The first book I fell in love with was The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I was thirteen or so, frustrated with having to interrupt my sport-filled summer with reading for an English class I hadn’t even had yet, but when I first read Steinbeck’s lyrical prose and the simple tale of a pearl diver who finds a beautiful and expensive pearl beyond all his dreams that leads to a tragic end, I was hooked. It was miraculous—reading a book that made me forget I was being forced to read it for a class. I realized stories can be powerful. Just words put together in the magical right way can be powerful. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer and pursue the literary life.
Even though that’s the first book that made that powerful an impact on me, I’ve always been a reader fascinated by books. There are pictures of me as a little kid, probably before I could even sound out words, arranging books in the floor, rearranging them on the shelves. I just liked the way books felt in my hands, the weight of them, the weight of their words. As a kid I was in love with stories, too—whether it was my favorite movie that I watched over and over (on VHS), The Lion King, following my favorite baseball team, the Yankees, through a season, or listening to my grandparents talk about life as farmers and sharecroppers before I was born. Stories seemed to be what gave life its color. It made life way out in the country on an old farm-to-market road in North Texas, a cement plant smoking in the distance and the pastures spotted with cedar trees, a little less colorless and flat.
And the books themselves seemed to give life its dimensions. I forced my mom to read me Green Eggs n’ Ham so much that she had it memorized. I liked reading about science and history, and followed several topics of interest before I really fell in love with fiction with The Pearl. My interests ranged from zoology to astronomy to marine biology to archeology to code-breaking and forensic science. I only realized later that I was less interested in the real-world explorations of all these topics, and more interested in what the books had to say about them.
My first writing outside of school was probably songwriting—I remember scrawling down words to go along with my frantically out-of-tune strumming when I was taking guitar lessons. Songwriting for me, though, was relatively short-lived, and around ten or so I became fascinated by comic books. I created elaborate worlds filled with magical powers and superheroes, and would create short comics with these characters.
This experimentation of multimodal writing has followed me today, where I study online literary magazines and the different modes they can bring to writing as a part of my job as managing editor of the lit mag Arkana. I’m still fascinated with stories, and I’m still writing plenty of poetry and prose—for the time being relying less in my own work on pictures or music, and instead focusing on perfecting my craftsmanship with words. My pursuit of craft is what led me to the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas, where I am currently a student. It’s also led me to Sundress Publications, where I am excited to be interning at a place that values stories as much as I do.
Cass Hayes is a writer from Waxahachie, Texas. She attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas and works as the managing editor of the online literary journal Arkana. Her fiction and poetry appears or is forthcoming in various online and print literary journals, including Five:2:One, Work Literary Magazine, and Déraciné Magazine.