Joy is currently a Poet in Residence for the Chicago Poetry Center. She earned her BA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her MA in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. Joy is very active in creative writing education for students in Chicago, and she has been published in Poetry East and Lunch Ticket. Joy’s devotion to the Chicago creative writing community is an inspiration for Helicon, so Poetry Editor Hannah Hall sat down with her over Zoom to learn more!

Links to her work:


What experiences from your undergrad at Columbia College Chicago were most formative for you?

I liked the fact that there was a variety of writing classes. I was a fiction writing major, and we also did classes in nonfiction, regular fiction, fantasy and romance. I really gravitated towards the program because I’ve always written fantasy and magical realism, but it also offered different types of genre writing classes so you could improve on your own style of writing.

What’s your main medium now? 

Right now, I’m primarily writing poetry. Since I’ve been working with kids and the Chicago Poetry Center, I’ve been pushed more towards poetry. Even though I primarily did fiction writing at Columbia, when I got my master’s in Writing and Publishing at DePaul I really got back into poetry again.

How does your experience with fiction support your poetry writing?

It’s helped me develop vivid characters, plots, and how to create a whole world on the page in your poem with tone and atmosphere. You have these same tools from fiction that you can use in poetry. I really feel that fiction writing really helped me with poetry, and vice versa. I use more figurative language in my fiction, especially in fantasy and magical realism, because of poetry.

What do you love about being an artist in Chicago?

It’s just the fact that in Chicago there’s a great Theater District. There are areas where people can showcase their art and do open mics. I participated in Do Not Submit Open Mic before the pandemic. There’s also The Silver Room that holds an artistic block party every year in Hyde Park. There’s just a great community of writers and artists in Chicago. Other places like New York don’t compare to Chicago’s communities in theater, writing, comedy and performance in general. It’s really helped me dabble in each little thing.

What projects are you currently working on?

I just finished up a collaborative project for an event called “No love for love.” It happens every year with the Chicago Poetry Center around Valentine’s Day when we’re trying to get sponsorships and donations. You can read and perform a poem about love, positive love, negative love, or whatever love means to you. This year we did a quarantine addition. We wrote about what love looks like during the pandemic. I wrote a poem about how to love yourself during the pandemic written all in Haiku.

What are does your writing process look like?

It’s really messy! I’m at my desk right now, and I have tons of books and paper just everywhere. I usually like Post-it notes because I don’t like writing in journals. I see all those lines and they’re strict like you have to write in them. I come up with ideas everywhere. When I’m on the train or walking I’m usually typing on the notepad on my phone. When I use Post-it notes I stick them everywhere around my apartment, and then I just find one I like and put it together with others. I’m like, “let me just take this Post-it here and move it down here.” And then, that’s my poem! It’s a weird process, but it works for me.

What do you love about teaching kids in creative writing? I would love to hear more about those experiences and how they influence you.

Before the pandemic, I was a writing coach with the Publishing Academy, which is part of Open books. That’s actually how I got started with Chicago Poetry Center because they’re right on the same block. With Open Books I went to different schools and taught fiction writing and nonfiction classes with other writing coaches. We collaborated together to teach students different styles of writing. As soon as a spot opened up at the Chicago Poetry Center for a teaching artist I applied. My primary group of kids that I work with there are fifth through eighth graders, and it’s just so great because kids are so open-minded. They think outside the box in strange and wonderful ways. Often, I’m like wow, I should try that with my own writing.

It’s just great working with kids. They are so open and honest with their writing. I worked with one student who had lost a loved one with gun violence. Someone was suffering with depression and another lost a loved one from covid. Poetry is therapeutic for them and also me. You just get all your emotions on the page and we can work through them together. That’s what I love about poetry and my volunteering with Open Books. Sometimes they’re not even graded on their work. It’s just there for them to relax and be creative.

What advice do you have for the Helicon community?

Talk to your professors and ask them about your work. I got many opportunities through my teachers. I was published in Poetry East my last semester of grad school through my teacher who said “Oh, I like this poem. Can I talk to you about it? Would you be interested in showing your work?” They’re there for you to use their knowledge. As an undergrad I really didn’t take advantage of that. They used to be undergrads as well, and they’re there to help you with all their experience. I would also recommend sharing your work with school journals and local journals. Another Chicago Magazine is a great local one. Start off with local magazines, and then once you get more mature with your writing I would say you can submit to larger-scale journals and magazines.

Do you have any advice for how to counter feelings of self-doubt?

It’s really funny because after I graduated from Columbia, I didn’t know what direction to take with my writing. Professors often said, “Oh Joy, you should teach, of course.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know yet.” I might have wanted to go into advertising, and then I got it into theater, which was out of my comfort zone. If I could offer any advice it would be to go take an acting class just to get yourself out there publicly. Use your emotions to open up. I took acting classes at Act One Studio in Chicago, and they really helped me, especially when I was doing open mics or other performances. It just allowed me to be myself on stage and in public.

Who are some poets that inspire you?

Sarah Kay. She’s a spoken word artist, and I gravitate towards her work because she has that magical realism type of flow when she tells stories through spoken word poetry. My go-to poet for my students is Mahogany L. Browne because she writes a lot of social justice poetry for kids. I did a social justice residency with one school, and I created all these lessons about different social justice issues and how to express yourself with activism. I just found her work really helpful for me and my students.


Thank you, Joy, for inspiring Helicon! Look out for our continued “Meet Chicago” interview series.