Jennifer Sawhney is talented, beautiful and full of youth. Her first published book, Lemons, is full of her poems that are deeply personal and reflect a daringly, honest voice. You would never guess our digital connection was the first point of contact. An introductory call felt like a conversation between old friends. The excitement was contagious as she shared her background, life experiences and talk of her writing. The young poet is as adventurous as she is profound, empowerment bursting at the seams. Unsure what to expect when she picked up the call, I reserved my follow up questions to allow Jennifer to share her story.
Jennifer attended UCLA with a concentration in Global Studies. She began writing at the age of 13. Her passion for travel has taken her to 22 countries but her bold nature does not stop there, as she is currently working on a pilot’s license. Yes, you read that correctly, the young woman is learning to fly a plane. How is that for fierce? I was inspired to ask her many questions but the time only allowed for a few questions.
Can you share a little about your background?
I was raised in Sonoma County in Northern California. My mom is from El Salvador and my father is from India. One of the highlights of growing up with my background is that from a young age I recognized the multitude of similarities there are in two cultures that are from two different regions of the world. I realized that humans are more similar than not. Also, I can’t deny that lunch at my parent’s house is always amazing. Some Days we’ll have chana masala, rice with cumin, and a refreshing cucumber salad. Other days we’ll have sopa de frijoles with crema, arroz and chicken.
I read that you have traveled extensively. How many countries and which is your favorite? How do you think traveling abroad has affected your writing?
I love to travel! I have been to 22 countries. I can’t say I have a favorite country, but El Salvador holds a special place in my heart; it is a home away from home. I always feel re-energized when I leave.
Traveling, when coupled with my writing, allowed me to build a deeper bond with myself. I was alone for many of my travels and used my notebook as a way to reflect on what I was feeling and seeing. Traveling has shown me that the small nuances that affect “real life” in one place can be completely different in another place. That being said, it’s affected my writing by opening my mind up to possibilities that differ from what I grew up knowing, which in turn push me to think further and consider alternative ideas or ways of being.
I read a couple of your poems, they are very personal and heartfelt. Do you find it easier to write from a personal perspective?
Thank you for reading my work! I find that writing from a personal perspective flows easiest because only I truly know how I feel and what I need to express. The personal and heartfelt aspect of my writing comes from me using my writing as a tangible expression of my innermost thoughts. This has explicitly shown me exactly how I feel, which has then taught me to trust my voice even more. I believe in the beauty of the rawness of my work.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from my everyday life. I could have a conversation with a stranger, watch someone smokes a cigarette, or see an interesting face as I’m walking out the grocery store and it could inspire something in me. Those are all real life scenarios that have inspired me recently.
Have you always written and what drove you to start writing poetry?
I started off as a passionate reader and later became a writer. I began to periodically write poetry when I was about 15 because I liked that I could ambiguously write about something in my notebook while also expressing my pent up emotions. Growing up, my notebooks weren’t as private as I wanted them to be, to my chagrin, so I learned to get creative in expressing myself without ratting myself out.
I started writing more regularly after I graduated from UCLA in 2015. I was bored having recently moved home from LA and missed always having some sort of writing or reading assignment to do.
As a woman in today’s world who has a voice, do you find yourself exploring topics in your poetry that you would not have in years past?
Absolutely! The fact that I started taking ownership of my voice through writing has been empowering and allowed me to grow more comfortable with listening to and trusting myself. I’m exploring an unapologetic sense of self lately that grew out of being scared to be me. I was shy when I was younger. This unapologetic sense of self includes exploring my sensuality, using my physical voice, standing up for myself and detaching. I would say these are actually extensions of ideas that I previously wrote about and I’m at a place where I can explore them more comfortably.
Do you enjoy reading poetry on your downtime? Who is your favorite poet? Why?
I like to read poetry and I’m also big on novels. The poets I’ve been reading lately include Rumi, Khalil Gibran, Pablo Neruda and Alfredo Espino. I don’t have a favorite poet, but my favorite poem is “On Good and Evil” by Khalil Gibran from The Prophet. I feel a deep sense of peace every time I read it.
What do you do in your free time when you are not working on your craft?
I like to read, work out, cook, or have a random night out. I am also taking some classes, so I’ve been pretty busy with that as well.
What is one take away you would like your readers to have when they read your poetry?
My poetry is just one facet of my being, but it is absolutely filled with sincerity. All of my writing comes straight from my heart.
Is there one thing you can share about yourself that readers would be surprised to know, what would it be?
So… about those classes I mentioned earlier. Well, I’m working on my private pilot’s license. I’m nearly finished with it and can’t wait to see where it will literally take me. I am especially excited to take my dad on flights with me. He’s a photographer and I want to see what he will capture from the skies.
What made you decide to share your poetry with the world?
I decided to share my poetry because I realized that this is a true expression of my being and I should not hide this from the world. If I’m going to be real with myself I need to be real with the world.
There are people we meet that leave an impression. The conversation with the fabulous under 30 poet was engaging and educational, leaving me with a world of new questions for myself. During my journey of self-discovery, am I truly doing everything that I can to live to the fullest or still playing it safe? We walk the highway of life at our own pace that takes us to a million different places. Getting to know people from various backgrounds has a way of opening up our minds to what is possible. The up close and personal interview with Jennifer Sawhey gave me something special. It reminded me of the amazing things human beings are capable of, if they set themselves free and challenge their fears. I hope reading her story offers you some of the same inspiration in your own life.
Jennifer’s book “Lemons” can be found at major book retailers such as Amazon, Apple and others. You can also check out her social media page on Instagram and Facebook, as well as her latest work on BELatina.