1. Tell me a little about yourself. A synopsis. (I’m so curious to know your last name!!)
Hi! My name is Ashley Hajimirsadeghi. I’m an Iranian-American who was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and I moved to New York City to attend FIT. A mixed Iranian-American, I grew up in a small diaspora community here, driving an hour to gather the proper ingredients for our food at H-mart. I’m graduating in the summer 2021 with a degree in International and Marketing, but I plan to go into graduate school for a master’s/PhD in cultural anthropology/ethnography. Outside of school, I am a very creative person who works in art and writing—I’m on the team of several literary magazines and co-run The Young Writers’ Initiative’s magazine and press. Currently I am based out of Baltimore and am waiting to see where the wind takes me next!
2. Can you share a little about that poetry book you published and what that is about? Its origin story, how you started, etc.
My first poetry collection was tributaries; I went to a public art high school and my major was literary arts. So to actually graduate from the program, in your senior year you have to publish or self-publish a book. I was originally going to do my novel that’s been (and still is) collecting dust, but decided to completely switch genres. I originally was a fiction writer who had sworn off poetry, but my senior year I really embraced being a poet. tributaries came at a really low point in my life, and, to be blunt, it was a book of sadness and hope. I wrote the poems with the theme of self-love in mind. It’s not actually in print anymore, but my next book is coming out soon with a well-known indie press!
3. Are there any other projects you’re doing right now that you’d like to share?
Oh, I have so much going on these days! My next book, which is a chapbook called cartography of trauma, is coming out this summer with Dancing Girl Press. I’m writing a novel and a play, and am hoping to find an agent for the novel soon. I work at New Perspectives Theatre Company in Manhattan, and a big project I’ve been working on for months now is a database of women playwrights throughout history—there’s nothing like this on the Internet, because women in theatre are often forgotten and left behind in the narrative. Besides that, I’m graduating college soon, but I’m taking a gap year before graduate school to write, live life to the fullest, learn some new languages, help make lives better. I don’t believe in rushing life, so I want to take my time.
4. I remembered you went to Korea to study before, how was that? Would love to share with the audience!
Korea was an absolutely amazing experience—I want go to back so bad. I lived with a host family in Anyang, an outlying city of Seoul, and commuted two hours to attend classes at Ewha Womens’ University. I didn’t speak any Korean going into this, so the two-hour commute was honestly terrifying because I had to transfer several times. I hate to romanticize it because Korea has many problems, like any other country and society, but it felt like I was living in a K-drama because going to Korea and living there freely truly was my dream. To wake up and see signs in Korean, to eat street food like gye-ran bbang and tteokbokki each day—it truly was magical.
On a tangent, I am absolute nerd for Korean history and literature, and even in the city of Seoul alone there’s so much to unpack. A lot of people love the entertainment and beauty out of Korea, but I think many people don’t know that this is a country that modernized extremely quickly and faced so much trauma and hardship. It was less than a hundred years ago Koreans were being killed by their colonizers for speaking Korean. And there’s remnants of this all over Seoul. You could be wandering in a very high-tech area and then run into the ancient palace of Gyeongbokgung. I used to pass a statue of comfort women each day while commuting into Ewha and never realized how significant that was.
5. With your given success as an individual, what are some obstacles that challenged you to grow?
For me, I didn’t major in anything that I quote-on-quote am successful in. I didn’t have the resources or workshops that a lot of creative writing majors have, and I don’t come from a financial background where I can afford fancy $300 classes just to have a resemblance to this opportunity. I was privileged enough to have the education I received in high school, but it didn’t prepare me enough for the literary world. I had to throw myself into it and find my own opportunities, be my own editor, make friends and connections. And that’s really intimidating at eighteen. But, in a way, that forced me to be creative and go outside of the industrial complex built into writing programs.
I think also something that I think about quite a bit is that I absolutely refuse to label my work or who I am in general. I don’t want to be stagnant, and by saying I am just a poet I feel like I am locking myself into that label, when I want to do so much more than that. It seems like such a shame to devote my life to only one language, cause, field, when I know that I can do so much more than that. It was a struggle coming to realize this, especially considering we live in societies often where we’re told we have to stick to a singular career or cause. When that happens, we deny creativity and complexity to us as human beings. It works for some people, just not me.
6. How do you manage to handle everything at once? Do you have any tips for the readers?
I fell into the hype and started using Notion recently, and I must say it really did change my productivity levels. I also just realized that life is too short. I know that sounds like a copout answer, but if it isn’t a priority for the day I’ve found it’s perfectly okay to push things off and take some time for myself. I work hard, but I also play hard. I do suggest making a routine though, especially if you’re a writer. If you don’t feel like writing and feed into those urges, guess what? You’re not going to write any time soon. Just building sustainable habits, but being flexible at the same time.
7. Who was your greatest influence on who you are today?
I wouldn’t say “who,” but an experience I had in the summer of 2019. I used to be extremely cocky about my knowledge of Asia, but then I went to the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute and realized I knew nothing. They brought in 10 Americans, 10 Pakistani, and 10 Indian youth writers, and suddenly I was blown into a whole new world. It was in that program that I told myself to keep writing, to keep learning more about the world, to keep pushing. I also began to question constructs more, to question my own status and privilege in the world. I used to consider myself unlucky for being born into a family that didn’t have much financially, but it was there in Iowa I truly realized that in the world people are actively and immensely suffering. This sounds so privileged, but it really stuck me outside of my comfort zone and I gained a deeper appreciation for life. This was also the first time in my life that I began to realize that being a creative person wasn’t just circumstance; it was a lifestyle to dedicate yourself to your art.
8. If you can do something right now, what would it be? Is there a problem you’d like to solve in the world?
Get into more teaching opportunities, specifically in history, art, writing. I’m a big reader, specifically in extremely niche nonfiction, and so I find all of this knowledge just storing in my brain and no one to share it with. I’ve taught writing workshops, but I want to get into that more when I’m a bit more established as a writer.
In regards to problem, besides the basic problems like poverty, hunger, war, I want more mainstream access to the arts and writing. I do a lot of research in this, and have had a poetry therapist personally before, but poetry truly is capable of healing societies and trauma. Again and again throughout history, in times of great suffering and need, we turn to the written word. There have been studies that show writing and reading poetry actually increases empathy, as well as serves as a form of efficient therapy. And unfortunately we’re at a point where writing resources for young or budding writers are monetized and often expensive, leaving marginalized and traumatized groups out because they cannot afford it. I’d like to work for a solution to that, and kind of already am by being involved with TYWI, but something needs to change.
Bonus: Favorite anything, and why? (choose one or more: movies, fashion pieces, beauty, people, places, etc.)
Movies: House of Hummingbird (Kim Bora, 2020), Peppermint Candy (Lee Chang-dong, 1998), Farewell my Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2013)
Poets: Dianne Seuss, H.D. / Hilda Doolittle, Edna St. Vincent Millay (aka the literary queen of 1920s NYC), Carmen Gimenez Smith, Forugh Farrokhzhad.