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For creative writing grad, poetry is community

Hanan Robinson poses in front of artwork depicting an interstellar scene.

Graduating English major Hanan Robinson finds creative inspiration in many places. Here, she poses in front of art by Mikayla Cunningham (Instagram: @elementalmagic_art).

April 26, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Hanan Robinson began her Arizona State University career while engaged in a nonprofit internship in the social justice arena. During its tenure, she discovered that she leaned more toward the arts.

Robinson is now committed to a career in poetry – but she hasn’t abandoned social justice. She incorporates her beliefs in humanity and equality into her art. Robinson is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in English (creative writing) and is serious about entering the world of writing and publishing. Much like everything else, that scene has changed a lot during the last year of COVID-19 and racial reckoning.

“I've been in an internship for Hayden's Ferry Review this spring 2021 semester,” she said. “It’s given me an opportunity to come face to face with my own insecurities … I have a growing curiosity on how personal biases are engaged with and checked when it comes to publishing. I don't necessarily think it's an easy answer as it's considering several moving concepts at the same time: writing techniques, community and accessibility.”

She finds inspiration and validation in myriad and sometimes unexpected places. “I really hope to explore magic, folklore styles and joy in my pieces in the future,” she explained. “I feel like that's especially important as my focus is primarily focused within a lens of Blackness.”

Originally from San Diego, Robinson recognizes the importance of community. She’s quick to give credit to mentors in helping her find inspiration for an integrative writing ethic. She said that she learns by emulating those who have come before her, and will strive to “affirm Black humanity” in her own work.

We sat down with Robinson to find out a bit more about her poetry and how those at ASU helped her find her voice.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: It was in part an intuitive decision. I believe school should be a learning and pleasurable experience considering the amount of work you have to engage in. For me to get through school, I need to have curiosity and joy intertwined. That was before I attended ASU in the middle of a nonprofit internship, which I had pursued to determine if I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector with a social justice lens. I found out that I am more oriented towards the arts. When I started ASU, I wasn't sure what type of creative writing degree I wanted because I knew I had a lot of development to do either way. I thought I was going to be more interested in the fiction concentration, but when I took my ENG 287: Beginning Poetry Workshop with (Regents Professor of English) Alberto Ríos and (Teaching Assistant) Noah Trammel while simultaneously taking ENG 354: African American Literature-Harlem Renaissance to Present with (Associate Professor) Duku Anokye, I definitely pivoted towards poetry. It gave me a perspective on poetry that was more about lineage, exploration, curiosity and life.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: There are several, really. I took a few acting classes, and performed in one of ASU's mainstage plays last fall 2020, and what I've learned from those experiences, and engaging with (Associate Professor of theatre) William “Bill” Partlan, is that as a creative, it's helpful to look at creativity as a muscle you utilize, not something you have or don't.

Through (Associate Professor of African and African American Studies) Ersula Ore's Unruly Voices class, I've learned that a lot of racist rhetoric and tactics aren't new but recycled and effectively buried in history.

Right now I'm taking (Foundation Professor of English) Lois Brown's African American Short Story class and her approach to writing and analyzing pieces is quite refreshing. This class has given me a new perspective on how to approach written works in a way that considers my experience as a reader, the place, positionality and environment of both the story and the writer.

If I were to summarize that, I'd say I've learned even more how important written and creative lineages are to support my journey in writing and creativity.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It was local and offered a creative writing program.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Ah, is a school doing their students justice if there's only one professor in this answer? I have about seven to eight in this answer. The professors that have offered me the most support and guidance are: Lois Brown and (Hayden’s Ferry Review editor) Katherine Berta.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Engage in joy, ask for help and take naps.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: It would depend on my level of anxiety at the time.

High anxiety: Noble Library private study rooms.

Mid-level anxiety: Hayden library lower levels, preferably a couch so I could nap. The outside area when the weather was nice.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I would like to work for a few years to pay off my current student loans so I can enter a PhD program with some peace of mind. I'm hoping to do work centered on supporting students in some capacity. I also hope to continue learning more about publishing field jobs and would like to continue engaging in writing/publishing internships. I also plan on continuing to work my creative muscle in whatever way that presents itself.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I honestly can't imagine having $400,000 thousand dollars let alone $40 million. What comes to mind is creating and implementing mental and emotional health services for Black folx. Starting with people who've lost loved ones to police violence, and people who've been impacted/harmed by police brutality. As well as services for Black folx who provide support services and are organizers and activists in their community.

I believe these services should be free for everyone, but I would start with Black folx if I had the money. I also believe Black therapists should be fairly compensated for these services and given the support to explore new modalities and implementations that are culturally competent.

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