CWL Senior Chantelle Mitchell

Chantelle Mitchell is a senior creative writing major. Photo by Sasha Hill

This week, Jackalope Magazine finishes off its interview series with the Creative Writing and Literature Department’s senior reading class of Fall, 2017. Chantelle Mitchell has been published in Glyph and Crave Magazine in Hong Kong. She has also served on the editorial team of Glyph, Crave Magazine, Nabillera: Contemporary Korean Literature and is currently an associate editor for Jackalope Magazine. She has been a member of the Student Activities Board and works as a tutor in the SFUAD Writing Center. She talks about the themes in her senior book, how her writing has changed and her time in Hong Kong.

Jackalope Magazine: How would you describe your book?

Chantelle Mitchell: It’s called Neon Boneyards, which is a place in Las Vegas where I’m from. It’s so nice to look at. It’s sparkling with neon lights but it’s essentially just like a graveyard for neon signs that nobody uses anymore. A neon boneyard is a place where things are dead but still look awesome.

My book is about feeling in between two identities and trying to figure out how to function when you don’t have a specific place to belong. There’s a lot of religion in it, race, sexuality and my hometown. Being biracial, you’re not one or the other but you’re also not accepted as both in some situations. Being bisexual, you’re expected to choose a side or something and but not betray your bisexuality. With religion in the book, it’s more of like how it’s affected the way that I grew up. It effected how I interacted with my family because I was afraid of what they’d think. I like making my readers uncomfortable because I put religion next to racism or really sexy stuff. I like that kind of reaction so I guess with religion, it’s like me growing up with it and making people uncomfortable with it is what I tried to do in my book. 

What has putting your book together been like?

It’s been really exciting and scary and exhausting but I think it also made me really excited about publishing in general. I love the way that words look in a book printed on paper. I think that’s been the most exciting to me… I didn’t really think about what my book was about until we had to do our surveys that we sent to the graphic designers about our book covers. The survey asked ‘what are the themes in your book?’ and I had like 30 different things. It really helped me with revision because I was like ‘Oh wow. I really need to focus on something with my book.’

Creative Writing senior Chantelle Mitchell. Photo by Sasha Hill

How has your writing changed over the years?

I used to think that it’s just important that the plot is good, but now, especially over three years here, word choice has been very much magnified for me as an important aspect. I think instead of ‘this needs to be interesting as a plot’ I’m now like ‘this needs to be sensory to read.’  I’m more into character-driven fiction. There’s obviously still stuff happening around a character in my work, but it’s more to reflect their inner workings.

Which class at SFUAD has been most influential to you?

The Advanced Fiction class I’m in now with Quintan Ana Wikswo. It’s been really influential to me because I walked into class at the beginning of the semester and we all sat in a circle and she asked us to talk about where our writing is now and I literally said ‘I hate writing right now. It makes me physically sick to write. I don’t want to write anymore.’ Now at the end of the semester, I’m applying to graduate school for creative writing. It’s crazy because it’s only been three months in this class. I don’t think [Wilkswo] knows how transformative it’s been.

What was your summer in Hong Kong like?

It was awesome! Hong Kong is very similar in a lot of ways to the feelings I have in Las Vegas. It’s a big city with a lot of people, except that most people in Hong Kong didn’t speak the same language as I did. Hong Kong for me was impactful because when I thought about going to a different country, I thought that everything was going to be really different and overwhelming, which it was but that’s when I realized humans are humans and all of the experiences they’re having are the exact same as mine. I felt more connected to a broader range of people when I visited Hong Kong.

Interning at [Crave Magazine] was really also really important to me. So many things you don’t think you’re capable of doing but then when you actually do it you’re like ‘OK. I can do this.’ I realized that in all aspects of life, not just in writing, that just doing it is the best way to learn. I learned so much about what not to ask in interviews, what you need to ask in interviews…scheduling things—I had to talk to so many people’s PR people in order to schedule an interview—those kinds of things were really helpful to me.

What do you want to do after graduation?

Creative writing senior, Chantelle Mitchell. Photo by Sasha Hill

I’m applying to five different graduate schools and I’d be ecstatic to get into any of them. Every school has different things about them, like their faculty has a writer on staff that I really like or their program has a certain requirement that I’m into like cultural studies or something. I think getting into any school would be amazing.

Going to a traditional university is daunting because I’m used to SFUAD where things aren’t really traditional but it’s also exciting to me. I really crave that super academic environment with lecture rooms and teaching underclassmen and there being majors in science and in writing and natural studies and so many different things on campus. I feel like being around those kinds of people will really inspire me. As much as I love being around writers all the time I end up writing about the same stuff. [Other majors] experience stuff differently than a writer would. I’m excited to focus in on a specific thing to write about and researching about those things. I just love school! I love being in an academic world and studying stuff. I love highlighting stuff. It feels so good! I just want to go to school for the rest of my life.

Chantelle Mitchell will read from her senior book Neon Boneyards at 6 p.m. November 28 at Collected Works alongside Kylie Yockey, Brantlee Reid and Madeleine Sardina.

This interview has been edited for style and clarity.