Weenta Girmay (1st Quarter, 2009)

1st Quarter, 2009
Media and Communications Scholarship
Weenta Girmay

Weenta Girmay is an Eritrean-American attending the University of Pittsburgh. She will graduate in the fall of 2010 with a degree in English Writing. Currently, she is part of a staff of young writers who write, produce and distribute the independent, non-profit, arts and culture publication, “The Original Magazine.” Originally from Silver Spring, MD, part of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Weenta plans to return to Washington D.C. to pursue a career in non-profit grant writing. She is in the midst of considering graduate schools in either Public Policy or for an M.F.A. in English Writing. She loves writing personal essay as well as profile pieces on the characters she finds compelling. She considers life one big interview.

A Portion of Weenta’s Winning Essay:

Weenta Girmay

I am a writer. I have been all my life. My mother told me I was the first child in my kindergarten class to begin reading and I think it was because I have always been innately drawn to words. I remember learning how to spell my first words, confusing the tch of “watch” or the bea of “because.”  My words then became stories. My stories then became my purpose. Now, my utmost prerogative in life is to tell the kinds of stories that I myself am so often fixated by.

Throughout my scholastic career, I’ve enjoyed the process of interviewing people of all different backgrounds, many of them complete strangers. I subtly prod with my questions with the aim of understanding what motivations the person had in the past, and how these motivations have led them down their present path. I want to create relatable characters for my audience to rejoice with, to empathize with, and in the end, for my audience to grasp an understanding of the character, even if they don’t agree with their contentions.

Though I often write these pieces for my Nonfiction courses, I am also actively pursuing my craft outside of the classroom. I am currently writing for “The Original Magazine” an on-campus publication that combines the visual arts and profiles of the people and places that make Pittsburgh unique. My long term ambition is to cultivate a career from profile writing. I want to meet fascinating people, and also be the first to introduce them to the world—and by fascinating people; I don’t necessarily mean Hollywood celebrities or others who’ve made a name for themselves in the public arena. I mean those whose stories are often unheard, ignored, or discounted. I’ve written about anarchists, starving artists, jazz, feminism. I’ve written about what it’s like to feel alone, to feel unloved, to want to make a better place for oneself; whether it means going out there and changing your community, or whether it simply means being able to find peace of mind. I love each and every person I profile, invest time and energy and effort into each sentence, developing each personality on the page for others to fall in love with as well. So, instead of writing a long, drawn out essay about how I think I plan to change the world, I’m going to give you a little glimpse into the worlds of the people I’ve written about.

Honestly, I don’t really ever do anything important. My job is to tell you about the people who do. A Bit Tart: Valerie Navarre is living proof that the French bake it better. Everything at her pastry shop, from the assorted cakes, to the quiches, to the chocolate mousse, to the almond shortbread, right down to the whipped cream icing is made from scratch, by Navarre herself.

Her motto? “Food is Love.” Her specialty, fruit tarts, is at the crème filled heart of the store’s objective: to bring Pittsburgh desserts that are made from all natural, organic ingredients. “When I came here, I realized that the tarts were not always as I expected, and I was not always finding the fruit tarts I’m used to and I do enjoy. So I thought, well maybe I could try to sell some. It could be fun,” says Navarre.

Fun while it may be, the work load has her baking from 7:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night. Yet, like the mother and true Frenchwoman she is, she swears the work is worth it. She bakes with the goal of promoting a healthier kind of dessert; though that doesn’t necessarily mean less fat or calorie content. Her pastries are simply lower on sugar than most American sweets, but still packed with just as much flavor. A contradiction in terms? Navarre thinks not. “I don’t use much sugar, because in Europe you don’t use as much sugar as in America. You can make a tart with no sugar, you just use fruits.”

Anarchists at Work: The store’s selections are as much of a reflection of its political leanings as its order of operations. Here is a sampling of some titles you can expect to find:

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence; Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity; Socialist Feminist Project: A Contemporary reader in Theory and Politics; Buffy the Anarcho Syndicalist; and The Right to Be Lazy—just to name a few. You would think an all-volunteer staff wouldn’t be conducive to running a business, especially one that depends on its workers to keep it going, but “The Big Idea” defies that corporate philosophy. “Sure there are times when the store is closed when it shouldn’t be, but for the most part, every shift is filled,” Zimmer said. Yet when asked whose “Big Idea” such a radical bookstore was, Zimmer didn’t have a response.   True to the anarchist way, the originators of the store don’t even work there anymore—they don’t have to. The store is passed on from generation to generation, each rotation of workers picking up where the last rotation left off.

Slammed by a Poet: I’d never been to a poetry slam before, let alone judged one. The last thing I expected was for the 6’ 7” gangly guy with the thick black-rimmed glasses and crisp collar popping out from underneath his hoodie to nab first prize. Even then Francis seemed too nice to win, and after all, this was a slam. The name itself implied death-by-poetry. He wasn’t a spitfire, like the first poet up that night (round one, 9.0), nor was he as over-the-top and sexually suggestive as the second poet (performance complete with a faked on-stage orgasm, 8.4). But Francis isn’t about pulling those types of stunts. What he is about is honesty. Connection. He’s about keeping an even pace, not because he couldn’t rip it, but because he wants you to really hear the words. They are what make up his “survival stories,” he later tells me.

A Cool Cat: Every lecture there is a story to tell. In fact, there could be a class wholly dedicated to Dr. Davis’ stories. They happen sporadically—sometimes with an appropriate lead in, but often times, he just tells them because something in his brain sparks, and a memory will come to mind. He says, “I did a film once in Paris with Kenny Clarke. This cat, old cat, French guy, he was about 80 years old at the time, and the film director wanted us to talk to him about the film…and I’ll never forget we walked out there, and we go in this cat’s house, and you will never believe—I’ve never seen so many miniature cars in my life. Like WALL to WALL. Every wall—like you’d have records, he had cars. I thought ‘Damn, this cat’s crazy!’ He must have had close to 500, 600 thousand cars in that place.   All he wanted to do was talk about his cars. Now, maybe the cars represented the period [in the movie] he was talking about…Anyways, for me, that was interesting. I’ll never forget that sight in my whole life.”

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