By Paige Beyer
Still in her first year of college, Claire Oleson is already a published poet and writer, frequent contributor to literary magazines and now a nominee for the 2016 Pushcart Prize — an annual award given for exceptional small-press pieces of poetry, short stories and fiction.
Oleson is a regular contributor and reader for the Siblíní Art and Literature Journal, based in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., She is writing an informational series on the effects of prosody on poetry for the journal, which publishes work by students ages 13 to 23. She volunteers as a prose reader for online literary magazine Persephone’s Daughters, dedicated to empowering women who have experienced abuse. Oleson’s short story “Ten Degrees Below, Convection Bake” was nominated in November 2015 for the 2016 Pushcart Prize, which recognizes work from small presses. Oleson’s piece is one of six nominees from the literary magazine Limestone.
Oleson only started submitting her work to literary journals after her junior year of high school, thanks to a creative writing teacher who explained the publication process to her. Writing has always been a way of life for her, though.
“I started out just kind of writing to write in the sense that I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t trying to use it for anything.” she said. “I wanted to write something that I would enjoy reading later for myself.”
Oleson said she is more audience-conscious now and sees writing more through the lens of letting an idea develop. Her writing influences range fromcartoonist Bill Watterson, whom she called a very talented writer, to the short essays of Marina Keegan, author of The Opposite of Loneliness.
Since coming to Kenyon, Oleson said she’s been reading more David Foster Wallace, especially his short stories, whose elements of surrealism and hyper-realistic situations serve as inspiration for her work. She offers the loose title of surrealism and absurdism to her work, preferring to stay away from terms such as science fiction or young adult. “Anytime you try to show something that’s real through something that’s not real,” she said, “you automatically create another level to what you’re doing that can be looked at.”
On campus, Oleson is a member of Persimmons and Hika, two campus literary magazines. “She always brings really interesting and insightful comments to the pieces we are discussing,” Kirsti Buss ’18, publicity manager of Hika, said.
Oleson also brings her publishing experience to The Kenyon Review, where she is part of the associates program. Tory Weber, associate director of programs and fellowships for the Review, met Oleson during the writing and thinking pre-orientation program. Weber remembers being impressed by her demeanor, especially for an incoming student: “She just seems to have it all together for a freshman coming into a pre-orientation program, which is not always the case.”
The application process for the Review’s associates program is competitive, with roughly 60 students applying for the 10-12 spots allotted to first years. “It’s hard to get in as a freshman, so for her to have gotten in is a testament to how strong her application was and knowing what we knew of her from that Pre-O week, and she hasn’t disappointed,” Weber said.
“She’s just been somebody who’s been delightful to work with and I hope she sticks with the Review for her whole Kenyon career,” Weber said. “She’s just the kind of student we love to work with for sure.”