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KPS Grads in Action: Kelsey Socha Publishes Debut Novella

An Archive of BrightnessOne of Kelsey Socha’s first writing gigs was when she was a Kalamazoo Central High school senior — and she was asked to document a visit from one of the country’s most famous citizens.

 “I was part of the class of 2010 that wrote essays to get President Obama to come to our graduation through the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge,” Socha said. “I can’t remember how I ended up getting to be the one to write a blog post for the White House, but it was very cool!” 

You can still read the blog post on the archived site (the link is broken but you can find the article by Googling Kelsey Socha, White House, My Day with President Obama): 2010/06/09/my-graduation-day-with-presidentobama 

You can also read something more current by Socha. Her first novella, “An Archive of Brightness” was recently published by Lanternhouse. 

Publishers Weekly says: “Socha’s melancholy debut novella is a set of nonlinear, dialogue-light queer human romances as documented by the birds that watch the stories unfolding. … Interspersed are musings on the birds themselves and the ways in which finding and losing love can feel apocalyptic.” 

Socha grew up in Kalamazoo. Her father, Greg Socha, was principal of Arcadia Elementary School, and her mother, Tracy Wilson, was a teacher at Prairie Ridge Elementary School — and Socha credits them with being her first (and her most influential) teachers. She attended Milwood and Arcadia elementary schools, Hillside Middle School and Kalamazoo Central High School. She also participated in the Academically Talented Youth Program, Education for the Arts and Education for Employment — now called Career & Technical Education. 

Socha, who lives in Massachusetts, recently answered some questions about her career and writing by email: 

Did you always enjoy writing? 

I did always love writing, although it hasn’t always been my main focus. 

My second grade teacher, Jackie Bynum at Milwood Elementary, was the first teacher who ever asked my class to write stories. We wrote a lot of very short books in her class, and that was the first time I learned that I wanted to write and thought of myself as a writer! In high school, I did the EFA class with Tucker Rafferty. It was a class that really allowed for writing to be an open and sort of generative experience. My ATYP teacher, Becky Cooper, and my ninth-grade English teacher, Jennifer Heymoss (who now works for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation) also were both teachers who allowed for a lot of possibilities for what writing, and English classes in general, could look like and I’m very grateful for both of their classes. Where did you go to college? Were you a Promise scholar? 

I was fully a Promise scholar. I went to the University of Michigan, where I got a BFA in theatrical design and production focusing on costume design and stage management, and a minor in performing arts management. Having The Kalamazoo Promise has had a long and lasting impact: It affected where I chose to go to school, and what I chose to study, which in turn affected, well, everything else. It also allowed me to take professional and artistic risks, and later, being able to go to grad school without being totally overwhelmed by undergraduate loan debt. I am very grateful for The Promise. 

Can you tell me about your career path? 

I’ve had an unexpected career trajectory. I went to school for theatrical design and worked in costume shops before deciding to go back to school to become a librarian. I went to library school at Simmons University, and then worked in the Boston area as an academic librarian and a children’s and teen librarian, before becoming a public services manager. Recently, I transitioned again from public libraries to working in digital preservation, specifically in preserving websites on the Internet. 

When I was in grad school, I couldn’t stop thinking about birds, and so I started writing about them. I think good art is about paying attention, and my work in theater really prepared me to pay a lot of attention. Working in libraries and archives does offer the chance to see and get to know a lot of different stories, which also helps a great deal.

 I loved being a costume designer, and I loved being a librarian, and I also love my work now. 

Can you give us an overview of “An Archive of Brightness”?

 “An Archive of Brightness” is a novella, made up of intertwined stories, and it does frequently veer into prose poetry — there’s not a lot of dialogue, and most characters don’t have names, and it is fairly poetic in scope. A murder of crows builds an “archive of brightness” by observing and collecting moments of tenderness in a series of human relationships. These interwoven stories offer hope that the very mundane will become extraordinary under the right circumstances. 

What is your writing process like and how long have you been working on the book? 

My writing process is very goal-oriented — I’m much better at writing in short, fast bursts than really consistently, so I’ll often set timers to get my words in. It’s also much easier to edit once you have the words on the page. In a perfect world, I’d always write at a cafe or in a group, but that’s not often practical. 

For students who may be interested in writing, what advice would you offer? 

I think the most important advice would just be… if you really want to write, don’t wait until you feel like you’re fully ready, and all the conditions and stars in the sky align, because it’s unlikely that that will happen. Just start, even if you don’t feel ready at all. Even if your first draft of something ends up not being very good, that just means that you have something to build off of.

 I would also just say that it’s okay for writing not to be your primary focus at any point: you don’t have to prove that you love writing above everything else to be successful at it. Reading broadly, and having other interesting experiences — whether those experiences are playing a sport, or doing art or science, or doing something else entirely — are all things that can help in becoming a better and more informed writer. 

What’s next for you?

I am working on another book: this one is a haunted house story centered around a house on the drive to the local roller rink. I’m excited to see where it goes!