March Graider of the Month: Tyrell Collins

We are pleased to announce our March Graider of the Month, Tyrell Collins. Our team selected Tyrell for his consistently stellar reviews from teachers and his demonstrated care for developing students as writers. Tyrell has a distinctly warm and encouraging tone in his feedback, and he ends each note and message with a signature “Peace, Love, and Books.” 

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Tyrell is one of our most talented Graiders, but as it turns out, he is also a talented writer! Instead of a traditional GoTM blog post, I’ve decided to turn this month’s edition into a Young Author Spotlight. Congratulations, Tyrell! We’re so glad to have you on the Graide Network Team.

Tyrell graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans in 2015 with a degree in English, and he went on to earn his Master’s of Fine Arts in Fiction from Columbia College Chicago this past December. Before joining The Graide Network team, Tyrell was both a writing peer consultant and TA. He then spent four semesters teaching First Year Writing as a Graduate Student Instructor, and he has over five years of experience working in journal and magazine editing. An impressive resume, to say the least!

Currently, Tyrell is looking for post-secondary teaching opportunities in Atlanta, Georgia. His ideal job would be teaching creative writing or African American Literature at a local university, but he’d also be excited to teach first year writing again. Part of what Tyrell loves most about teaching freshman is helping them mature as writers and successfully transition from high school to college-level writing expectations. In his own words:

"It’s a really big change. A lot of freshman have to almost unlearn what they learned in high school, where writing tends to be more formulaic. I believe students already have a voice, no matter their age. So my job wasn’t to find their voice, my job was to nurture it. During every semester I taught First Year Writing at Columbia College, I incorporated one week of creative writing. Students were often really shocked at first being exposed to so many different writing techniques and styles, but it always ended up being one of my favorite teaching weeks."

Walking Memories

Tyrell is also busy working on his novel, which he started as his thesis project at Columbia College. Walking Memories centers on an African American family in New Orleans circa 2015. The family is struggling to find faith and fortitude after its matriarch is killed. The novel lends itself to a multitude of genres and weaves and turns through numerous subplots as other characters try to impede on the fractured family. “More than anything else, I’m a love- and family-centered writer. This novel has allowed me to merge the two things I tend to write about most into once focus.”

Tyrell has been working on his novel for nearly three years now, which is a testament to his tenacity and focus. Funnily enough, when he first started his master’s program, he did not have a thesis and was planning to write a short story collection, which is where he had been focusing much of his time and writing. But a transformative second to last semester at Columbia College changed his course:

“Something about my novel idea was just screaming back at me, and I decided to only focus on this piece of work. By the time I got to my thesis development course, I was really very nervous because I only had two chapters written of my novel. But during that semester, I was able to really focus in on my craft and my core writing elements and who I am as a writer. That opportunity, to really hone in on my craft, was what kept me focused. A lot of times, writers are struggling to find craft elements to employ in their work. One element I use is flashbacks. Flashbacks are very integral to this story, equally important to the present. ”

Show vs. Tell

Tyrell credits Dr. Alexis Pride, an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago and author of Where the River Ends, with providing him the best piece of writing feedback he’s ever received:  

“One particular skill set that Dr. Pride employs in her writing is choosing moments to slow down on the page so that readers can see what is happening. It may sound simplistic, but as authors, so much is moving through our heads when we write, we don’t often stop to pause and recognize what we need to show the reader. Using this tactic, picking moments to slow down our narrative so that readers can live in the moment, is so effective. We talk a lot about the ‘show vs. tell’ scenario that has plagued writers, but Dr. Pride taught me that it’s a bit of both. It’s important to show and tell. It’s a delicate balance. Now, after I write a draft, I always go back and look to see where the moment can be slowed down, where emotion can be felt. I’m so grateful for that piece of feedback.”

Advice for Aspiring Writers: Read!

“A lot what we write is modeled off of what we read. To get inspiration for writing, you need to read more. I tell all of my students - don’t just read for enjoyment, read to learn. Read as much as you can, and read a diverse selection of works. Expose yourself to more. Diversity is how the world is made up. To understand the world, you need diversity. Personally, I push myself to read selections I don’t care for, or books that I know I won’t read again, because even if I don’t love the story, I can still learn something from the writing.”

Tyrell, we couldn’t agree with you more! We are so grateful to have you as part of the Graide Network team and we know our teachers and students are, too. When Walking Memories is published and an instant success, we can’t wait to say we knew you when!