A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman
The ancient immrama are tapestries woven by voices around a fire. A single thread always takes the first step to shape a larger image. As it travels through a storyteller’s fingers, it’ll braid, intertwine with others until they become one. Without that first thread, a story is nothing but an empty loom.
-- excerpt from The Isle at the End of the World
Highland junior Jenna Devanney might be the winning protagonist of her own narrative this year, based on the accolades she has recently accrued. She placed first in Highland’s Flash Fiction contest with her piece, “Sonder on 59th Street.” A short story, “The Pursuit,” was a national winner in The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards—a designation earned by only 1% of the 330,000 art and writing entrants (check out the full story here). And, in her free time, Jenna is revising final drafts of her novel, The Isle at the End of the World. The novel, (think Irish folklore meets science fiction), is Book One in a planned trilogy. She hopes to find a publisher.
As a seventh grader at Highland, Jenna read Pat Murphy’s Wild Girls, a young adult novel about two teen girls who are writers and rule breakers. Although she had written short stories for some time, Wild Girls “really inspired me to write more.” She started “writing seriously” at age 14. Today, she counts Zora Neale Hurston, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats as particularly influential writers: Hurston for her evocative prose, Wilde for his biting wit, and Yeats for his deep love of country. Wilde and Yeats, of course, are Irish. Which bring us to the importance of Ireland.
Jenna has been visiting family in County Sligo since she was a young child. “The language and landscapes I saw, and the folklore that went with them, were always very intriguing to me,” she notes. National winner “The Pursuit” was inspired by an ancient Irish epic; The Isle at the End of the World evolved from legends she heard as a child and her “desire to know more about the country’s history.” At this point, Jenna is an expert on Celtic lore and language, having made both the focus of intense study. Maxine, the feisty heroine of “The Isle at the End of the World,” seems to speak for Jenna when she says:
I knew all the myths. I knew each cairn by name. I’d explored the mysterious chambers of Carrowkeel and the windswept heights of Keshcorran. I’d traversed miles of rocky coves and fog-shrouded beaches below, where azure harbors flooded inland, clashing with the bold shape of Benbulben, the towering limestone ridge dominating the landscape.
Jenna started writing The Isle at the End of the World in December 2014 and finished her first draft almost exactly a year later. Editing has been an integral part of the writing process and she credits Highland’s English department with refining her critical reading and writing skills. “I have gained an enormous amount from Highland’s English classes,” she comments. “What I've learned about analyzing other author's books is always helpful in reflecting on my own work and trying to make it better.”
What does the future hold for Jenna? She had to decline Scholastic’s invitation to a Carnegie Hall winner’s event in June as she’s traveling to Mexico to study Mayan ruins. As a rising senior, she is thinking about college and, not surprisingly, would like to attend university in Ireland. Working with horses and drawing are two additional passions that she cultivates. And she will continue her practice of writing every day, especially if the forecast calls for rain. “I love to write on rainy or overcast days,” she says, “because they just seem to set the creative mood a little better than sunny days.” Rain or sun, prizes or not, Jenna will continue to write. Like many writers, she is driven to do it and what’s more, she comments, “it makes me happy.”
Young and talented, Jenna’s writing future is bright and one can’t help but feel that we’ll be reading reviews of her work someday. To quote a line from her own novel: “Brace yourself, my friend. This is my beginning.”
Thanks to Cathy Campbell for writing this post for the Highland blog. You can reach Cathy at firstname.lastname@example.org
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