Q&A with Featured Writer Scarlett Peterson

Scarlett Peterson, peculiar‘s newest Featured Writer, is a Georgia native and Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal Exhume, which seeks “to amplify the voices of queer and trans people, people who have suffered trauma and other marginalized groups.” Her poetry invites you to the table, serves you with open hands, and calls you back for seconds. It’s flavorful and concentrated, and we love showcasing it in Issue Eight.

When did you start writing? 

I began writing when I was about twelve or thirteen, but for a long time I struggled with what it meant to write, or at least with identifying a way to write towards a goal or purpose. I wrote a few poems around that time. Mostly I wrote in response to daily writing prompts from a twitter account in composition notebooks.  

Why do you write? 

I write because I feel like I have to.  

What poets and writers do you read? 

I try to read as widely as I can. Some of my recent favorite poets are Amiri Baraka, June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, Julie Marie Wade, Kayleb Rae Candrili, Chelsea Rathburn, Ellen Bass, Julie Koets, Aline Murray Kilmer,  Patricia Smith, Ilya Kaminsky, and Alison Benis White. In terms of prose, I just finished History of an Executioner by Clancy McGilligan, which felt pretty far outside of what I’d typically go for, but the voice was so compelling I couldn’t put it down.  

What’s your writing process? 

Honestly, for the last four or five years I’ve been enrolled in school for writing (finishing my B.A., the entirety of my MFA, and starting my PhD), so it varies pretty widely. I don’t have a ceremonial approach to writing— I try to carry something to write on and with everywhere I go, but sometimes I compose my poems verbally in a voice memo while I’m commuting to work, sometimes I get out of bed at two in the morning to write in my office, sometimes I’m inspired by a TV show or a half-wilted marigold, or the way a stray cat responds to my left-overs. My writing process is to respond to whatever feels urgent, and to take note of fleeting things that feel important at the time. 

What inspires you to write? 

Everything. I’m inspired by anything that I find myself invested or interested in. Since the pandemic, my inspiration has mostly come from gardening and memories, though I do write about other things. 

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written? 

An essay I wrote a few months back about alligators, nesting dolls, and how they intersected with the mothers in my life. 

What effect do you hope your writing will have on people? 

I hope it serves them some sort of purpose. I don’t think anyone is going to be relatable to everyone, so I won’t say relatability, but I do hope that it makes people think, or surprises them, or maybe inspires them (even if it’s just inspiring them to write a poem that’s better than mine). 

Where do you see yourself in the future? 

Teaching writing and writing more of my own work. I love teaching, especially teaching creative writing. When I’m feeling optimistic I see myself with a tenure-track job teaching poetry and creative nonfiction. 

What’s it like being queer where you live? 

It’s never boring. Living near Atlanta means that I live in a constant shuffle between liberal and conservative spaces. On the way to Atlanta Pride in October of 2019, my girlfriend and I stopped by a Waffle House in McDonough on the way into the city. Half of the clientele looked less than warmly at my various rainbows, but our server stopped and talked to us about how much she wished she was going to pride that day. That’s sort of a perfect example of the experience— we have our community, and it’s beautiful and diverse and strong, but there are some definitively unwelcoming spaces and people.  

What makes you peculiar? 

My facial expressions and my inability to hide them. My too-friendliness. My willingness to walk in wet shoes as long as I’ll see something new or beautiful. My constant need for more information. 

What are you working on now? 

I’m currently working on two manuscripts of poetry and a collection of essays. One manuscript is my thesis, which needs some hefty revision, the other is what will ideally become my dissertation. The essay collection is the newest of the three, but it’s the project I’m the most excited about. 

Where can fans find you online? 

Twitter: @scarlettpoet
Instagram: @scarlettpoet 

Scarlett Peterson is a Georgia native who receive her B.A. in English and professional writing from Kennesaw State University. She received her M.F.A. in poetry at Georgia College. She is currently working on her PhD at Georgia State. She is editor in chief of Exhume Literary Magazine and was formerly an assistant editor of poetry for Arts and Letters. Her poetry has appeared or is upcoming in Five2One, Serendipity, Pennsylvania English, Ink and Nebula, FRiGG, 8-West Press, The Magnolia Review, Moon City Review, Fire Poetry, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Gargoyle Magazine. Her nonfiction has appeared in Pamoja, Madcap Review, and Counterclock Journal.

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