Eden Shulman is a 21-year-old English student at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Born and raised in Bellvue, Colorado, he has spent significant time in Vietnam, Cambodia, and southern China. He is the Vice President of the Northeastern University Write Club, and his poetry has appeared in Uppagus, The East Coast Literary Review, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. Having written since a young age, he performs many short stories and poems at various open mics around Boston. His poetry attempts to combine humor, naturalism, and a love of the outdoors and humans' place within it. After graduation, he is hoping to go into the Peace Corps and continue his writing overseas. He is currently working on a novel, hopefully completed by 2015.
In this interview with letters editor Dariel Suarez, Eden talked about his experience studying literature at an engineering and sciences focused university, about his influences as a young poet, and about his career aspirations, among other things.
Dariel Suarez: Could you describe your experience as a student and writer at Northeastern University?
Eden Shulman: Northeastern is an interesting school to be a writing-focused student at, because the school is known for, and promulgates in, mostly engineering, science, and technology. The arty students that I know are a dedicated bunch, focused on their craft with a sort of engineering-like intensity.
However, Northeastern can be attractive to a lot of potential arts and humanities students due to the co-op program, in which students take semesters off in order to work in their choice of industry that specifically hires students from Northeastern. This means that you graduate with a stacked resume, no matter the degree that you hold, which is nice for students that don’t have as much of a guarantee of a job when they leave the university. Basically, most students are very career focused and intense about their interests, which is perfect from my perspective, as I approach the world in a similar manner.
The writer scene in Boston is also pretty great for networking and workshopping pieces with a variety of talented people. The location is perfect - a city that is scene as a center of the arts in the Northeast, with easy access to New York and to the more rural areas for a variety of inspiration. Massachusetts is far from where I grew up, in northern Colorado, so I have had an amazing opportunity to expand my horizons and meet people who could provide guidance and feedback.
DS: What was it that first drew you to poetry? What poets do you enjoy reading the most?
ES: When I a kid, I loved the work of Shel Silverstein. I knew multiple of his books pretty much by heart, and I read them so much that the bindings became tattered and ripped. I started writing my own poetry around the fifth grade, mostly emulating the Shel Silverstein, but then as I got a little bit older, I started to copy the works of poets that my father kept in his collection: TS Eliot, e. e. cummings, Silvia Plath, and Alan Ginsberg. Mostly these were just experimental little scribblings that I kept in a notebook in my desk, but occasionally I’d type them up and show them to my friends or my teachers at school.
In high school, I was in the International Baccalaureate Program. During my sophomore year, we were assigned a project in which we could choose any type of venture that we wanted to do, be it music, painting, art, volunteerism, etc, and see it through to the finish with the help of a mentor. I decided to write and illustrate a book of poetry, in the style of Shel Silverstein. My mentor was a colleague of my father’s, a professor in the English department of Colorado State University, named John Calderazzo. He helped me shape my poetry into the crisp, humorous rhymes I wanted, and he taught me how to edit poetry, how to look at a poem and decide what is unnecessary and what is essential, and how to craft a line that leaps off the page.
Since high school, I have kept writing and reading an ever-expanding trove of poets. For a while, I read a lot the modernists: mainly TS Eliot, e. e. cummings, and Wallace Stevens. Recently, however, I have been getting into the works of contemporary poets: Joseph Millar, Derek Walcott, and Naomi Shihab Nye, to name a few. I will also always harbor a deep love and respect for the work of Walt Whitman.
DS: You mention in your bio that you’re the Vice President of a club at your university. Can you tell us a bit about what the club entails?
ES: I am the Vice President of the Northeastern Write Club. We’re a pretty informal group. We meet weekly, on Thursdays, and basically just write. Our sessions are split into two parts: in the first, our president chooses a writing prompt, which you can respond to in the style of your choice (poetry, prose, song lyrics, etc). The prompt is mostly to get the creative juices flowing rather than a hard and fast guide for the content of the piece; more often than not, a work will go off the rails halfway through. Our writing and sharing of the prompt pieces takes about an hour. Second, we either share our pieces that we wrote at home, or we do a second prompt depending on the day and everyone’s mood.
We also like to have some meetings in which a speaker or one of our members runs a workshop. Last year, we had a workshop on spoken word poetry hosted by Corey Depina from Zumix. We also have an open mic every month at afterHOURS at Northeastern.
DS: What inspired you to write “To Which” and “The Bath”?
ES: “To Which” came about after a long break I took from writing, in the fall of 2013. It represented a new style I was trying out, a transition from angrier, political stuff into more personal, lyrical poetry. I had witnessed a certain personality type among acquaintances of mine and the poem is my attempt to describe it, and what kind of consequences this personality could have on a person.
“The Bath” is a more personal poem, written about my memories of my time staying on the island Phú Quốc, in the southern part of Vietnam, and the detritus that would wash up on the shore near our hotel. All of the objects were nibbled by the ocean, eaten away in places, warped into almost unrecognizable shapes. The poem is about how the ocean is a force of change, neither for good or for bad, but simply entropy. It’s about change not just to objects, but to the people who live and work on the ocean, and how simple combination of time, salt, and water can twist a personality into a whole new direction.
DS: What aspirations do you have as a writer? Where would you like to be in the next 5-10 years?
ES: As a writer, my ambition is to craft works that are both personal and universal. I want to write stories and poetry that people can both connect to once and come back to later, works that you would want to share with your friends, works that combine pathos, humor, and a love of life. I find writing to be a deeply personal, intricate art form, and I would love to be able to communicate a little bit of that intricacy and infectious love to others.
On a more realistic level, I would hope my next step would be the publication of my short stories and a writerly resume that I could build off of into something concrete. Right now, I’m working on a novel, not one that I ever expect to be published, but rather a work to acquaint myself with the practice of writing long form. In the next five to ten years, I hope to be able to publish a novel, or a collection of stories or poems, in a book that people could hold in their hands and read on the train. To be able to do this in the next ten years, by the age of 30, would be a great personal achievement, and one that I’m going to devote the majority of my time and energy to accomplishing.
DS: What advice would you give to other young writers like yourself who are just beginning to send out submissions for publication?
ES: Treat each of your poems like a mango (or a banana, if that’s more your speed). On the outer edge, there’s a hard, unpalatable peel that needs to be stripped away to reveal the sweet fruit at the core. Each poem is also surrounded by hard, unpalatable bits that need to be stripped away, and part of your job is recognizing the parts that need to be cut. Even if you like a metaphor, or a line, or an entire stanza, if it is clunky and doesn’t fit, it needs to go.
Also, use all technologies that are at your disposal. I recommend Duotrope, a site which aggregates thousands of different magazines and publication into one database, so no more random Googling needed to find publications that fit your particular interests.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of rejection. Each rejection is a learning experience, and each piece was rejected for a concrete reason. Try to figure out why it happened, if the publisher doesn’t tell you. Was your poem not a good fit for the market? Was your story a bit too long and a bit too rambly? Every rejection I’ve had has helped my writing immensely, and each has required analysis.