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Undergraduate storytellers shine at Levinthal Reading

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Despite the STEM emphasis at Stanford, our university is filled with talented artists and opportunities to grow as a creative. One such opportunity is a gem called the Levinthal Tutorial program. Poets, writers and comic artists showcased their artistic endeavors during last Thursday’s Levinthal Readings.

Lecturers Brittany Perham and Tom Kealey, the program’s co-coordinators, both gave opening remarks at the virtual reading. Kealey said the Levinthal program provides undergraduates and Stegner Fellows with “one of the most important and memorable experiences of their Stanford careers.” 

“It truly is a special and unique literary encounter,” he added. 

Kealey also paid tribute to the late program director Eavan Boland, who was “instrumental in the building of this program.”

The Levinthal Tutorial has existed for 18 years under the Creative Writing Program at Stanford. Undergraduate students, or “Levinthals,” are matched with Stegner Fellows to work one-on-one during winter quarter to write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and graphic comics.

Throughout the event, the writers read pieces they worked on during their tutorial, and the poise in the delivery of their stories, essays and poems reflected their dedication to storytelling. Their poignant words sat with me for some time; I left the event thinking more about the art of communication through stories, and how honing in on a specific topic can simultaneously provide breadth and narrowness.

Jamayka Young ’21 wrote about themes of Black American identity, land, home and displacement. Through their poetry, they painted a picture of Friday summer evenings in front of a porch, where children catch lightning bugs, play double dutch with telephone cords and go to bed with bellies full of fried tilapia. The poems beautifully depicted the unique summer experiences of an intergenerational household — experiences which contribute to a larger shared experience. 

Smiti Mittal ’23 reflected on the intersections of privilege, religion, sex and colonialism in spaces of her hometown of New Dehli, India. She wrote about the challenges of speaking about diversity, bringing attention to the complexities of language and the barriers it produces. Her essay posed the question of whether there really is a way to resist without using tools of the oppressor — that is, the English language. Am I already defeated in such acts of resistance before I’ve even started?

Malia Mendez ’22 shed light on the struggles faced by women with ADHD. Her work expressed how ADHD research is male-centered, which causes diagnoses to fit the research and vice-versa, essentially creating a cycle that keeps ADHD diagnoses primarily among males. This causes females to remain undiagnosed as they continue to grapple with the challenges of ADHD in their day-to-day lives. 

Mendez said the reading was “extremely nerve-wracking,” even in the virtual setting, and that gauging the audience’s reactions was a challenge, especially since her piece was semi-comedic.  

“But I also felt really lucky to share my work, and I got some incredibly heartwarming messages via chat about how people resonated with my excerpt,” wrote Mendez in a statement to The Daily. “That’s what motivates me to write, honestly more than anything else — making people feel less alone!”

The Levinthals each brought their unique stories and voices to the reading. Some works were more comical while others had a more somber tone — but all were sincere. A diverse range of people and the variety of genres made the reading engaging and powerful, and I especially appreciated works on topics that are sometimes hard to talk or write about. Even in a virtual setting, the writers’ authenticity was expressed through their reading. 

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Rosana is an Arts & Life Contributing Writer and a News Staff Writer from La Puente, CA. She enjoys a good hike and is her dog’s biggest fan. The SoCal native misses playing the alto saxophone and looks forward to someday watching the Dodgers (in-person) win another World Series game. Contact her at rmaris 'at' stanforddaily.com.