1. You are a prose writer for HaluHalo Journal. How has writing played a role in your life? Why prose writing?
Like most writers, I began as a reader. I particularly loved Dork Diaries as a child, which would inspire me to begin writing through my own journals. As a scholar of creative writing at the Philippine High School for the Arts, writing and literature are a staple not just of my hobbies, but also my responsibilities as a student. Four out of seven days of the week, we write, read, and workshop with both fellow teens and writing mentors from all over the country. I don’t think it’d be an exaggeration to say writing is intertwined with my life.
Though I’ve dabbled in songwriting and poetry before, prose writing remains the companion I return to over and over again. Maybe it’s the way I was raised to view the former two, but prose has always been less intimidating for me. Writing prose didn’t require as much scrutiny of form or rhyme. Prose left me free to explore without the pressures of conforming to what I’d been taught it should be because prose, as a whole, is so broad. Though she was referring to nonfiction, this quote from Annie Dillard sums it up best: “prose can also carry meaning in its structures and, like poetry, can tolerate all sorts of figurative language, as well as alliteration and even rhyme...it can handle discursive ideas and plain information as well as character and story. It can do everything.”
Regardless of where we end up, we need to start somewhere. For most, that will be prose. And whether or not we stay with prose, its variety is what has always made it welcoming to anyone and everyone to me, wherever they may be in their writing.
2. You are a queer teenage writer living in the Philippines. Does your identity affect your work? If so, how?
I feel like it would be disingenuous to say it didn’t. Even if I tried my best to divorce my identity from my writing—which I have no interest in doing—it is inevitable that it will be read through a socio-political context. As a writer from the Philippines, the fact that I write is already something that spotlights my identity. In a society and literary canon which has silenced queer, Filipina voices, to speak is itself an act of resistance.
Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge how identity has shaped my ability to write in the first place. In the Philippines, fluency is a luxury, and as an English-language writer, I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for the economic privilege that enabled me to pursue writing. My privilege has influenced my work as much as my marginalization has. Whether it’s bigotry from fellow Filipinos when I write about queerness, or being heralded as the be-all, end-all perspective on Philippine society by foreign readers, a marginalized identity forces me to confront a myriad of challenges beyond the page. However, writing openly has also helped me find a community of writers and readers who appreciate the joy of creation despite our struggles. I wouldn't have it any other way.
3. Your writing often touches on themes of sexual assault, gender, and sexuality. What do you hope to convey to your reader? What do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
Trauma robs us of language. It can be through institutional silencing from prevailing power structures, or the silence that follows when we try to speak, or write, about our experience. The inability to make sense of what we’ve been through leads us to believe we are the only ones which struggle with the remnants of the experience, oftentimes—as in my case—breeding shame. I have always believed in visibility being the antidote to shame. Through visibility in media, literature, or art, we find others who understand the depth of our feelings, who can tell us this happened. This is happening. This is real. Visibility fosters the community we need to feel safe in voicing our stories.
This is what I seek to offer readers. I hope that someone out there is able to recognize their pain, their silence, and whatever else it is they cannot name yet in my writing. And whether or not they choose to become writers themselves, I hope to be one of many authors that will bring them closer to that needed community.
4. As an editor, what do you look for in a piece of writing?
Anything that showcases a great deal of vulnerability. As writers—especially as marginalized writers—we’re often pressured to share our trauma in the name of art, but I believe vulnerability doesn’t have to come from a place of confession. To me, vulnerability is standing behind your personal voice. What is something that you need to say, whether that be through fiction, CNF, or poetry? Even if it has been said before, why do you choose to write about it? I am drawn to pieces that answer these questions. That, to me, is artistic vulnerability.
5. BONUS: Would you say you are more of a paper clip or a stapler?
Bella Majam is a sixteen-year-old writer from Manila. Raised on a diet of fairy tales and family stories, her writing focuses on women’s relationships to grief, memory, and myth. She is currently a student at the Philippine High School for the Arts. You can follow her @beelaurr on Instagram.