Feb 01, 2021

Red Bank Teen Talks Finding Her Passion in Writing

By Lori Draz and Alexandra Lewis

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month, our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is 18-year-old Alexandra Lewis, of Red Bank, a senior at Red Bank Regional and a published author. Alexandra shares her activist voice in her book of poetry “A Letter to a Lost Cause.”  Lewis has been an active in the Fortune Teller’s program at the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center for four years where she will also be conducting a book reading, discussion and signing on Saturday, Feb. 20 from 3 to 5 pm. Alexandra has been a vocal proponent of civil rights since early childhood, but when she began developing her skills as a writer, she found a clearer and much more personal voice. Here is Alexandra’s story.

When I first started public speaking at 7 years old, my mother bribed me with doughnuts and snacks. Practicing speeches about civil rights activists was not the average Saturday most third graders looked forward to. Little did I know those civil rights heroes would soon become my inspirations. Public speaking eventually led to writing. Sometime between elementary and middle school, my outward personality slowly turned silent. I began putting more of my thoughts and ideas on paper than directly into the world. Though this method gave me more time to edit my work and develop more complex ideas early on, I also missed out on opportunities to stand up for myself until I found my voice again. Activism has always been a part of my life, from reading and presenting about Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, to marching down my own city streets. Speaking out about the injustice in our country and in the world has led me to educating myself and my peers.

My journey with writing began with activism, but throughout high school, I also expanded my horizons, expressing other parts of life through writing. Technology has allowed society to pick up speed when sending and receiving information, but we often don’t feel as if we have the time to reflect on the information we receive. Writing gives me the time I need to reflect, and many people have found comfort in writing as a way to take all of the bottled up emotions and thoughts and release them onto a page.

Composing my thoughts about the political climate of the United States was my priority for a while, but self-discovery is also a large part of being a writer. I developed many of my current interests through research for my writing. I’ve wanted to be an architect, an engineer, a paleontologist, a historian, an actor and even a dancer at one point because of the stories and poems that I became deeply invested in. Many people believe that you need to be an impossibly well-read genius with a doctorate and a world of revolutionary ideas in your head to be a writer. That’s simply not true. Of course, you need to have an understanding of life and an open mind to truly capture multiple perspectives, but writing is about expressing ideas and communicating experiences. These ideas and experiences can be well-known or unique to only a few people. What’s important is having a diverse outlook on human experience. It’s what makes great writers great. Once I learned this, I was able to branch out. I still write about the experiences of the African American community in my area and across the nation, but I also write about the LGBTQ+ community, religion, education, relationships and the importance of writing itself.

My ever-expanding collection of poetry and short observations began to take up space in my head and on my desk. Quickly I learned another valuable lesson about writing: stories deserve to be shared. I didn’t plan on presenting every one of my poems like I had done in the beginning stages of my public speaking career. Some of them were meant to be read aloud, but others were calm, passing thoughts that sparked inspiration for me, and I figured they might do the same for others. I wanted to release these poems from the confines of my mind once and for all, which led me on my publishing journey. A misconception about writing is that you have to be discovered by a huge publisher and mass produced everywhere in order for the work to be valuable, but that isn’t necessarily true. I self-published my first book last summer. During the COVID-19 shutdown, I had more time than usual to work on personal projects. For my book, I was the cover designer, editor and publicist. Everything was up to me, which made my book extremely personal. I was able to guide myself through an easy self-publishing process on Amazon, and now I know that I can publish whenever I’m ready. Self-publishing doesn’t make the work any less valuable or desirable; it gives the writer more freedom to shape their work how they want and express themselves with their words, cover art and set-up.

All of these lessons about writing came naturally as I grew up reading and writing in my free time. Of course, I had many people to push me along the way and reassure me that I can be successful, but most importantly, a writer has to believe that their work is valuable before anyone else. Any ideas that showcase the human experience deserve to be shared because we could all learn more about each other. A writer’s job is to share stories in the form of poetry, prose, public speaking, print or any medium in order to open the readers’ eyes to new perspectives.