-major preparing to graduate from Clemson this December. An accomplished English student, Pearson’s prose was awarded the English Department Creative Writing Award in the spring of 2019. This award is given to the undergraduate English major in honor of outstanding achievement in fiction writing.
Throughout her undergraduate career, Pearson has been involved in a variety of programs. She is a member of the English Majors Organization, volunteered with Read-Up Greenville and is part of the team behind the Constellation, Clemson’s new science fiction publication.
In addition to winning the English Department’s Creative Writing Award, Pearson was featured as a student reader in prose for Clemson’s annual Writers’ Harvest for the second year in a row. At this year’s event, she read her piece, “The Tooth Carries Evil,” a story is about a woman in denial of her son’s deafhood who visits a psychic in hopes of restoring her son’s hearing.
Pearson took the time to elaborate on “The Tooth Carries Evil” and answer some questions about her accomplishments, her experience in the English program and her best advice for aspiring writers.
What inspired your piece, “The Tooth Carries Evil?”
I wrote this story as part of my Departmental Honors in English project. The goal of the project was to combine my American Sign Language and English majors by creating a collection of short stories based on Deaf experiences. My stories are intentionally in support of American Sign Language and a positive Deaf identity. Surprisingly, each story, including “The Tooth Carries Evil,” became a parent-child story.
In “The Tooth Carries Evil,” the main character is a single mother with a deaf son. He is postlingually deaf, so he grew up hearing and speaking and became deaf due to childhood illness. The story opens with the son’s first baby tooth falling out at dinner. The woman has no way to communicate with her son, and he’s obviously very scared at the sight of his tooth falling out and the blood on his fingers. This event prompts the woman to visit a psychic.
I drew much of my inspiration from Deaf narratives and the experiences of parents of deaf children. Many of these stories I’ve read in class, found online or discovered on social media. I knew I wanted my main character to visit a psychic healer, and when I mentioned this to my dad, he told me my Lola visited a faith healer in the Philippines. I asked her to tell me her story, and much of what she told me became my protagonist’s backstory.
What was your writing process for “The Tooth Carries Evil?”
For this story, I did some freewriting in a journal to allow myself a stress-free place to play around with setting, character sketches, bits of dialogue, and possible scenes. Then, I sat down and wrote the first “draft,” which I usually try to do in one sitting. I put the word draft in quotations because the draft is very, very rough. The point is to get something on the page that more or less looks like a story. Then, I returned to the story and did a combination of big edits and small edits—big edits such as adding scenes and characters and small edits like spending half an hour perfecting the sound of a sentence. When I felt like I had a cohesive draft and needed some direction, I sent a copy to Professor Nic Brown, who was an advisor on my Departmental Honors Committee. He gave me his comments, and I revised the story. It’s still a work in progress, but I think it’s important to share your writing, even in its roughest form.”
How did you feel after being recognized with the creative writing award?
I feel good. I have imposter syndrome, and knowing I have imposter syndrome doesn’t make me feel like less of an imposter. Writing is a process, and part of the process involves hours and hours in front of the computer producing work that isn’t all that great. Being recognized with this award makes me feel like the process is working.
What sparked your passion for English? Have you always been drawn to writing, and more specifically fiction writing?
You can’t be a writer unless you’re obsessed with reading, and I’ve always been obsessed with reading. When I was thirteen, I participated in a summer creative writing program at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. Those two weeks changed my life. I was introduced to contemporary literature. I started collecting beat-up Best American anthologies from thrift stores and reading literary magazines online. I fell in love with creative writing workshops, which has led me to apply for MFA programs in creative writing this fall. I’ve always read fiction and wasn’t introduced to creative nonfiction until high school. Those are my favorite genres, both for reading and writing.
What advice do you have for current English students hoping to grow as Fiction writers?
Keep writing. More importantly, keep reading. Take a workshop class. Realize that everything you write is probably atrocious, and that’s okay. Trust the process, but know the process won’t work if you aren’t reading or writing. Write things that thrill you and that you think will thrill other people. Share your work. See if your audience is thrilled. Revise. Join the literary festival team, the Chronicle, the Constellation…anything to surround yourself with writers. Above all, read and write. Read and write…
Written By: Kylie Miller