CWL Senior Charlotte Renken

Charlotte Renken graduates in December. Photo by Jason Stilgebouer

Jackalope Magazine talks with Santa Fe University of Art and Design Creative Writing and Literature senior Charlotte Renken about her senior book, creative inspiration and her plans for after graduation. She is currently associate editor at Jackalope Magazine, tutor at the SFUAD Writing Center and a staff writer at Hush Comics. A frequent conference and convention attendee, Renken will also be a student speaker at the 2018 Granger Leadership Academy conference.


What is included in your senior book?

It’s all creative nonfiction. It’s very much about, you know, things that I went through as a kid; it’s a lot about my dad and his addiction and his passing. And then it kind of transitions into stuff about mental health. I have obsessive compulsive disorder, so there’s a lot about that. There’s a lot about depression and anxiety, just a little bit about sexuality. And then I’ve also got some articles from Jackalope and Hush Comics to sort of end it like, ‘and here’s where I am now.’


Have you always written creative nonfiction?

No, actually. I used to write a lot of poetry, that was my big thing in high school. But mainly, before I came here, it was fiction and poetry. And then when I came here I was like, ‘well, I did four years of that in high school, so why don’t I do the other two genres?’ So I did screenwriting and creative nonfiction. And I just fell in love with creative nonfiction and journalism, which is funny because I remember in my gap year (I took a year between high school and college) I remember telling my mother…she was like, ‘what if you went to school for journalism?’ and I was like, ‘I never want to be a journalist, that’s selling out, mom. I’ll never be a journalist.’

Why Santa Fe?

I actually chose Santa Fe twice. I went to an arts high school for creative writing, and at the time I was a little sick of writing. I think it was more like I was little sick of high school, but I put it in my head that it was a writing problem. I had gotten into graphic design. I was really into publication design and did a little bit of freelance, and it came to a point where I applied to SFUAD and then I also applied to Maryland Institute College of Art, which is a pretty prestigious design school. And it came down to am I going to write or am I going to be a graphic designer? I literally went back and forth for months trying to decide between Santa Fe and MICA. I ended up going to MICA and I was totally freaked out. It was not the right time to go to college because I had lost my dad just a year earlier, and also Baltimore is so different from Denver in some ways. I remember I came around this corner and I saw graffiti on this wall, a Maya Angelou quote. And I went back to my apartment that day and called my mom and was like, ‘I’m coming home, because I’m a writer.’ So I took a year off and I was like, ‘You know, SFUAD  was my other choice, my creative writing choice, and I still want to do writing.’ I just really liked the program.

Have you always been a writer?

Yeah, I think so. As a kid I was always making up stories, and then when I was 12 I actually had a piece published in the Denver Post. I’m so glad it’s not on the internet anymore because it’s so bad. It was a Hannah Montana review. But I think I’ve always sort of liked writing. Writing has always been a way of me trying to figure out my own brain. When I was in high school I really loved Sylvia Plath because I was like, ‘Oh, someone else is like super sad all the time and writes about it.’ So that’s what I wrote about in high school and I guess, sort of, what I still write about a little bit. Yeah, I guess I’ve always sort of wanted to write. It’s almost like it’s second nature for me. People are like, ‘Oh, what do you want to be?’ and I’d be like, ‘I don’t know.’ And it took me a long time to realize I want to be a writer because it’s just something I did.

Charlotte Renken’s senior book is a collection of nonfiction. Photo by Jason Stilgebouer

Have you noticed your writing style change over the past three years?

I’ve been focusing a lot on structure since I came here. I really love hermit crab essays, received forms; they’re my favorite things to write. What I’ve noticed since I came here is I really love mining for information, like finding things and then basing stuff off of that. Even my fiction work, I’ll sort of go in and I’ll do a bunch of research. I think, for me, it’s always interesting to pull from real life for fiction.

Once inspiration hits, is there a process you have to go through before you start writing?

When it comes to journalism, I like to gather all the bits first before I sit down to write it: do all my interviews, get all my photos, get everything done and then break into actually writing it. I’ve found that when I’m writing about my own life, I can’t write about things I’m going through as I’m going through them. Like, my dad died five years ago, but I haven’t really started to write about it until now. I feel like things need to stew for a long time.

What other mediums do you like working in?

