Name: Rowana Miller

Hometown: New York City

Major: Sociology

Activities: Kelly Writers House, Penn Singers Light Opera Company, Marks Family Writing Center

34th Street Magazine: What activity at Penn are you most passionate about?

I do three core things because I love those three core things. The single thing that I'm most passionate about is my work with Kelly Writers House, specifically with a program I founded there called Word Camp. It’s a virtual creative writing camp for kids in grades three through eight. I founded it as a pandemic thing to keep kids occupied during summer 2020. It was also a way to give Penn instructors paying jobs—Penn instructors are the ones who teach at the camp. 

This past year, we realized that it was not just something to keep kids occupied during the pandemic. It fills a real need. There are not a whole lot of creative writing opportunities for kids, and there especially are not a whole lot of free and accessible creative writing opportunities for kids. I got a grant to do this program once, but I wound up getting that grant renewed and even expanded this past summer in order to hold the camp again and to offer a couple more workshops. The goal of the camp is to provide education that is equitable. A lot of education defaults to a rich, upper–middle class, white–centric pedagogy. The way that the camp is designed decenters that lens.

What are your plans going forward with Word Camp?

I am in the process of founding a nonprofit that uses the camp as a foundational program. Because of my experience at the camp, and the fact that I've realized that equity in creative writing education seems to be a real need, I am in the process of creating a nonprofit called Cosmic Writers. This summer I've been putting together a leadership team mostly made up of Penn undergraduates and recent graduates. We're starting with the camp, and then we are planning to add programs in the next few years that fit the same goal.

Aside from the camp, what are your responsibilities as a staffer at Kelly Writers House?

Kelly Writers House is my home on campus. It has been since [my first] year. I started as a program assistant and recently was promoted to Levin outreach coordinator. What I love about the Writers House is that it is a very laid back community environment. A lot of the work that I've done has been cooking for programs and putting together vegetable plates. In the past year, since I took on the Levin outreach coordinator role, my work has gotten more education–specific. I mentored a high school student in novel writing over the past year, and I also facilitated an online discussion group series based on virtual programs at the Writers House.

What type of creative writing is your specialty?

I’m a big fiction person—I've taken the majority of the fiction classes offered at Penn. My favorite type of fiction to write is based in reality with some kind of intensified component, whether that be crime, thriller stakes that are beyond the usual, or some kind of fantasy component. Lately I’ve been really into thrillers.

Could you tell us about the novel you’re writing?

It's a YA thriller. I've been pretty serious about writing fiction since I was young. The novel is my third manuscript. I wrote my first two when I was in middle and high school, and at the time, I thought they were brilliant. Spoiler alert: They were not. They were for learning, they were for practice, but that didn’t stop me from trying to get an agent for them. In retrospect, I'm pretty embarrassed by the stuff that I sent out to publishing industry professionals. That set me up pretty well to start my third manuscript, which I began in a class with professor Nova Ren Suma and drafted the following semester in an independent study with Nova Ren Suma, who is the best person and also the best professor. I'm very lucky to have had her as a mentor. I was able to get representation for this book I've been working on—I now have an agent—and right now she's pitching this book to publishers. I am waiting to hear back. Literally since I was five or six years old, one of my goals in life has been to get a book published. I'm going to keep writing novels until I get one published.

What is your most memorable experience at Penn?

On Halloween 2018, all the [first years] at Penn got letters under their door with their names handwritten on them. The letters had a QR code, and it said something along the lines of, “Scan for mystery and intrigue.” And so, I scanned for mystery and intrigue. It led to a questionnaire with several mysterious questions like, “Is it in any way cruel to give a dog a name?” Or, “Do you have anything to confess?” That was the first round. We did not know where this was coming from. I filled out the questionnaire, then a week later got an email from a group called PSF that told me to choose a code name and sent me to a chat room where they gave a list of clues and riddles. The mysterious instructions continued until they called us together. They revealed that this was a group of sophomores at the time who decided they wanted to form a secret society and start recruiting people. It kind of fell apart after initiation because they didn't really plan past that point. However, that process was wild, and the group of people who spearheaded this are now my best friends.

What's next for you after Penn?

I'm really hoping to grow this nonprofit. I don't expect to be able to do it full time right after graduation, but I would like to be able to build it up over the next few years so that hopefully I can move to doing it full time. Other than that, I’m applying to some fellowships, and [I'm] considering applying to some Ph.D. programs within the education realm. I want to go into education.

Lightning Round

Last song you listened to?

“Bye Bye Bye” by NSYNC. This doesn't represent my music taste at all. I’m embarrassed.

What's something people wouldn't guess about you?

I’m pretty decent with power tools. I'm five feet tall—that's why you wouldn't guess that about me.

If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?

I would be College Hall because Charles Addams, one of my general icons, used it as a reference for the castle of The Addams Family. I will be anything related to Charles Addams.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Not quite a superpower, but the ability to dance. It seems like a superpower to me.

There are two types of people at Penn … 

Those who go to the Kelly Writers House for the programs, and those who go to the Writers House for the food.

Which are you?

I am both! I work there, so I get to reap the benefits of both.