“I like how you can transcend the bounds of your own consciousness by stepping into someone else's perspective,” Emma Blum* (C ‘23) says, her eyes sparkling with passion as she explains her love for writing. She describes her young self as a “nerdy kid,” always reading and writing while her friends played handball during recess. While her creative inspirations have evolved from J.K. Rowling and John Green to George Saunders and Hanya Yanagihara with age, Emma’s love for prose hasn’t wavered. Nowadays, an English major with an impressive list of awards and accolades in her back pocket, she has clearly matured as a writer, but it's obvious she's still the same nerdy kid at heart.
“I think if I had a goal for my writing, it would just be to really get the reader to feel something or have some emotional reaction,” Emma says. “I want every single one of my stories to have a moment at the climax where things just kind of crystallize.” Working to improve herself as a writer is important to Emma, who is currently focusing on improving her use of plot to further a story. As a result, she always makes time to workshop her ideas, even though leaving a room full of chatty friends to sit down alone and write can sometimes be a challenge. She views the process of writing like unspooling a thread, often surprising herself with the outcome of her own imagination and letting a single thought, image, or imaginary character lead the way without an outline.
One could describe Emma as a poster child for on–campus involvement; she participates in activities including (but not limited to) Equilibria magazine, the Philomathean society, and Sigma Delta Tau. She credits the Kelly Writers House in particular for supporting both her and her work, as well as giving her a strong community of fellow creatives who motivate and inspire one another.
Emma is the type of student who throws herself wholeheartedly into her classes each semester. As of now, she plans to complete a creative writing concentration within her English major, perhaps also minoring in consumer psychology. She claims she’s never taken a course she didn’t love in the English Department. “'Representations of the Holocaust,' taught by Al Filreis changed my entire outlook on life,” Emma says. She shares equally glowing reviews about many other courses she’s taken, including “Literature as a Marketplace” with James English and “Advanced Fiction Writing: Autofiction” with PEN/Hemingway winner Weike Wang.
While Emma has an innate knack for writing, she still takes extra steps to hone her craft. She’s participated in multiple writing programs outside of Penn, including the Fiction Writing program through the California State Summer School for the Arts, as well as the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, where she workshopped a story titled “Pastoral” that ended up winning second place in the Phi Kappa Sigma Fiction prize. This piece, inspired by an image of a girl standing in a clearing with an ax, toys with gender norms by using a young woman growing up on a family farm to propose and contemplate nuanced social critiques. Its opening line captivates the reader's attention and urges us to read on to decipher its meaning, stating: "The girl takes a breath, and listens." Weike Wang, one of the judges, was dazzled by the submission, claiming “Blum writes with simple elegance and takes on character ambiguities in a refreshing and smart way.” In this short story, Emma exhibits her strong grasp on imagery, utilizing compelling phrases like "the moon hung full and heavy overhead" and "she stumbles through dreams" to infuse it with a sense of suspense and intrigue.
While Emma’s future is uncertain, she knows writing will always be an integral part of her life, whether professionally or personally. She plans to study abroad at the University of Oxford, and will be maintaining her writing outside of her work at a hedge fund over the summer. The entertainment industry interests her, but as of now she’s mostly focused on writing for herself. Emma prioritizes having fun with her compositions, and is learning to be less judgmental of the words she puts on the page.
When asked to give advice to fellow student writers, she blushes bashfully, eventually proposing the following: “Go for what gets you excited. Write with your feelings and don’t overthink it.” Emma’s words have certainly guided my own retelling of her life story. Her characteristically cheerful approach to writing should inspire anyone with a pen, a piece of paper, and something to say.
*Emma was a former copy staffer for The Daily Pennsylvanian.