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Meet Carlina Duan: Grocery Shopping Enthusiast and Poetry Extraordinaire

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

I am honored to introduce a dear friend and confidant of mine, the fierce, fiery and highly accomplished Carlina Duan. A senior at the University of Michigan studying English and Creative Writing, Carlina is a connoisseur of words, and her poetry and her work is blessed.

In 2013 Carlina co-wrote the poetry collection Electric Bite Women with poet and UM alum Haley Patail (currently sold online and at local Ann Arbor bookstores like Literati and Nicola’s). She has won Hopwood Awards at UM in Poetry for three consecutive years and performed on national stages in big cities like New York City and San Francisco. She also currently works at The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor as a Literary Arts Program Adviser of Red Beard Press, the independent, youth-driven publishing company that published Electric Bite Women.

However, after detailing these accomplishments among other big great things, Carlina told me, “But I really don’t know if these are my ‘greatest accomplishments’ during my time on campus.” She further explained, “I’m proud to be a poet, and I’m proud that I get a thrill when I write and when I read and when I perform, but I’m more proud that I feel like poetry has given me growth spurts in the heart and in the brain.” Wow, right? Beautifully spoken as always. Without further adieu, Carlina Duan folks.  


Her Campus: How would you define your relationship with the University of Michigan?

Carlina Duan: I would say that I’m critical and, simultaneously, in awe of this school. As a Chinese American writer and student, I think it’s my responsibility to use my own eyes and pay attention to the world. You know… Dig, chase, trouble. Ask questions. I feel like it’s urgent for me to be the kind of student who doesn’t sit still in the classroom. You have to move, you have to question what is — and isn’t — inside your textbooks. I think my time at U of M has taught me how to ask questions, use my eyes, and to claim a sense of independence in looking. I’ve really had to teach myself to take initiative on this campus by looking at everything around me and challenging what I feel is unjust — or, on an opposite scale, thanking what I find wonderful. I feel like it’s really easy to get caught up on a campus as big as the University of Michigan and feel like you’re just a small pixel and you can’t spark change. Or, to get caught up in all you want to “fix” and forget all that’s really gorgeous on this campus, as well. But, this campus exists to be critiqued and to be nourished. I think a lot of things are like that. There’s always more to be asked, more to be found.


HC: *snapping* Well said. I think that is a part of what college can teach us: how to simultaneously love and challenge. What are you involved in on campus and why is it important to you?

CD: I’m currently the Magazine Editor of The Statement — The Michigan Daily’s weekly news publication. I also am one of the Co-Managing Editors of Michigan in Color, a series designated for People of Color on campus to tell their narratives. My work with the Daily has been really important for my own growth as a writer and just as a human. To be a journalist and a poet at the same time is the best. It’s also the hardest. To do both well, you have to really be in-tune to what’s happening around you and be able to think and ask questions at high speeds. I’ve also been involved with the Prison Creative Arts Project in years past, and I’m really proud of that program for doing such critical work in the community and forcing students to pay attention to the world around them, to be curious and ask critical questions. 


HC: What incredible things to be involved with on campus! It’s telling of how what we’re involved in on campus contributes to the knowledge we build here and is just as important as our coursework or majors. You’ve got a lot of great things going on, so what is your constant in the midst of all that you do and are involved in on and of campus?

CD: OK, this sounds ludicrous, but I love grocery shopping. I find the most refreshing. I just love being in the aisles with all the jars of peanut butter and jam super neat and shelved into rows. And I love the produce section. Lately, I’ve also been really into biking to Burns Park and lying on the basketball court and just watching the leaves wash by. I do that a lot. And ultimately I just love spending time with people I love.


HC: YES! I can absolutely relate. The grocery store is like a lullaby.  If that’s no way to stay sane, I don’t know what is. OK, if you could choose three words to describe your senior year thus far, what would they be?

CD: Oooo, this is hard! Especially because I’m the biggest word nerd and always want to give like, a million words to describe anything (laughing). OK. I would say: Thrill. Angst. Blushing. 


HC: *snapping* again to all of those! Okay just a couple more questions! What advice might you give other seniors trying to manage completing this chapter of their lives and looking forward to their future? 

CD: OK, this question reminds me of something my Dad said to me recently that was beautiful that I wanna share. I was talking about one of my heroine poets, Nikky Finney, and how I felt like I was going to peak in undergrad and never become her. My Dad said, “Why do you wanna be Nikky Finney? You shouldn’t want to be Nikky Finney because you never will be. You won’t ever be anybody other than you, Carlina. Your goal should always be to grow toward yourself, rather than someone else.” It sounds cliché when I say it now, but I just think it’s the most true. Like, I think it’s so easy to get caught up in “the future” and panic and run around feeling like time is running out and you won’t achieve anything in your life other than eating potato chips forever. I feel like that frequently. But I just think it’s so important to take care of yourself and remember that you’re gonna grow. And you’re gonna grow only the way that you can grow. There’s something so extraordinary and powerful about that. 


HC: That’s beautiful and so necessary. I really needed to hear that! Bravo to your dad for the wisdom. Alright last one. I hate to think about winter, but I try to find some redeeming qualities. So in the spirit of the coming cold, what’s your favorite winter spot on campus?

CD: I’m in love with this one specific window in Angell Hall. It’s in the hallway right when you walk in. It’s the perfect size and width. And I just find this window especially good in the winter, because you walk in stiff and freezing and anxious about the world and you look through it and you have this moment of gorgeous surprise. Like, ‘I just walked through all of that. Ice and noise and trampled snow. And it’s remarkable.’ 


Remarkable is the word. Thank you, Carlina, for sharing your insights with Her Campus and myself and for brimming with light like the star that you are.