Campus Celebrity: Ellen Vallonga

What do you do?

"I am an intern as the Editor in Chief of Towson University's literary and arts magazine Grub Street. I help oversee the staff (i.e. the students of ENGL 414 and 415) that will create and produce the 2018 issue (Volume 67) of the magazine.”

When did you start doing it?

“I suppose my internship officially began at the start of this semester, but I was introduced as the next editor last semester at the 2017 Grub Street launch party for Volume 66. Throughout the summer, I communicated and met with our faculty adviser/professor, Leslie Harrison, in preparation for the class.” 

What sparked your interest in this activity?

“I have always loved to write. I remember being about eight-years-old and typing little stories at my family's computer in our dining room. This continued through high school, and when I got to college, I declared my major in English my first semester. I had known for years that writing and literature were what I wanted to study. About halfway through college, my adviser at the time encouraged me to sign up for ENGL 414 or 415 and help with Grub Street so that I could get experience in editing and publication --something in which I had expressed great interest. He introduced the possibility of being editor then, but I brushed it off because I did not think my chances were that great, considering how many people were interested in the position and how many amazing English majors we have at Towson. However, I believe this was meant to be, because that same professor approached me toward the end of last semester and invited me to consider becoming the next editor, since everyone from the Grub Street staff that year was graduating (usually the next editor is chosen from the current staff). After some consideration, I said yes, and here I am! I thank God and all the English teachers and professors I have had over the years who have prepared me for this great opportunity.”

 How can someone else get involved with this?

“There are a couple of ways people can get involved with Grub Street. First, students who have taken ENGL 102 and at least one other English course can register to take ENGL 415 in the spring. Grub Street is a two-part process (ENGL 414 is in the fall and 415 is in the spring); however, students do not have to take 414 to enroll in 415 and vice versa. I encourage anyone who has fulfilled the prerequisites, loves literature, and is willing to work hard to sign up for the class. The experience is priceless, as is the feeling of pride every staff member will have come May 2018 when we hold in our hands the journal that we helped to dream into reality. Second, anyone interested should submit their fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and art/photography to Grub Street online by January 28th, 2018 so that we can consider publishing their work! Being published is exciting and helpful for careers, and we are honored to read/view people's creative works.”

What tips do you have for people who want to do what you do?

“I feel like I should be asking this question, not answering it! I am only just beginning my work as an editor, but based on what I've learned so far, my advice is: take scary risks that could result in failure --they're worth it; do not doubt your knowledge, craft, or leadership skills (but be open to constructive criticism!).  And work with your staff/teammates, not above them. I'm the editor, but I couldn't do this job without my amazing staff, and Grub Street would seriously not be possible without their advice, opinions, creativity, and hard work. I'm so proud of them and I'm so blessed to be able to work with them in order to make Volume 67 of Grub Street a reality. Being the editor has taught me humility, and I love leading my team as well as learning from them.”     

How has this created connections for you personally and academically?

“Interning as the editor for Grub Street has helped me to connect better with my classmates. I invest in my fellow staff members more than I've invested in classmates from any other classes I've taken -- I even forced myself to learn everyone's name the first two weeks of school, even though I'm terrible at remembering names. I would sit in class and mentally quiz myself on everyone's name, which sounds weird, but it really paid off because being able to address everyone by name makes my connections with the team much more personal. I have formed friendships with many of the staff members, and I would not have these relationships if not for this internship. Academically, this opportunity has increased my knowledge and confidence significantly. I have learned so much about editing, journal publications, and literature in these past few months, and I know I have so much more to learn, but being a leader for Grub Street has helped me to apply my knowledge and therefore have more faith in myself that I can actually put into practice what I've been studying for so many years now. I have also had to make connections in the literary world by working the Baltimore Book Festival and the Baltimore Writers' Conference, speaking with other writers, attending readings and talks, etc., and these experiences have been so cool! I was never very involved in the literary world until this year, and I was missing out!”

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

“In five years I would love to be married and starting a family, and I would like to be be working either in youth ministry or as an editor and publisher of a literary journal (or all three!). However, I try not to plan too far ahead because although plans are nice, life hardly ever goes exactly the way we anticipate. Starting this year, I am trying to live my life more in the present. What do I feel God is calling me to do right now? Where is my life going today? What are my options for next year? I find that this approach is less stressful than trying to map out the next few years of my life all at once. Scripture says, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself" (Matthew 6:34). I trust that as long as I continue to walk with the Lord, He will show me where to go. After all, He brought me this far! He knows where I will be in 5 years, and I know His plans for me are good, and that is enough for me.”  

What do you want people to take away from this interview?

 “I just hope that people who did not know about Grub Street before will know about it after reading this interview and that they all will submit their wonderful work to us! I also hope to inspire other people who do not feel that they have a shot at editing, writing, etc. -- I did not think I could be an editor of an award-winning literary magazine, and yet here I am. You never know when an opportunity for something great will arise, so just keep working hard! Finally, I just wanted to take this opportunity to offer glory to God for this opportunity He has given me. Any talent I have is a gift from Him, and whatever I do with my talent is my gift back to Him and to all people, whom He loves more than we can fathom.”