I like podcasts. I did a little podcast for a while with Jackalope. Podcasts are super hard. Jackalope Speaks was super fun, but took so much time to do. I’d really love to do another podcast. I really love graphic design. I love making zines, I made a zine here when I took Intro to African-American Culture, and it was about people of color in pop culture and that was super fun to do and collaborate with writers and design that. I love YouTube, I love film, I really want to do web series stuff. And then I also really love music. I haven’t written a lot of it recently, but over the summer me and my best friend Lara wrote a duet called ‘Draco and Harry Sad Contest’ and that was so fun. She wrote the words and I wrote the music. I love art. When I see something I want to exist, or a story I want to tell, I just do it in whatever medium it makes sense to do it in.

What are your favorite books and other media?

I’ve always really loved Harry Potter, obviously. But I don’t even see that as a book anymore, it’s like a lifestyle. I really love John Green’s work, for a long time I was saying that The Fault in Our Stars was my favorite book. I love Frankenstein; it’s one of my favorites. I’m now super into Pride and Prejudice, which I didn’t think was possible to be more into it but Lizzy Bennet is everything. I really love the works of Joss Whedon. I’m a little like angry and not sure how to feel about a lot of stuff with Joss Whedon, but I still love his work, or I guess the things that have been created under him.

I really like seeing the underdog win. I also really love seeing social commentary on TV. I like seeing characters that grapple with things that I grapple with, who are struggling but just carry on.

You’ve been writing with Jackalope Magazine for a while, what has your experience been like?

It’s just been the most wonderful, stressful, crazy thing. It’s really a real-world experience. I’ve learned things in Jackalope that I think have been absolutely crucial to what I want to do going forward, and it’s given me lots of really cool opportunities. I got to interview one of my idols, Felicia Day. Jackalope has kept me grounded, I think I would go insane if I wasn’t in Jackalope.  It’s nice to feel like I’m somewhere where I’m at the top of my game, doing what I do best.

Julia [Goldberg] and Tony [O’Brien] are just the most amazing mentors. I remember I came in as a freshman, which was kind of unusual for Jackalope, and I remember turning in my first article and Julia was like, ‘this is good, we could run this, but I want to push you because I know you can do more.’ That was really important to me, because I really like professors and mentors and people in my life who help me be better and help me grow.

Charlotte Renken loves it when her writing can help someone. Photo by Jason Stilgebouer

How has writing for Hush Comics influenced you?

Right now we’re sort of in a hiatus, but I still keep in contact with them. Adrian [Puryear], Sherif [Elkhatib], they’re just incredible and I think they gave me a really cool jumping-off point for journalism. Before I was like, ‘Journalism…no’ and with them it was like, ‘Oh, I get to write about Buffy and I get to write about Welcome to Night Vale.’ It was sort of starting on my own turf, and that’s kind of where I fell in love with journalism.

What was your experience like studying abroad in London?

London was a really formative time in my life, I think. It was the first time that I went somewhere and I was completely on my own. There was basically no one that I knew previously. Before I went to London, I went on to the London Nerdfighters page. Nerdfighters are this massive, global community surrounded by the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel. I just reached out to them and I was like, ‘Hey, how do I do London?’ and they were so helpful and it was like by the time I got there I had all these people to help me and to just kind of hang out with. So it was kind of cool because I went there and I really got to see how kind people could be, and how you can kind of survive in the world just by asking for help. I think it taught me a lot about asking for help. My worldview really opened up that year because I went to London and got to meet these people from all over the world. London is really a global city. I would be on the Tube and I would hear someone speaking Arabic or French or Spanish or German. I think I had like two friends there who were actually British.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to do a lot of stuff because I’m not one of those people who can just do one thing. But my main thing right now is I really want to be a journalist. I really want to write for an alt news weekly or somewhere that’s kind of off beat, you know. I definitely want to go back to London. I want to go back home, get a job, earn as much money as I can for like a year or two, because rent in London is really expensive, and then go to grad school in London. But also I have this sort of idea in my back pocket, and I don’t know how it’ll ever happen without crowdfunding, but I kind of want do a documentary series where I backpack through Europe and only stay with Nerdfighters.

What inspires you to write?

I think lately it’s been, I see something in the world and I want do something about it. Or I see someone doing something cool and I want to talk about it. I think the press is a really good tool to bring out voices that are not being heard. And so that really inspires me—when I can write something that helps someone else.

This interview has been edited for style and clarity.