What does it mean to be a byproduct of your culture? Or better yet, what does it mean to be a blend of more than one? It’s a big question, one that many families and individuals ask themselves as our world becomes more open and diverse. But, how better to approach this topic than through art?
It’s exactly how Rafaella Safarian has taken on the exploration of her cultures. On top of running her own literary magazine, Hyebred Magazine, she’s also a writer who looks at the world she grew up in and the world around her to drive her fiction forward.
“I grew up in an Armenian household and I grew up going to the Armenian church, so it was really based on all of my observations about myself, my family, my culture and kind of creating these stories to make it relatable,” said Rafaella. “Cause in a sense they’re like immigrant stories, some of them, and you appreciate how far your culture has brought you.”
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She recently graduated from her undergrad in Creative Writing, but during her time in school, she was able to find what she wanted to write towards. Many young writers struggle in finding their ‘voice’ or know what they are writing about. Rafaella not only knows what she is writing about, but she explores it further as she grows as an artist.
In fact, Rafaella wrote four short stories for her thesis, titled “The Half-Open Pomegranate” which is heavily based on the Armenian culture.
“The image of the half-open pomegranate is a symbol of what Armenia has become,” said Rafaella. “The pomegranate, which is the motherland, was ripped open during the Genocide of 1915. Her seeds have scattered all over the globe, sprouting new communities which are still thriving to this day. Each of the stories embodies the strength of the Armenian people, who are more than just victims of Genocide. They are fruitful, resilient, and indestructible.”
Her stories don’t stop there, though. She might have finished her thesis defense (phew) but, to her, that doesn’t mean her stories are done.
“How can I learn from this piece?” she asks herself. “How can I incorporate what I have learned during my four years doing a bachelor’s in creative writing? How can I use all that knowledge to make this the best story I can? I’m just kind of building the short story collection, actually. I’m revising here and there because, as a perfectionist, and I think any artist or writer will say that their work is not finished yet.”
As hard of a worker as she is, Rafaella is very humble about the work she does. She knows what it means to be a young artist and wears the badge proudly.
“I’m an Emerging writer, and I’m totally fine with that,” she said. “I think there’s a fear of being an emerging writer because a lot of the time, you’re still trying to find your voice and I think a lot of publishers think you’re trying to find your voice too. So, if you send them your best, then they’ll know, who this person is and I think that’s really important to establish yourself as a writer, in terms of your voice.”
Just like any other writer, established or otherwise, Rafaella has received her fair share of rejection letters. But as the editor-in-chief of Hyebred Magazine, a magazine dedicated to artists of Armenian descent, she doesn’t like to hand them out.
“For me, it’s like harder for me to write a rejection than to receive one,” she said. “I wanted it to be a space where emerging and established writers will definately be published. I think it is important for a CV booster, to have a publication under your belt in order to write a cover letter.”
Her magazine has just published its fourth issue and is continuing to grow and thrive since she started it back in her undergrad.
“I was really shocked about how positive the response was and people who had originally submitted in the first issue, submitted in the third one as well and it was just kind of really wonderful because it kind of means that they trust the journal,” she said. “They trust its mission and that just makes me really happy.”
She is now continuing her studies, but not with writing. No, no. Rafaella is currently in law school learning about justice, but she wants to apply what she learns to her writing.
“Hopefully I will try to balance it. Hopefully it’s not 90% of studying, 10% writing,” she said. “Stepping away from writing is gonna be a challenge because I know that when I am not allowed to write, for example because I have to study, it’s gonna make me want to write more. I also think that’s gonna be a good thing cause I want this break to learn more about justice, and apply that to my writing.”
You can also access Issue 4 and all the previous issues of Hyebred here!
Still want to know more about Rafaella and her amazing work, both in writing and in the community? Click here to listen to the full episode!
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